OPINION: 13 reasons why we need to be careful
IN CASE you don't have teenagers or Netflix, the latest US hit TV series to set the world on fire is 13 Reasons Why. It has all the qualities you would expect from a show of this ilk, attractive young people dealing with the ups and downs of being teens in the modern world. But in this case it features heavily on the downs, and two pretty grim ones at that - rape culture and suicide.
So is a brooding, moody, highly produced piece of pop culture the right vehicle to tackle these very relevant but serious issues? Probably not, and headspace, Mindframe et al agree.
My less qualified gut feeling upon hearing the premise of the show was a resounding why now?
God knows Clarence Valley teenagers and their parents have been through the wringer lately and a new cult TV series, no matter how educational and what kind of catalyst for conversation it is being held up to be, was still an exercise in glorification they didn't need.
For research purposes I'm only two episodes in at this stage but will sit through all those 13 reasons much like other concerned mental health workers, parents and other curious folk will.
It is noted there are some fairly graphic scenes later in the series but I guess you can't have an opinion on something controversial without knowing what kind of beast you are dealing with.
But any suggestion of giving it a chance by watching the entire series before I hit the keyboard was lost once the tone and scenario was set in episode one.
A girl who takes her own life narrates the program through a set of mysterious sounding tapes that tell the reasons she did what she did. Yep 13 of them. And that's one reason it's not the kind of conversation starter the series would like you to believe. It all sounds far too cryptic and romanticised for such a serious topic.
A lot of pre-meditated thought went into playing this game of wait and see, a well-thought demise, its only intention to entertain through intrigue rather than inform. It didn't feel right that this kind of methodical, meticulous planning was something you wanted associated with someone whose life has unravelled enough for them to contemplate taking their own.
Another gripe is a rather frivolous one. It's just too cool for school having the soundtrack, in the first episode at least, provided by Joy Division. Oh darkness, oh woe is me. The protagonist of that giant post-punk band, the troubled Ian Curtis who ultimately took his own life, was a little bit too cliche. But we are dealing with a US TV series aimed at impressionable young people so it's all or nothing when it comes to overloading the senses. Add the controversy the series has generated and it's a magnet for curious minds.
Then there's the girl at the centre of the series. The innocent, but savvy and very photogenic Hannah Baker. It was made clear from the start that she was squeaky clean. In fact the catalyst for her demise started with a kiss, her first and only. Jesus wept. If that doesn't hold up an unrealistic role model for a teenager what does?
Suggesting that someone of her genetic good fortune and virtuous life choices turns so immediately to such a savage struggle and ultimately to self-destruction, how would any normal looking, averagely vulnerable teenager feel. Pretty sh*t I imagine.
What it also says is the effects of rape culture only applies to virgins. It's all females dammit. But this kind of cliched crap doesn't serve any purpose other than to make girls and young women feel inadequate. It's the American way of tip-toeing around a tough subject and making it clear that this particular girl didn't deserve this treatment (see spoiler below). But if your daughter had a couple of boyfriends prior, well....
Blurry as we go.
I remember a 90s US teen show that broached a controversial topic once, it may have been Party of Five. A young woman was pregnant and the ordeal of all of that and the struggle as she contemplated a termination only to conveniently have a miscarriage before she had to make the decision. Phew. Only in God-fearing America.
Also for a show dealing with really serious real life issues why does everyone look like they've been airbrushed. This can't be helpful.
Every generation has had their serve of this kind of entertaining pork pie, Beverley Hills 90201, Dawson's Creek, Orange County, Gossip Girl, the list of cult vehicles goes on and most teens grew up loving one of them but the key themes didn't centre so heavily on sexual abuse at every level and a finality that needs to be treated a little more seriously than a series of gotcha tapes.
Of course the parents and teachers in the series are portrayed as a bunch of clueless, absent, overly protective pains in the arse to these clever complex kids, which might be true in some cases but selling that message to teenagers isn't going to help grown ups start up a conversation any time soon.
If you want your teen to watch something that might lead to difficult conversations like rape culture and suicide, watch the 1981 film Puberty Blues (based on the 1978 novel). Then you can point out how this isn't a new phenomenon. You don't need 13 reasons to start up a conversation, just a valid one.
(Spoiler: a boy circulates underskirt image (taken on a playground slide), just another commonly denied facet to rape culture).
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