Earlier this year, a local middle schooler committed suicide. To put it kindly, our school district has been in hot water, but the community put together a Go Fund Me page for the family to help defray funeral costs, and grief counselors were sent to the school to talk with students.
A friend of mine, who’s an administrator at a school in a neighboring district, says the school, although it’s not mandated by our state, has an action plan in place should such a situation occur.
We’re never told exactly where Liberty High, the fictional setting for Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why, is located, but after student Hannah Baker kills herself, the school administration slapped up some suicide awareness posters, allowed fellow students to enshrine Hannah’s locker, paid some lip service to being available if needed and called it a day.
As if anticipating this tepid response to a very real and tragic problem, Hannah helpfully and lovingly crafts charmingly retro audiocassette tapes that soon consume her guilt-ridden and shell-shocked fellow students as they struggle to cope with her death.
I didn’t read the YA novel upon which the series is based, but Hannah is repeatedly betrayed, humiliated and shamed during her two years at Liberty High. A compromising picture is broadcast throughout the school. She loses friends. She’s named Best Ass in a version of a slam book. She’s stalked, groped and eventually raped.
That’s a lot for any girl to deal with. But her melodramatic, passive-aggressive, manipulative tapes send earnest Clay Jensen on a macabre scavenger hunt as he desperately tries to find someone and everyone to blame for Hannah’s death, instead of putting it exactly where it belongs: with Hannah.
Thirteen Reasons Why, honestly, should have been called We All Let Hannah Down. Each of the other students featured on the tapes were dealing with their own problems–alcoholism, poverty, parental neglect, homosexuality, addiction, overbearing parents–but they all take a back seat to Hannah’s issues. Indeed, more than one angrily tell Clay that Hannah killed herself; she alone made that choice; but it’s portrayed as a defensive reaction instead of a very real and reasonable response. The anger, it seems, should only be directed inward.
Likewise, we’re made to believe that Hannah’s version of events are The One Real Truth instead of merely a perspective. By virtue of being dead, Hannah does not get challenged although she makes some incredibly poor choices (and, incidentally, is a pretty terrible friend) herself.
The series has graphic rape and sexual assault scenes, and the suicide is not only graphically described but also shown in all its glory, a horrifying instructional video.
For all the high-fives and headpats the creators are giving themselves, I didn’t see a single suicide hotline number, website or any other helpful advice prominently displayed for kids watching the show who might decide Hannah Baker is a role model instead of a cautionary tale. (It might have had text after the credits but I never watched that far.) Instead, the show glorified Hannah Baker’s revenge against her community, as if killing yourself is merely a way to get your point across.