The show Thirteen Reasons Why has received a lot of mixed responses. In a recent IndieWire article, Hanh Nguyen discusses a program adopted by Oxford High School in Michigan called “Thirteen Reasons Why Not,” where students can submit a sort of “confessional” tape like Hannah uses in the show, but after talking about things that happened to them, they talk about and thank someone who helped them back from suicide, focusing on the non-inevitability of the act.
While Nguyen starts off the story talking about the controversies surrounding the show, the response made by Oxford High is framed as something positive which has come from the show, and finishes the article about how this school felt the need to put an active campaign up to combat damage done by the hopeless and unbalanced portrayals in the show, by linking readers to Netflix as a promo for the show itself in case they want to watch it. Which seems so strange. To talk about how a show has caused some suicidal people to self-harm or go further, and a school trying to do something about it, and then link to it. Which makes me wonder how we are supposed to handle these things.
I haven’t watched the show myself because I really didn’t want to. Several friends have, and all similarly hated it for its exploitative lack of hope for suicidal people and portrayed forced inevitability, glorifying of revenge suicide and the act of self-death, and ignoring of the medically recommended approaches to talking about stuff like this, even down to things as simple as using it as a way to include emergency response numbers and help sites in the work.
Suicide isn’t a fun gimmick. It can be a very drawing thing. Which doesn’t make it bad to talk about or portray suicide–that’s important–but the way it’s done is crucial. I guess my biggest question is why, with all of this readily available feedback about their show at hand and knowing what’s at stake for some people, why content creators wouldn’t stop defending their product, and start considering making a change. Because, even in a business industry, when you’re writing a topic like suicide, it shouldn’t ever be just for a profit.
There’s a responsibility to not wound your audience.