Off the Beat With Louis Otero: The Problem With Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”

By Louis Otero


By now you’ve probably seen someone on social media complain about how Netflix’s new show, “13 Reasons Why,” seems to glorify the act of suicide. It’s hard to argue otherwise. This show treats its main character, Hannah Baker’s, suicide as an act of heroism. It forces the mean kids to change their ways and reveal their true colors, and proves that the victim was right about everything. An adult won’t take this as seriously as its target audience, but this show is a high school drama and it is very much aimed at high schoolers. This is a terrible and confusing message to be sending that age group. Sadly, this isn’t the only problem with the series.

Honestly, the show isn’t bad. I have a proclivity for high school dramas and the series does it very well. The characters are complex and interesting and the storyline is well paced and full of twists and turns. It didn’t take long to hook me. However, the last third of the seasons took a very dark turn. You might remember a few years ago, the internet was up in arms because HBO’s “Game of Thrones” featured one of the main characters, Sansa Stark, being sexually assaulted by the show’s antagonist. The assault was never actually shown on screen and occurred at the end of the episode. It was disturbing, but it served the story. The assault, while horrific, was essential for that character’s arc.

“13 Reasons Why” features the sexual assault of two major characters over the course of its first 13-episode season. These were not hinted at- they were shown in very lengthy graphic scenes. In particular, the finale features a gratuitous and disturbing scene in which Baker is raped by the same perpetrator who assaulted her friend. It does not cut away, it lingers and honestly feels like an eternity.

I’m not overly sensitive when it comes to this kind of violence in movies. Like many others who grew up with almost unlimited access to movies and television, I’ve become desensitized to graphic content. Still, this scene in particular made me sick to my stomach. Typically, I don’t mind this kind of reaction to a show or a movie. Art is often supposed to make you uncomfortable. However, when the content in question doesn’t add anything of substance to the overall narrative, it becomes a problem.

The season involves Baker, through a series of cassette tapes, explaining why she decided to take her own life. Over the course of the show’s 13-episode first season, we watch as Baker is screwed over dozens of times by her classmates. She is harassed, slapped, and ostracized by people she considered her friends. Despite its glorification of suicide, the show initially serves a solid message against bullying. By the finale, the bullying has already pushed Baker to a point where many people her age may feel like the only way out is suicide. So, when she’s ultimately sexually assaulted at the very end of the season, it feels more like an exploitation of a traumatic event for shock value than a necessary aspect of the story.