Saturday, April 8, 2017

13 Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why has been the hot new series over spring break and everyone at my school has been talking about it.  In a rare act of trying to keep up to date with popular phenomenon, I did watch the series and just finished yesterday.

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I went into the show very warily and honestly from a pretty skeptical and critical point of view, and I came away with lots of thoughts and opinions.  I have decided to limit myself to 13 comments in order to match the trend.

By the way, I have not read the book by Jay Asher that the series is based off of, so I can't speak to any of those aspects.  I will say that this is a creative idea by him that I've never really seen before, and which is really intriguing.

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This post does contain mild spoilers, so be warned!

If you want a quick recommendation, I would suggest that you consider the fact that the series contains lots of profane language, some intense sexual moments including sexual violence, drug use, and graphic depictions of violence.

Generally these scenes can be passed over by careful fast forwarding (it is a Netflix series, after all), but these scenes are critical to the plot.  What I'm saying is that you don't have to watch the actual scenes, but you need to be aware that these moments play into the plot.

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If you decide you are comfortable with these elements being portrayed, then I would suggest watching the show with a fairly critical eye, looking out for good messages where you see them, but acknowledging that there may be some themes that are not quite savory.

I would, however, generally recommend watching the series if not to keep up to date on what is making the rounds in the culture, just because it can open up a lot of conversations, and it's pretty interesting to consider.  Come back if/when you watch the series and we can discuss here!  But for now, spoiler-avoiders begone!

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#1: The Title

I was first a little wary about the show when my friends explained the plot.  The show tells the story of Hannah Baker, a teenager who decides to commit suicide and leaves behind casette tapes for the people she holds responsible for her decision to listen to.

I had problems with the Hannah's cassette tapes which I'll get to in a bit, but first of all, I was worried about the title.  The title is basically 13 Reasons Why I Committed Suicide, which makes it sound like there are valid reasons, ergo suicide can be reasonable.  The reality is that suicide is not a reasonable path, and I think it's a little dangerous to paint the picture like it is, especially for a show geared so much toward a younger audience.

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#2: Depression, Not Reason

Think of all the ways your body involuntarily fights to be alive.  There are so many that you may not even notice, and it takes a very corrupted mental outlook in order to fight against these automatic impulses and actually harm yourself or kill yourself.  

What I'm trying to say, is that someone is not in a reasonable place when they decide to kill themselves.  If Hannah really was the reasonable character who was completely validated in killing herself that the show makes her out to be, then she would have been reasonable enough to see that she doesn't need to commit suicide and she can get help.  Someone in a state like Hannah's is ipso facto incapable of making a reasonable list of why she feels the way she does and who is to blame.

Suicide is not reasonable, and Hannah's decision was not reasonable.  I find it very hard to believe someone in such a confused mental state would be able to come up with 13 clear and logical reasons to commit suicide and still not be logical enough to realize that suicide is not the way to go.

It was her mental problem of depression that drove her to commit suicide, not reason.

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#3: The Blame Game

As soon as I heard the summary of the series, I was very perturbed by the idea that Hannah blamed her decision on the people around her completely.  Yeah, people in high school can sometimes be horrible.  But no one killed Hannah Baker but herself.  People may have contributed, but it's not fair to say--as Tony did--that Clay (for example) killed Hannah Baker.

Hannah had a mental problem, and it's not okay to pin to blame on other people.  This blame game is clearly very detrimental to a character like Alex who tries to kill himself at the end because he has to bear that burden.  

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#4: Production Value

The show did have great production value, and I particularly was drawn to the lighting.  Each shot had very careful lighting that I really appreciated.  There were also great moments of transition throughout that seemed very well thought out and artistic. 

The makeup looked great, especially on Hannah's grief stricken mother and Clay once he rain into a tree at the beginning.  I thought this idea of having a scar on Clay's face was a fabulous idea because it made a clear distinction between past Clay who was scar-less, and post-Hannah-death Clay who did have a scar. 

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#5: Characterization 

Each of the characters in the series were very well developed.  I liked how we got background on each of the characters, particularly Justin.  Justin's story perfectly demonstrates that it is hard to know exactly what is going on in someone's life.  He does some horrible things in the series, but it is heartbreaking to see what is going on in his home.  This isn't to excuse his actions, but rather to show that people are not black and white and there are good things and bad things to everyone.

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#6:  Message of Compassion

I liked the message of compassion and how important it is to treat people nicely and be a friend, which was really highlighted when Clay ran up to Skye in the hall at the end.  While it's not your responsibility to be perfect, it is a small thing that can make a huge difference in someone's life.

A lot of times, people considering suicide are teetering on the very edge of doing it or not doing it, and a simple act can sway them away from making that decision.  It's good to promote compassion among teens and all people, so I'm glad the show did that.

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#7:  Grief After Suicide

Hannah's parents and all her friends have an extremely difficult time after Hannah's suicide recovering.  I like how this shows that suicide doesn't really eliminate pain, it just transfers it to other people, often the people that care most about the victim and the people the victim cares most about.

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#8: Length

The book is very short, with only thirteen chapters.  I have never actually read the book, but I imagine that there is a lot of additional stuff put into the show.  With this comes some pacing problems, which I did notice. 

Around episode 7 or 8 before things really started picking up to escalate the ending, things were getting repetitive and there was an excessive amount of mysterious voice over, and some of the tapes, like that of Zach seemed rather minor offenses that didn't warrant a full episode.

There were just a couple pacing problems, but generally I think it was alright because we were all anxiously awaiting Clay's tape.  I mean, it got my attention well enough to watch the whole series in one week.

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#9:  Abdication of Personal Responsibility

Throughout the whole series, Hannah tells people why it was their fault, but she rarely acknowledges the places she went wrong.  She was not perfect, and there were multiple missed opportunities where she could have sought help.  I know that it's hard to do that when you're in a place like Hannah, and she did try to go to the school counselor, but I wish there had been more recognition in the tapes that Hannah weighed all the things that had happened to her and she had decided to end her life.  No one else decided for her.

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#10: Music

I liked how there were many different tracks used throughout the series.  I think they added a lot of emotion to the show and kept things feeling rather teen-like.  I think the music was done very well for the most part.

#11: The Lawsuit

I don't know how I feel about the Bakers trying to sue the school district because they didn't notice the bullying going on.  I understand that they lost an irreplaceable person, but is it fair to say that the school should have noticed the bullying but it's okay that the parents didn't?  

Taking $200,000 from the school district may make it harder for them to get the resources for other kids they need, like better counselors, etc., no?  This is something I've been considering for awhile, and I wonder what y'all think about this. 

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#12: Acting

The acting in this was the bomb dot com.  Everyone did a great job, in my opinion, particularly Mrs. Baker, Hannah, and Clay.  I think the teens did a good job of holding all their emotions and not knowing how to communicate them.  The parents also did a good job of desperately trying to figure out where their kids were coming from while also trying to allow them space.

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#13: Season Two?

The ending was just a bit confusing to me.  Why was the kid who took all the yearbook photos putting guns in a suitcase with a fake bottom?  What's with all the photos hanging up in his dark room?  Will the case go to trial?

I don't think a season two is necessary because the series got it's message across, and I like the idea of keeping things basic at thirteen. Do you think a season two is necessary or should the show quit while it's ahead?

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Alright, this show has it's flaws.  It does.  It has some messages that viewers should be careful to see and avoid.  It also has some great aspects and can open people up to talking more about these kind of issues. 

Let me know what you thought of the show, and I'll continue to think about it myself.  Who knows, maybe I'll come to a better understanding of it and my opinions will change.  

Have an awesome weekend!

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