Archive for December, 2017

The One Reason Not to Watch 13 Reasons Why

06 Dec

If you have sidestepped the mainstream or do not pay attention to the latest (web) television offerings you have probably never heard of the drama 13 Reasons Why. However, there is one important reason there needs to be a discussion around it, and ultimately this is the reason why it should no longer be on the air.

However, before unpacking this issue some context. The show, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 work of the same name, revolves around two high school students, Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen, wherein the latter tries to uncover the circumstances behind the former’s suicide ultimately that a series of soul crushing events serve as the impetus for Hannah to take her own life. Despite some questionable casting decisions, the show is powerfully acted and its gritty and “realistic” approach to teen suicide are no wonder the show was a runaway hit and its first season lauded by so many. However, just like most other forms of art, where there are proponents there are often detractors and this show certainly had its share of detractors. What was different about this form of art though, was that it was not just tv critics who were up in arms about the show’s content but psychologists and educators as well.

If one views the show it is not hard to see why the scientific community, the educators, and concerned parents took issue with the show, as it not only tells the tale of troubled teen’s decision to end her life, but does so in vivid manner that arguably (and many have argued it) glorifies suicide. Hannah graphic and detailed bathtub suicide scene is one such example. While the vivid depictions and the debate around whether or not this show actually glorifies suicide has raged on for months since the show’s premiere, there is one aspect of the show that is perhaps more concerning which is the show’s understated but still central take-away message; that one can achieve justice for the past crimes of others in the afterlife. Although I am sure that the creators of the show will certainly argue that this is not the point of the show or even one of its central themes, it is clear as day to anyone who watches it in its entirety. Hannah Baker suffering from  a series of demoralizing events, which range from relatively minor to absolutely devastating, is left broken, and seeing no way to get justice against her various perpetrators in this life, details the atrocities committed against her along with the names of the perpetrators of said atrocities on cassette tapes which are meant to spur swift and severe justice against those who have wronged her post-death.

This is absolutely the wrong message to send anyone, especially the most vulnerable and impressionable members of society, and easily the one reason why this show should cease production.

While the show’s creators may have set out to create a realistic portrayal of (teen) suicide that would open the discussion around suicide and prevention, the show’s plot leaves viewers with the belief that suicide can be justified and that there can be a certain measure of justice attained through it.

Ordinarily I am a proponent of free-speech and against censorship, but the manner in which this show, perhaps unwittingly, is geared toward impressionable youth and unfolds in such a way that could be perceived as making suicide not only ok, but a means to a just(ice) end make it simply irresponsible and dangerous. And the evidence backs this up. In the wake of the show being unveiled the Atlantic reported that, “Google queries about suicide rose by almost 20 percent in 19 days after the show came out, representing between 900,000 and 1.5 million more searches than usual regarding the subject.”

While the Atlantic stated that it was not possible to tell if an increase in suicide searches actually resulted in an increase in suicides over this small period, the Huffington Post has reported that the according to the CDC suicide rates for teen boys and girls have been rising since 2007 and have sharply spiked since 2015 after a modest decline. Moreover, in another CDC study which concluded in 2016 the agency found that, “suicides for the U.S. population as a whole increased 24 percent over a 15-year period.” girls_us_59848b64e4b0cb15b1be13f4

As such, although 13 Reasons Why debuted after these figures released by the CDC, one the whole suicides are on the rise and coupled with the rise in teen depression rates this clearly demonstrates that teenagers are an increasingly vulnerable group when it comes to mental health and in a dangerous position given that studies have found that untreated mental health conditions are a leading cause of suicide Therefore why I am generally a proponent of free-speech and oppose censorship, when a form of art depicts suicide in a manner that not only can be interpreted as glorifying it and makes it seem understandable and ok, but makes the argument that justice against those who have wronged you can be found through taking one’s own life and on top of that is directly (or even indirectly) geared towards (increasingly) susceptible children, than that is something I am not ok with and must supersede any rights to free speech.

As many people already know, there are and have always been limits to free speech and other forms of expression. Hate speech, speech which incites violence, the production of child exploitation pieces, and speech which can lead to a threat of safety to people are long established guards against the ability to say, do, and create without care to social consequences. As such, if there can be a prohibition on yelling fire in a crowded theatre, how can there not be more of a check on works of art that target millions of society’s most vulnerable with a message that can very easily be construed as not only is suicide understandable and ok, but that it can be a vehicle to achieve justice against those that have wronged you? Do I advocate for a blanket prohibition on forms of art which depict or discuss suicide? Absolutely not. But for all of the aforementioned reasons, this particular show 13 Reasons is a dangerous catalyst that provides the wrong message in the wrong way. One thing that most mental health professionals agree on is that human beings, even in the wake of tragic events, are incredibly resilient and that suicide is a permanent solution to  (by and large) a temporary problem. These realities are completely non-existent in 13 Reasons Why a show that prides itself as a being a realistic portrayal of teen suicide. With these realities absent an incomplete message is being delivered to its (impressionable) audience and what is left is a skewed perception of reality that is completely devoid of why taking one’s own precious life is the wrong decision even in the wake of tragedy. As such, it is the one main reason not to watch it and why one should encourage others, especially if you know them to be in a vulnerable place, to do the same.

The Future of Free Speech

If one challenges the position that 13 Reasons Why is dangerous and as such should be taken off the air, the place to start is obviously well if 13 Reasons why should be subject to censorship, what about other forms of art that people take issue with for being what they believe are dangerous and corrupting forces? Should those things which include (but are not limited to) violent video games, depressing Goth music, offensive rap lyrics, and mafia movies, also be subject to censorship? While the debate which has ragged on since at least the late 90s has been largely a yes/no one, the solution to the censorship conundrum is in fact much more nuanced.  For free speech purists obviously not everyone who watches, reads, or listens to something takes it to heart and moulds their persona and actions around it, however as advocates of censorship have highlighted, many atrocities that have been committed have been done so because people have freely admitted to being influenced and inspired by various forms of artistic content. As such, both sides make powerful arguments but what is the solution? Although this piece does not have a perfect solution, it does see the solution lying in vulnerable classes of people restricted from certain types of content which field experts agree could motivate them to commit certain atrocities. Until now this has looked like parental advisories and tv/movie ratings, but much more than this should be done to curtail influential content falling into impressionable hands and hearts, and this must certainly expand beyond the notion that it applies only to children. The people who took lives because they were inspired by the show Dexter were clearly not children, and as such, a mechanism should also be devised that limits certain forms of content from people who are already established as having mental health issues. Unfortunately it was not until after many of the Dexter killers (and others like them who have been inspired by dark forms of art) had committed atrocities that they were founded to have mental health issues, but the solution again while certainly includes restrictions to children, must expand to include some type of restriction to anyone who is limited in forming rationale opinions and reasonable decisions.  Again, what exactly this perfection solution on how to restrict dangerous material to impressionable and vulnerable people is beyond the scope of this piece, but the hope is that this piece will help the discussion towards it.

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