I was never really the most popular kid in school. I know the feeling of having to look up from the depths of mediocrity, while the light shone on the exemplary talents of those few select kids. Smartest kid in the class, the basketball team captain, the boy/girl spared by puberty and pimples, the school seemed like a free state by itself with its own version of patricians and plebs.
Watching Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, I found Hannah Baker’s journey through her four years of high school vaguely relatable, since I had been there done that. I’ve known ‘that’ kid who gets ostracised by the whole school and becomes the butt of all jokes. I’ve known a Hannah Baker, well almost.
13 Reasons Why starts with a voice-over of a dead girl, who asks us to ‘settle in’ before we listen to her story, the circumstances and the people who drove her to killing herself. There is a high probability that as viewers we deem her ‘weak’ who is only ‘seeking attention’, and that sentiment is echoed by plenty of her classmates.
And yet as we intently listen to the thirteen sides (each side stating one person as one reason) of the cassettes, it becomes clear to us that it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, but years of systematic bullying and shaming which drove the girl to her early fate. And therefore it would be criminal to write it off as just another ‘high school’ show.
One of its biggest wins, is that it highlights the everyday incidents which can take a cumulative toll on a sensitive soul. Remember when you made fun of your fat classmate? Or spread an irresponsible rumour about a girl? Yes, you *would have* been complicit if that person tried to take his/her life. The show addresses the toxic high school environment where these ‘kids’ are ‘just joking’ and how it really affects those with a low self esteem or those suffering from depression.
What I personally liked about the show was how despite carrying on the same high school cliche of the jocks/nerds/cheerleaders, it gives us some fresh insight into them. It tells us how beneficial/harmful a single rumour can be, within the confines of that high school bubble.
The show has also been receiving a lot of flak for its portrayal of suicides and mental health illness, as many find it deeply disturbing. Health experts have called it problematic as it may encourage suicides even more.
The reason it is a point of heated online debates is because it asks pertinent questions about bullying, reaching out to depressed and/or suicidal students, on the whole making us all the more aware of the consequences of our actions which were only ‘meant as a joke’. It also makes a case that there are those more unhappy than us, who are also less capable of fighting that unhappiness.
The show deserves to be binged, even through its trying bits when you might find yourself low on patience. Since it effectively brings out the conversation on bullying, student suicides, depression as an illness, like few other shows do. As the protagonist’s mother rightly points out at one point in the show – what kind of ‘kids’ scribble something like a ‘cum dumpster’ on the bathroom walls? When do these 17-year-old ‘kids’ see the severe consequences of their ‘harmless pranks’?
13 Reasons Why talks about reaching out to the troubled ones. However, it is timely also because it makes us reflect on our behaviour and prompts us to police the things we do/say, which could turn into something ugly.