This weekend I finished watching (for the second time in as many weeks) the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” and, to use a phrase I have now coined my favourite: that wasn’t just a roller coaster ride, that was like riding the whole theme park…with a season pass.
As the end credits of the last episode rolled, I was left with a monstrous amount of thoughts and feelings; some of which are totally conflicting of one another, but more importantly I’ve been left with the monumental compulsion to publicly reflect on the main things that this touchingly-important and eerily familiar story made abundantly clear and yet no one seems to be recognising.
So here they are.
My reasons why 13 Reasons Why is so bloody important.
I have seen a tremendous amount of social media talk about this incredible series in the 16 days that it had been watchable. I don’t know a great deal of people who haven’t watched it, I know fewer people who won’t and I don’t think I know very many people at all who haven’t at least heard of it.
The incredible traction that this series has gained in its short existence is a phenomenal sentiment to it’s vitality on such a widely used platform. Regardless of what side of the marmite-divide watchers are on; everyone has an opinion about it that they want to share.
This – above anything else – is the most important thing about this show.
This show has got people thinking.
More importantly than just thinking, this show has got people feeling.
But most importantly, this show has got people talking about those thinkings and feelings.
Regardless of whether or not you liked the show; regardless of whether or not you agreed with its principles; regardless of whether you thought Hannah’s story was inspiring or an irresponsible dramatisation of teenage suicide: this show had people talking, and to me that is reason enough for this show to be hugely important.
So there is reason number 1 (don’t worry, there aren’t 13) and to me it’s the most important.
Reason number two is a direct and beautiful descendent of the above: this masterpiece has caused so many opinions that the facts remain, mental health is not something to be toyed with, underestimated or taken for granted.
No one is at liberty to ever say what does and doesn’t count as a “problem”.
No one ever knows what the person next to them is truly going through nor does anyone ever know how the things their neighbour is going through is effecting them.
The fact that so many people have come forward commending the series for its accurate portrayal of life and the struggles depression can cause, while so many others have spoken out about their disappointment over its inaccuracy of mental health triggers and the way “depression works”, proves that actually none of us really KNOW.
None of us know what will make another person happier than happy and by the same brush none of us know what will make another person sadder than just sad. Mental health is not made up of cookie-cutter diagnoses and even the label of depression is absent of a blanket description.
The conversations that have started due to this show are so very important because they are leading to better understandings of what it means to be depressed; what it feels like to be trapped; what people think about the effects of bullying; the chicken and the egg of mental health problems and above all what everyone can do to help.
The show didn’t directly talk about mental-health – in fact the word depression isn’t memorably mentioned throughout the series – but isn’t that the point?
No one talks about it.
No one knows.
And the show means that we are talking about it so that hopefully, one day, we’ll all know just a little bit more.
So there you go: reason number two…this wonderful, very easy-to-follow story that has resulted in totally torn opinions – as a bi-product of the masses of opinions – created a platform for mental health to be heard and understood as the totally non-understandable thing that it is.
The third reason I think that this series is extremely important is of course because of the blindingly obvious stance it takes on cruelty, with specific references to bullying, assault and the effects of the pressures that teenagers can face. It scathingly highlighted the reality of being a teenager in an age where sex; social media; drugs & alcohol and above all the opinions of others are gargantuan players in the game of growing up.
The show accentuates the very real epidemic of cruelty that exists within schools: it shames the bullies, depicting them as monstrous idiots who’s disgusting behaviour and cowardice has very real consequences. And it goes one step further to create a space to explore the confusingly very real confusion that many seem to have over the concept of consent. The rape scenes were horrifically difficult to watch – for obvious reasons I didn’t – and yet they showed things that need to be talked about in ways that made it clear what needs to be said.
It got people thinking about real issues and what they would do if they were in that position. I felt humbled, humiliated, angered and moved to action all at once knowing I was the same species as every character on the show, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in those feelings.
But, and possibly the most vital part of this penultimate reason, while seemingly focussing on a character who felt that she had no one: this series beautifully showed that despite all the horrendous baddies, this world is so full of wonderful goodies and in encouraging us all to think and talk, I think everyone wants to be a bit more like them (Tony, Clay, Skye).
We all want to be a bit more of a goody.
We all want to be a bit more of a hero.
Not necessarily to save a life.
But we all want to stop one from ending.
Which leads me to my fourth and final reason as to why 13 Reasons Why is so bloody important.
For me, the main character, the one who spoke to me the most, who’s story empowered me, who will stay with me always: was not Hannah Baker.
Nor was it Clay Jenson.
For me, the main character of 13 Reasons Why was Jessica.
Jessica’s story was told alongside Hannah’s; we saw both their pain and turmoil; both of their angst; their confusion; their battles with who they were; their struggles over who they could trust and their terror over what had happened to them.
We saw them both become victims.
We saw them both fight.
But when the show was ending, with the final credits rolling, we were still seeing Jessica live.
It would be mortifyingly wrong for me to say that one girl’s experiences trumps the other’s: no one can judge the impact of such life changing events on a person and I honestly hold no opinion or thoughts on that matter.
But what I KNOW is that while on the surface the series showed us the effects that bullying, bad friends and peer-pressure can have on a young person, the horrific mental turmoil that an assault can leave a person with and the impact that the lack of support can have on someone’s desire to keep on fighting – thus giving us a real insight into the darkness of life: the simple act of Jessica choosing to fight that little bit longer, her finding the right person to tell (her dad) showed us that despite the darkness, light still exsists.
So that’s that: my final reason why this show is so fucking important…because it shows us that there is more than one way out…we can always go through!!
Let’s all just remember that when all the thinking has been thought and all the talking has been talked we are left with ourselves so let’s build each other up; remind each other of that light and give each other something to look for at the end of even the longest and darkest of tunnels.