the action of describing or representing something as admirable, with pride, especially unjustifiably.
13 Reasons Why
Lately I’ve been noticing on my feeds that people are discovering 13 Reasons Why at a more rapid rate and as they do, people keep bringing up the term glorification. There is a narrative online that suicide and rape are glorified on the show simply because both are shown.
In society we have these taboo subjects that few want to talk about because previous generations didn’t. Abortions, weed, pre-marital sex, women in the job force, civil rights, and the gay gene are all subjects your parents, or grandparents didn’t want discussed at the dinner table. We can definitely add suicide and rape to that list. At various times in history you would be shunned in public for simply bringing up these topics.
In the case of suicide, family have had to live in shame in their communities when their family member took their own life. Not too long ago in the grand scheme of things you didn’t even speak of someone that committed suicide because it made people uncomfortable. However, as our brains develop from nothing to something, we’ve come to realize that it’s the very topics we don’t want to discuss that we must.
13 Reasons Why is a TV show that has created more conversation around bullying, suicide, rape, and life in high school. Many say that because of the graphic nature of the show that the entire team of people involved are glorifying these subjects. But, before we get into that I think we need to address a massive failure in society these days.
The Hate Bandwagon
So often we throw around buzz terms and catchphrases. You hear someone say 13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide because it’s graphic and then you yourself say it. That’s a huge problem. We’re cheapening a subject when we use terms we don’t even understand. You, if you’re going with that narrative about the show are cheapening what they are trying to do.
No one is admiring or praising suicide. There’s a very definitive line between communicating and glorifying. However, to get your attention, what sounds better as a headline?
13 Reasons Why Communicates the Dark Nature of Suicide
13 Reasons Why Glorifies the Dark Nature of Suicide
Your brain immediately kicks into high gear upon reading the second headline, while the first seems kinda boring. So, in the interest of getting your attention a buzz word is added and suddenly you’re tweeting about how a show is wrong. You need to stop and think about what you’re saying. You have a cell phone right? It has internet? Google a word before you throw it around, “Hey Siri. Define glorification.” It’s that easy. Stop being a parrot.
Now there is a real concern about those who experienced the same trauma as Hannah being re-traumatized by the show. I get that. It’s hard for me to watch any show or movie that explores the relationship between grandparents and their grandkids since I lost all of mine. It’s also hard to watch 13 Reasons Whyat times because I have known a few people that committed suicide; one right after I saw him. I’m not trying to equate my experiences with having the horrific crime of rape forced upon your life, but I’m saying that pain exists in all art and if I know the subject matter ahead of time I simply won’t watch it. We all have the free will to do so. At the very least you can be prepared. There are advisories before the show starts, the trailer on Netflix was quite telling, and the synopsis online was dark. I remember tuning into the first episode and feeling an extra sense of dread when the advisory came on. There was a certain mental impact to the way they presented it.
A Summary of 13 Reasons Why
Now I probably should have done this earlier, but for those who haven’t heard of the show; it’s about a girl named Hannah who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes explaining why she did it. She doesn’t give full answers because I suspect it’s hard to succinctly prepare a beginning, middle, climax, and end when explaining why you want to kill yourself, but she does present her case for self-inflicted death. The show then goes on to explore the ramifications for those that knew her.
However, this isn’t just a show about rape, suicide, and bullying. At it’s core, 13 Reasons Why is about how dangerous high school can be. We as adults often forget that. We look at bills, job stress, relationships, and other subjects are far more important that teenage drama, so we easily dismiss the concerns of someone in high school.
My Life in High School
Personally, I found that time in my life brutal. Every day I’d go to school wondering if I’d get beat up, teased, and bullied. It was a good day when 3:30 would come and people just left me alone. Eventually, I rebelled because the school I spent most of my teen years at really didn’t care to know what was going on. I remember the relief that came from the first time I hit one of my bullies and laid him out. George Bessas; what a POS he was. I say was not because he’s in my past, but because standing up to him ended his reign of tyranny. Now I’m not saying fists should fly whenever someone acts a fool, but at the very least something should be done.
Regardless of daily bullying, I never contemplated suicide. I may have seemed suicidal through grades 8 - 10 though. I wrote dark poetry for class, and would often incorporate words from great minds like Hemingway who took their own lives. My teachers would praise the style but never question the content. That’s because it was taboo to discuss such matters. Many of my teachers were simply there to teach out of a book. That’s another subject you see dealt with on 13 Reasons Why. Hannah’s parents go after the school, and the defense tries to make high school life seem like a simple right or wrong, good vs bad scenario when it’s never that easy.
