On March 31, 2017, Netflix released the first season of its show 13 Reasons Why. Originally a book written by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why explores the emotional chaos surrounding the death of a girl named Hannah Baker who committed suicide only a week before the show’s first episode begins. The entire plot of the series surrounds the thirteen audio tapes that Hannah recorded prior to her suicide explaining in detail the thirteen reasons why she ended her life. At the beginning of the show, the protagonist, Clay Jensen, receives the package containing Hannah’s tapes, and he learns that each tape is dedicated to a person who is one of the reasons for her death. Targeted towards teenagers, the show scrutinizes and brings attention to many issues that teens face in today’s society including suicide, rape, depression, bullying, isolation, etc.
Because of the raw and often disturbing display of these controversial and sensitive subjects, the show has received a lot of attention in the media over the past two months. In some of the episodes, viewer warnings are shown at the commencement to alert viewers of the heavy and potentially triggering content exhibited in the coming scenes. Many have criticized the producers of the show for including graphic sections such as Hannah’s suicide, and realistic displays of sexual assault. Additionally, parents and critics alike have bashed the show for its supposed glorification of suicide and vindictive nature, arguing that it leads vulnerable teens to believe that suicide is a justifiable way to exact revenge on those who have wronged them. These parents and adults have expressed their concerns that those who might be suicidal will choose to end their lives upon watching the show. One of the many critics, psychiatrist Harold S. Koplewicz, has asserted his belief that, “Netflix should remove the show immediately and scrap plans for a second season,” while others have explained that the true danger of the show lies in the fact that it does not put “in proper context a character's misguided rationalization for suicide” (Wittmer).
However, the producers and cast of the show have spoken out against the backlash to explain the necessity of including these controversial scenes in the show. Netflix issued a statement in regards to the reprisal, saying that they “find the show to be a valuable driver for starting important conversation with [teenage viewers and their] families,” and in order to quell concerns, have promised to “add an additional viewer warning card before the first episode as an extra precaution for those about to start the series.” The show undoubtedly raises awareness about a myriad of pressing issues that teenagers of today's society are faced with everyday. By depicting such sensitive and profound scenes, Netflix is helping to remove stigmatization of topics such as suicide, depression, sexual assault, and bullying, a feat which has caused many “others [to] applaud Netflix and the show’s creators” (Epstein). It is dire for teenagers understand that these subjects are ones that can be talked about; it puts teens in more danger to silence such topics rather than exposing them to these issues, an opinion held strongly by the protagonist Clay throughout the season.
It is because of this vitalness that many have called for schools to enforce that 13 Reasons Why be discussed with and/or shown to students in order to help normalise and bring attention to such topics that are often silenced, and in many situations are ignored completely. One of the show’s starring actresses, Kate Walsh, who plays Hannah Baker’s mom, is one of the people advocating for schools to do this, and explained in an interview that she believes “parents and teachers and students [should] watch [13 Reasons Why] and have conversations about sexual assault, about bullying, about LGBTQ issues, race issues, gender issues, suicide, depression and mental health, because largely in our country as we see now, it’s still in the shroud of shame or silence… so to really see it for what it is and talk about it and get people help, [we can] prevent it” (Blickley).
Netflix announced in the beginning of May that the show was renewed for another season and will venture into new material unaddressed in Jay Asher’s novel. Evidently, the positive impact that the show has had on its viewers outweighed its negative undertones. The creators of the show have expressed absolutely no regret for the way that they decided to portray Asher’s story, and in fact, have continued to defend their decision to unapologetically display such controversial content. In the words of one of the show’s writers, Nic Sheff, “facing these issues head-on—talking about them, being open about them—will always be our best defense against losing another life.”