Should “13 Reasons Why” Never Have Been Told?

    Creatives, how do we know when we’ve stepped over the line creatively?

    13 Reasons Why, is one of the most popular shows on Netflix right now, but should we be watching it? Should it have been filmed? Or even created? These are the questions tossing around in my head at the moment.

    The story follows Hannah Baker, a young girl who experiences severe bullying and trauma to the point where she commits suicide. She leaves behind several cassette tapes for a selection of classmates explaining why they and the choices they made are the reason why she ended her life.

    13 Reasons Why, which was inspired by the book of the same name, written by Jay Asher, has come under an unexpected attack by several mental health organisations around Australia and the US. They’ve urged teens and young adults to avoid the show because of the extreme graphic content.

    I have to say, I’m torn. On one hand, I completely understand their concern. However, as a writer, filmmaker and creative, I was impressed with the story and their willingness to show the raw situations and even the actual suicide.

    In the featurette, 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons, producer Selena Gomez said, “We wanted to do it in a way where it was honest, and we wanted to make something that could hopefully help people because suicide should never ever be an option.

    But now with organisations like Headspace, issuing warnings to younger viewers, I have to take another look at the role of the creative in all this.

    In an interview with Channel 9’s Today Extra, Child Psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg stated, “It’s essentially an audio-visual manual for suicide.”

    Can it be true? Can a story impact the world in such a negative way, when their aim was to bring awareness and give less power to these horrible situations?

    When talking about the choice to film the actual suicide, Brian Yorkey, Executive Producer said, “We worked very hard not be too gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch, because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing in any way worthwhile about suicide.

    The job of a creative is to speak where others can’t. Creatives have a way of putting words to how people feel. Growing up, I was always impressed with how songs and shows could put words to feelings I couldn’t explain and because they were able to express them, it helped me grow in maturity, but I have to wonder if we can go too far in revealing truth.

    More than anything, what 13 Reasons Why reminds me of, is the importance of our words and choices. This is a central theme in the show, but also is being revealed in the backlash it’s now experiencing. Where they aimed to tell the truth and give people a hope there were other solutions than suicide, it now appears they’ve only brought further damage.

    In one news source, Headspace said they’re receiving more calls and emails which are in direct correlation with the show. Obviously, they’re concerned, but I can’t help wondering if the show has actually done more good than harm.

    There were many times during the show, where I kept hoping Hannah would tell the truth, that she would take her communication teacher’s advice and tell people when they’d hurt her.

    Recently, I had a small argument with a friend. As a teen and young adult, my usual response to these kinds of situations was to internally shut down. When my friend asked if I was ok, instead of shutting down, I told her, with no aggression what she’d said, made me feel like I didn’t have a right to voice what I was saying. I was surprised by how easily the situation was resolved once we’d both calmly spoken the truth.


    And this came as a direct response to my experience and the lessons I’d learned from watching 13 Reasons Why.

    In a Vanity Fair article, Nic Sheff, one of the writers of the show talked about his own experience with depression and his attempt to take his life. He recounts while he was trying to take his life, a memory of another woman’s story of how she’d tried to commit suicide, came back to him and stopped him from going further. “The whole story came back to me in heightened detail.” He said, “It was an instant reminder that suicide is never peaceful and painless, but instead an excruciating, violent end to all hopes and dreams and possibilities for the future.”

    Ultimately, creatives have the responsibility and duty to impart wisdom and truth to their audience. It’s their gift and their curse. Sometimes this will be received well, other times there will be backlash. I have to trust as long as I’m owning this responsibility and doing everything I can to be sensitive and ethical in what I create, then I need to let the rest take care of itself.

    I think we need to give the creators and storytellers of 13 Reasons Why a break. Maybe organisations like Headspace are receiving more calls, but what if it’s because the show has given young teens hope they can turn to someone? What if the show has impacted people to seek help because they’ve seen how many people were horribly affected by Hannah’s decision.

    Suicide is never ever an option. I’m no psychologist, but don’t you think the more we bring things into the open, the less power they have to control us? This is exactly what the creators of 13 Reasons Why were hoping to accomplish. I think instead of seeing the growing number of calls and emails as a warning, we should see it as a hope and the fruit of their labor, because the fact of the matter is, people are reaching out for help.

    Regardless, this discussion is good for us creatives and independent filmmakers to consider, are you being responsible with your art?

     

    If you or anyone you know is in need of help, please reach out to organisations like Headspace 1800 650 890, or Lifeline 13 11 14

    This article was originally published on Christian Today.

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    • Charis Joy Jackson

      Producer, Director, Writer, Actress

      Charis Joy Jackson is a writer, director, producer and teacher working with The Initiative Production Company. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time is writing a novel. She's a self-proclaimed nerd who wishes she could live in Hobbiton. You can follow her on Instagram @charisjoyjackson

    • Show Comments

    • Jeanette O’Hagan

      Hi Charis – Thanks for a thoughtful post. I agree it’s a good thing to have such a difficult subject brought into the open. Yet I also know that being explicit about the method of suicide has in the past resulted in copy-cat suicides, so I can understand the concern of Headspace and other organisation like this. The makers of this film did do research. Were they aware of these concerns? Maybe a broader range of opinions might have helped? Either way, it is a tricky line to walk and ignoring suicide is not a solution either.

    • Paula Vince

      Hi Charis, That’s a great question, as I’ve been wondering the same thing. I’m a mother of teens and have been torn, like you. It’s such a raw and brutal subject for young people to get their heads around. But I appreciated your telling the story of how you’d decided to be honest with your friend. Stories like 13 Reasons Why can help us rethink, which is surely just what Jay Asher intended. You’re so right though, our creative voices can be both a gift and a curse indeed.

    • Christine

      a very thoughtful article. Asking the right questions.

    • Nola Passmore

      You raised a very important issue, Charis. I actually was a psychologist for about 25 years, though I was an academic and social psychologist rather than a counselling/clinical psychologist. I remember coming across this debate re journalism. There were certain restrictions/guidelines at one stage about what could be reported about suicides because of a concern of creating copycat situations. However by not talking about it, it shoves the discussion under the carpet and reinforces the idea that others aren’t experiencing what you might be experiencing. I think the guidelines re journalism have changed now, but it is a fine line knowing how to present the issue so that it raises discussion and awareness, but without prompting people to follow that route. I’m not familiar with the show, but hopefully it falls more on the side of raising discussion and awareness.

    Comments are closed.

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