Can Everyone Shut UP About How 13 Reasons Why Is 'Glorifying Suicide'
It used to happen before Hannah Baker did it too, you know.
The hottest thing for a self-proclaimed TV critic to do right now is essentially sh*t all over 13 Reasons Why. From being the most Tweeted about show of the year, and garnering unending critical acclaim to boot, it's recently become the freshest form of hipster BS to wax eloquent about how the show makes suicide seem 'glamorous', and, more important, a viable 'way out' for a troubled teen.
The truth is, it kind of f*cking is.
Not glamorous, of course not. But it's been an 'option' for a teenager that genuinely feels disenfranchised with the world for kingdom come. This is not a new development. 13 Reasons Why didn't serve up a revelation on a platter, it simply tackled the existing idea from a brand new perspective.
Suicide help centres were livid at the way this show portrayed the idea of suicide via the unique case of one Hannah Baker—but in all honesty, it seems unfair to take them to task for simply telling the story of one character. The show isn't about how to tackle suicide (dos and don'ts for beginners), it's simply the narrative of one girl who did tackle suicide—her way. The uproarious reactions to this show raise an important and concerning question; one that worries me deeply as a writer...
Must we bow down to social responsibility, and, in the face of it, sacrifice creative liberty?
Is it fair to beat down the writers of the show (and book) for telling a story that turned out unfavourably? Would the show have had the same gravitas if it had ended in Clay saving Hannah from the cruel claws of her internal battle? Could the story, the nuanced characters, have all stayed in their truly brilliant place, if the show had a subliminal 'we must take action before she kills herself' message?
To me, the most beautiful part of the show was that it was utterly believable. That it exploited a weakness in her character, because, quite honestly, depression or internal struggles aren't easily explicable. The reason someone killed themselves (or felt the need to try) is not always up for dissection and understanding—it also isn't always solvable. It absolutely sucks, and it's heartbreaking, but it happens, and it's real.
There are people who have picked bones like 'But Hannah's parents were so nice!' and 'Why couldn't she just talk to somebody about it!'. But that was Hannah's character, wasn't it? You can't fault somebody for being who they are. You can't say killing yourself is fathomable if you were raped and your parents were abusive alcoholics, but not okay if only one of those two things are true.
The truth is, if we're all constricted by the bounds of social responsibility, we will never be able to tell an authentic story, because authenticity lies in the defunct.
The only thing that's real is imperfection, and to be able to tell it like it is is the only way we get to stay genuine.
And if that 'glorifies' something gory, unpleasant and irrevocably true, then so be it.