That said, I was never raped and I don’t know what I would have done if I were. Maybe that would have pushed me over the edge. I could see how given the brutal powerless violence of the act. It’s just so very dark and disturbing on every level. One of my friends was raped and it is all she could do just to function in society. Eventually though, with support she was able to tuck that memory away in the deep recesses of her mind and get back to the fun loving person she was, but there were nights when I would stay over just to be sure she would be okay through the tears, nightmares, and depression.
I know people who have committed suicide; one right after I left him. I have admired people who have committed suicide; actors Heath Ledger and Robin Williams, authors like Hemingway and most recently, Anthony Bourdain. I have also seen families attempt to deal with a suicide. One common thread amongst them all is the unpredictability, and then in hindsight we all see the warning signs.
13 Reasons Why is not glorifying suicide or rape; they are dealing with it because these subjects should never be taboo. When did awareness become a dirty concept?
Less than 5% of people who try to commit suicide and fail, try again. That’s likely because it has been discovered that the vast majority of suicides are committed on impulse within an hour or less of the decision. The Hannah character is in the minority in that she actively plans to kill herself. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t warning signs in both cases though. While commitment to suicide and acting upon it are often rash decisions, dark thoughts come from trauma.
Ultimately, I think that’s where this show is going. They are trying to show that if you see someone with trauma it is on you to try and help because you never know when someone will be pushed past their breaking point. I have a feeling they’ll explore the impulsive nature of these decisions as the show progresses.
Glorification vs Awareness
People have a tendency to look for negatives in everything, and devoid of a negative we’ll often just make one up by reading between the lines. With art, the second someone makes money off of a taboo subject the piece of art is demonized. However, to create something like 13 Reasons Why, it requires thousands of hours, resources, and skilled labour. Without financial reward this wouldn’t exist because the world unfortunately runs on paper with something random printed on it that was given a value.
To those that say the show is glorifying rape and suicide, I invite you to imagine being on set. The cast and crew are regular people, just like you. So how spent would you be producing this content? Mentally, physically, and spiritually you’d be drained; tears would flow and at times you’d go to a dark place. Just imagine what it was like to act all of this out and bring awareness to these issues. Would you be doing it to praise rape or suicide, or would you be doing it to help? Why do we do the marathons, volunteer, and fundraise for causes? Because we want to help. Unfortunately, those efforts only go so far and we as people need dramatic examples to rip us out of complacency.
Throwing around phrases like, “13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide” is irresponsible and childish. This isn’t what we as adults are supposed to do. Adults are supposed to take time to process a message and then if there are children in our lives, explain what it means so they understand. Teenagers act on every impulse, so why are there so many adults acting like teens?
The Medium & Our Minds
At no point should art be dismissed simply because it makes money. To have such a mindset allows you to cheapen the message. With every generation there are mediums that reach the intended audience. During WWII, live theatre shows were used to ramp up financial contributions for the war. When Lincoln was elected the newspaper was an invaluable source of information. In the 80′s and 90′s TV commercials were used to advertise suicide help lines, and now we have infotainment. This started when TV shows like Family Matters would break from comedy for a few minutes to deal with subjects such as racism. As video evolved, someone along the way figured out that there is a way to entertain and educate, brining us to the Netflix and online media culture we have today. Often we’ll see comedy and trauma brought together into one piece of art layered on top of reality.
Saying that doing so is glorification is simply missing the point. In a world of irrational standards and dribble like the Kardashians, Big Brother, and Honey Boo Boo it is shows like 13 Reasons Why that help ground us and bring us back into that reality—cutting through the noise and getting us to think again. We may not like the thoughts but we need to stop numbing ourselves.
I watched 13 Reasons Why and it made me a better person because I was made more acutely aware of how my small actions could have such an impact on someone’s life. I find myself trying to help out more.
The key to all of this is we have a show that is yelling from the rooftops, “STOP STAYING SILENT!” Whether you are experiencing trauma or see someone who is, do not let it go unnoticed. If you are close enough to see it there may not be another person that is, so it’s up to you to act. While many of us are shocked at the death of Anthony Bourdain, there are those closest to him that are saying in hindsight they could have done more. I don’t suspect that will ever change, but I’d imagine there are a lot of people out there that didn’t kill themselves because someone paid attention.