The Netflix blockbuster 13 Reasons Why is has been a major success for the growing film company and is proving an ideal product for binge-watchers. Those already fascinated by the concept can look forward to a second series next year.
In essence, the American series can be classified as a brilliant adaptation of the best-selling book by Jay Asher of the same title (Thirteen Reasons Why, 2007). Its social impact is also considerable, since its excellent narrative unfolds through thirteen chapters with mounting dramatic tension. In them, director Brian Yorkey tells the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a teenager who has made the decision to take her own life, leaving as a testament thirteen audio-cassettes in which she explains the reasons that caused her to take the fatal step of suicide.
It appears to me that we can draw from this tragic story three reflections which can be used to “inoculate” those interested in delving into the emotionally painful series.
Suicide as a failed solution
The music and the set design work together to pull us into this terrible drama of a young woman’s decision to take her life. These images have caused no little stir in education and pro-family circles, since we live in a society that is still scandalized (though progressively less so) before the image of teen suicide. However, it is possible that few have stopped to consider the reasons why such a delicate subject generates so much interest. Evidently the series contains an element of truth.
It seems that currently we are not really sensitive to the boredom and the loneliness afflicting our adolescent children. Yet it is enough to look into their eyes to perceive their weariness, in the midst of a society that suffers pangs of conscience and winds up perplexed, contemplating its own ignorance.
Meanwhile, the series raises up Hannah as a “martyr” of certain liberal ideas, “giving” her life so that others may understand the evils that await women, who continue to be more vulnerable than men. It would seem that contemporary society is determined to create “heroes” whose free and heroic acts tend toward self-destruction.
In the end, Hannah cleverly devises her own death, and comes up with a plan that will absorb the attention of her social circle. However, this staging of her suicide becomes a great “breeding ground” to feed all kinds of social disorders disguised with a false “cloak of heroism”, as we are already seeing with the suicide “game” Blue Whale.
Being parents of a girl is not easy
Parents and their associated stereotypes make their appearances in the series, from the pseudo-conservative family to the dysfunctional family (with a violent stepfather and drug-addicted mother), until we come across a “homoparent family”. The diversity of orientations and preferences in liberal (American) society is acknowledged with great fanfare.
Nevertheless, in none of these cases is there a real concern on the part of the parents for their children. Care and affection is slight and precarious, and above all, superficial. Hannah’s parents, Andy and Olivia, are an icon of this deficient kind of parenting. They are completely without insight into the actions of their daughter, opting to look for answers that are merely current, and shifting responsibility to the point of initiating a witch hunt in the style of The Dead Poets Society. But their absence and superficiality affect in a definitive way Hannah’s sad fate.
Their tragic loss does not excuse one of the most widespread evils in the West, that is, the “nausea of emptiness” – as Alejandro Llano would say—before the banality of existence itself. In this sense, 13 Reasons can serve as a wake-up call for contemporary parents, who should take their family life with their children in their homes more seriously.
Having said that, it is evident that the feminine characters are apparently innocent throughout the entire series. But as the storyline progresses, one can appreciate the recurring theme that assigns to the woman the difficult role of permanent “victim”. As for the male characters, except for an occasional confused exception, they are shown as wicked, abusive and thoughtless, living only to satisfy their sexual appetites, exemplars of “toxic masculinity”. Despite the exaggerated messaging around him, however, this masculine figure could strike many as insipid, even tending toward the infantile.
In the end, one of the main reasons Hannah decides to kill herself is that she has lost hope of being loved by a man. This last declaration undercuts all pretensions of the series and its apologists to justify the postulates of radical feminism.
Friendship and superficial sexuality
A powerful theme that attracts audiences like bees to the honey pot is the topic of friendship and its distortion in matters of sexuality. 13 Reasons tells us, sadly: If you are kind and trusting, it is impossible to have sincere friends . In this sense it is evident that Hannah has a great capacity for love, but is always let down and hurt by those around her. The interest, the affection, the respect that the suicidal girl professes toward others appears to be in vain, for no one is able to take on all that she is and feels.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that we live in an individualistic and materialistic society, and are thus incapable of treating others with the full dignity due to them. The result is that the majority of young people seek affirmation by devoting themselves to behaviours that lead them away from a “successful life”. It is here that the trivialization of sexual relations makes its expected appearance.
One does not have to be very observant to conclude that the series presents sexual relations among teenagers as just another activity or as an inalienable right of any relationship between man and woman. Nevertheless, as the very word promiscuity suggests, sexual relations at the wrong time mix things up, confuse things, and this also is made clear in the storyline, Hannah being a clear victim of this disorder.
Rafael Hurtado and Rafael García Yeomans are contributors to Rome-based Family and Media, a MercatorNet partner site. This article is an edited version of the original on the Family and Media blog. Republished with permission.