It was meant to get people talking about teen suicide and, at least by that measure, the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why certainly accomplished that. Of course, it also got a lot of people talking about the shot itself, and a lot of that commentary was less than complimentary.
One of the biggest reasons audiences and critics have panned 13 Reasons, is because the program actually shows a graphic depiction of a teen suicide. In the scene, an actress playing a 17-year-old girl slashes her wrists in a bathtub. The audience then watches her die, listening to her cry and gasp the whole time.
While the suicide in the show wasn’t a surprise to anyone who saw any teasers about the show, it was a shock for many people who didn’t expect the show to depict something so realistic. Many said the show crossed a line, making suicide look somewhat appealing or triggering suicidal thoughts in kids working through depression.
Producers reacted to the pushback by doubling down, arguing that their show was intentionally “unflinching and raw.” Brian Yorkey told reporters, “Many people are accusing the show of glamorizing suicide, and I feel strongly — and I think everyone who made the show — feel very strongly that we did the exact opposite… What we did was portray suicide, and we portrayed it as very ugly and very damaging.”
Some people agree, but the debate is ongoing. And it’s that very debate that might actually save 13 Reasons from being an obscure TV show that some teens watched, but nobody else really knows about.
As with other original programming, Netflix didn’t do much to promote this series before it just started showing up on people’s libraries as suggested viewing. And, without the controversy, it might have gone the way of several other Netflix originals that most people have never bothered watching.
Now, though, the controversy has a whole different demographic viewing the show. Concerned parents are tuning in to see if the program is something they can discuss with their kids or try to keep them from watching. If they do go the former route, there are definitely plenty of topics to talk about: sexual assault, drug abuse, bullying, suicide and … not as blatant, but certainly related, a voyeuristic culture that would rather Watch and Discuss than actually do anything about the problem.
It’s this critique that has caught the most traction. Critics say people watching this won’t raise awareness, but it could normalize something traumatic and horrifying. Others say it’s a necessary conversation starter … and the debate continues.