I watched 13 Reasons Why unnaturally quickly - within 24 hours I was over half way through the series. I was hooked, like everyone else who has watched it. I also have an opinion about the suicide and rape scenes, like everyone else who has watched it.
There are some who view the show as triggering and suggest that vulnerable people abstain from watching or watch with caution - something I think is advisable. There is no doubt the show could be triggering.
However, by now, the plot of the show is well known (there is only so long you can avoid spoilers) and at the beginning of the show the producers issued warnings and gave details of suicide helplines - something I would hardly class as irresponsible or dangerous.
I understand that people are especially worried about the effect the show will have on vulnerable teenagers, but sadly, suicide is so prevalent in our society. As a teenager I, like so many others, had a Tumblr account. And, like so many others, as I was scrolling through endless pictures of cats, glitter and tattoos, I would come across pictures of self harm. I would class these pictures as triggering. They often glamourised self-harm (beautiful girl, nice setting, pastel filters), and given the amount of people who shared these pictures on their blogs, I would say they had a large reach.
In my opinion, Hannah's suicide scene is hardly romanticised. Hannah's suicide is graphic and unnerving - you can see the fear on her face when she does it. I found it hard to watch but suicide shouldn't be brushed over - it is ugly and depictions in film and TV very rarely reflect this. The Virgin Suicides springs to mind - beautiful girls, nice setting, pastel filters. We cannot stop exploring the horrible reality of suicide. I for one would much rather people see an honest depiction of this on screen than have it occur off-screen in other characters' words. If anything this could be more damaging as it allows the viewer to project their own expectations of suicide onto the scene. Words are powerful - yet I can't remember the exact words that accompanied Hannah's suicide, but I will never forget her pained expression.
13RW has also come under fire for its 'sensationalised' rape scenes. Again, this was difficult watching. Again, it's not supposed to be easy. You peer through your fingers to watch it - it's not sensationalised, it's honest, harsh, graphic, and importantly shows that rape can happen to anyone, anywhere. Both Jess and Hannah are raped by Bryce - Jess, raped while unconscious and Hannah while awake and shocked into stillness. No two rapes are the same. Everyone's experience is different and showing both of their attacks, with Hannah's from the victim's point of view, can only help start conversations about the realities of sexual assault.
Far from being sensationalised, I would say the 13RW rape scenes, alongside those of Broadchurch and Eastenders, are two of the most responsibly represented on TV and film. If there has to be a rape scene it should accurate and difficult to watch. There are so many damaging portrayals of rape in the media. If you're looking for sensationalised rape scenes, look no further than Tarantino's Pulp Fiction or Hateful Eight - or more recently, Verhoeven's Elle.
Not only does 13RW show the reality of rape, but it also shows the reality of rape culture. The rape scenes themselves may be seen as sensationalised by their sheer existence, but rape culture is so common among teens nowadays, that if showing the harsh reality of rape is the only way we can counteract this, I think it is probably the best thing they could have done.
Of course we have to worry about those who may be triggered by watching the show, but both the rape scenes and Hannah's suicide do more to help end the silence around assault and mental health through their impact than they would if they occurred off-screen.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41