13 Reasons Why: Informative or Sensationalist?

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original TV series that has been heavily criticised. Season 1 of the series followed the story of Hannah Baker and why she committed suicide. Hannah made 13 videotapes, each one about a person who caused her suicide. They were watched by her friend Clay.

In series 2, Hannah’s ghost follows Clay around. Series 1 was controversial as it raised issues around suicide and male to female rape, but series 2 has led to far more controversy. The series raised a number of painful and controversial issues – male to male rape, physical violence, bullying, mental health issues, suicide and more. Many felt that it promoted bullying and violence. The violence has been described by critics as disgusting and unnecessary. The target audience of the show is teenagers, even though it is rated 18. Many have expressed their upset at watching scenes that have happened in the show, particularly the physical and sexual assault in the male to male rape scene. However, the show’s creator, Brian Yorkey, says, “it doesn’t even come close to the pain experienced by the people who actually go through these things.” A correct response, but perhaps not enough to satisfy the detractors.

The second series has been heavily criticised, but it has also been praised. TV has a big impact on people and the way young people think about things. The media can raise important issues and awareness. For example, Mental Health Awareness Week raises issues for all of us about the people who are suffering mental health issues. Ford UK placed a video on their website and produced adverts about the elephant in the van – that we are afraid to talk about mental health issues and encouraging men to talk to each other. On the other hand, you have to remember that the press and any media has an agenda setting function. It decides what is important and what we should know. This means that we do not always get an unbiased view of what we are learning about through the media and films.

Do TV series like 13 Reasons Why inform us and then encourage us to share our experiences with others who can help? Netflix commissioned the Institutional Review Board of Northwestern University to find out and found that the majority of 5,000 parents and adolescents interviewed who watched the show found it beneficial. Some of the relevant statistics can be seen below.

• 75% said they had experienced similar issues.
• 69% said that they thought the show was helpful for people of their age.
• 56% of parents said that the show had encouraged their children to open up and talk about the issues in the show.

This research, which of course was carried out on behalf of Netflix, suggests that the show is beneficial and helpful in encouraging people to talk about the issues raised. Others still criticise the show saying it encourages suicides, violence, teen shootings, vigilante behaviour and exposes teenagers to violence. The Independent also raised the point that it could even result in suicide contagion or copycat suicides. There has, some other statistics say, also been an increase in suicides after the graphic descriptions of suicide in the show. How such a  result is found can be something open to debate, however. Can it really be put down to a television programme? Not everyone who commits suicide will have watched 13 Reasons why, and if the numbers considered only include those who have, that may provide some rather unreliable findings. Questions or calculations can be somewhat loaded to ensure the “right” answers are found. And there is another thing we also have to consider when people call for programmes like this to be banned: freedom of the press and media censorship. Should we ban programmes? There is no real answer to the question.

If there is one thing I would say about the controversy, it is this: we have to encourage programme makers to seriously consider WHY they are making these programmes and what they aim to achieve. A more substantial response than “it’s not as bad as the real thing” to its critics would be a start, and could put out a lot of the fires raging around it.

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