On March 31 Netflix released 13 episodes of the new show 13 Reasons Why. The show tells the story of Hannah Baker, a junior in high school that has committed suicide. Viewers learn about her life and death through flashbacks and the cassette tapes she’s left behind. Before committing suicide, Hannah records 13 cassette tapes with the reasons why she killed herself. For each reason there is a person connected to her death. The story on reality’s side is told through a boy named Clay, a friend and eventual romantic interest of Hannah. The story starts when he receives the tapes.
I’ve watched the first 10 episodes of the show. Since I work with POPC’s youth, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about this show in order to be able to engage in conversations with those that have watched it. The show covers a wide range of topics: anxiety, depression, peer pressure, homosexuality, betrayal, sending sexually explicit text messages, rape, drug use, premarital sex, and of course suicide.
When I first started watching I was mostly intrigued. Since I work with teenagers, youth culture fascinates me. This show truly provides a window into the lives of teens: their thoughts, their emotions, their insecurities. The landscape is raw and unfiltered. The honesty to their pain is a strange combination of unsettling and refreshing. The unsettling part is easy to pick out if you’ve watched the show or even read articles about it. But why do I say refreshing? Our teens are living in a world where they are pressured to post a picture perfect world on their Instagrams or SnapChats. In 13 Reasons, that is shaken. We get to go behind the scenes to see what they’re really feeling.
My intrigue turned to sadness in the fourth episode. In this episode Hannah talks about having a stalker. She could hear the snaps of a camera when she would walk home, but never knew where it was coming from. She and her friend Courtney decide to set a trap at her house one night. Her parents are gone so they start drinking. Her friend is gay, but no one knows. Her friend kisses her. They hear the camera and expose the stalker who turns out to be the yearbook photographer Tyler. But it’s too late he’s taken a picture of the two girls kissing. The picture ends up circulating around the school causing rumors and adding to Hannah’s already damaged reputation. Upon hearing the tape, Clay takes a nude of Tyler from outside his window and sends it to everyone at school for revenge.
Why is the show so sad? Sin is running rampant in all of their lives, and there’s no hope. The sin struggles Hannah faces are both external and internal (though she may not acknowledge the internal struggles). She’s dealing with the outside forces of those that have sinned against her. Hannah has no doubt had a lot of bad things happen to her. She’s also dealing with her own sin. Hannah is very selfish. We can see this to be true in the way she committed suicide. She left tapes behind to cause others deep emotional and psychological pain. She doesn’t take any responsibility for her own actions. I’ve seen no traces of redemption in the show. Clay’s revenge on Tyler it’s not redemptive. It’s only continuing the pattern of sin.
How would life have been different for Hannah if she were a Christian? She would have known her true identity was in Christ, not in what others think of her. She would have known that God never leaves us or forsakes us in our darkest times. She would have known a real love where there is no betrayal, but perfect security. She would have known her life is not her own to do as she pleases or to even take it herself.
I can’t fully recommend watching the show. It’s very graphic in it’s depiction of sexual scenes and rape (I had to look away for most of episode 9). But this show does provide a great opportunity for us to see into the lives of our teenagers, to see what it is they’re walking into at school. We see the pressures of their relationships, and the pressures of obtaining happiness at all cost.
Ask your teens, “Have you watched this show? Are your friends watching it?” Process it with them.