So… I hate watched my way through 13 Reasons Why.
It was a shame. I really wanted to like it. I’m all about the teen drama. I read the book while I was a high school teacher and liked it. I referred to it in class a number of times and a few kids did end up reading it off the recommendation. I wish I could get into a bit of a discussion here about how disappointed I was with some of the finer points of the adaptation but I can’t really remember anything about the book. Whoops. With that in mind, I was totally looking forward to the series to reacquaint myself with the material.
But then I hated it. And I hated it so much that I would like to present you with the real 13 Reasons Why… 13 Reasons Why Hannah Baker is the worst human being ever.
1. A number of times in the first few episodes, Hannah screams down a boy in a crowded school hallway and the like with whoppers such as ‘WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME’ and ‘GET AWAY FROM ME’… I did not find this an effective way to convince a viewer to bestow much faith in our narrator. In fact, all it does is make me think she’s a very special snowflake who loves a bit of attention.
2. Who would make someone that you genuinely liked and cared for sit through eleven recordings under the belief that they were one of the reasons you killed yourself only to then turn around and go – yeah, nah. Brilliant.
3. Congratulations on outing someone with your tapes. You’re a real gem, Hannah.
4. I find it hard to believe that someone has the capacity to sit down, having made the decision to kill themselves, and reflectively record themselves with such a mature and keen insight (complete with well written zingers for all those naughty teens) for hours on end without reconsidering their decision.
5. Yeah, and maybe you read the previous dot point thinking BUT MENTAL ILLNESS DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE. I did too. But then again, it seemed Hannah was also smart enough to realise that. Especially that she was killing herself more out of spite of other people. So again… what was she thinking? I found the series incredibly muddled in its depiction, or non-depiction, of mental illness that it is so unclear as to why Hannah killed herself at all.
6. Giving closure and reasons to the bad people in your life and none to your parents? Again, brilliant.
7. Sending Clay away in a fit of self entitled woe-is-me-ness, but then telling him in the tapes that he should’ve stayed. Poor boys… how are they ever meant to understand? The word consent gets drilled into them a gazillion times as they become men… but to Hannah – go means stay. No means yes. How dare Clay not understand that!
8. Being so cliched as to put something on the roof of a car and forget about it.
9. Dragging poor Tony, whom she hardly knew, into this highly unfair schmozzle and burdening him with something that could be just as equally emotionally scarring.
10. Blaming Justin for Jessica’s rape and yet passing her own inaction to the event off as justified. Once again, brilliant.
11. Her actions after her final conversation with Mr. Porter, in which she boldly stood outside his office and spoke into the microphone ‘nope. he’s not coming after me.’… at this point she lost any sense of sympathy she might have had left. How disgusting. So life is so unfair because other people don’t want to buy into her adolescent mind games?
12. Yeah, and I was mighty disappointed we didn’t get to the thirteenth tape and hear Hannah give herself her own tape. Yeah, Hannah, don’t forget YOU WERE A REASON YOU KILLED YOURSELF TOO.
13. But perhaps possibly the most amazing thing about how Hannah is such a terrible person is that she’s a constructed character, yet she is presented as someone that is ‘good’. And watching the first episode, it’s obvious she is a constructed narrative element… you know, when she jumps off the school bus while flirting with Justin and she doesn’t even catch that bus and it’s all so adorably quirky and just what you would imagine from 27 year olds playing 16 years old and it’s all so aspirational, in that fairytale way, like Hannah’s a character in a Zach Braff directed indie film from circa 2005. And then she kills herself. And we’re awash with these really serious issues. And that’s not aspirational at all.
And I know the show has gotten a bit of flack regarding its depiction of suicide. But I’m not really that offside about the whole thing. The show’s frankness, for better or worse, is one element that series does a good job with. Purging silences is a good thing. Although that suicide scene is super graphic. Ouch.
But if you look at any article on the Internet that is somewhat critical about the series, it’s soon flooded by comments from teenagers outraged at how someone could possibly DARE critique a program that they feel so strongly about. My real problem with Hannah is that people don’t seem to engage critically with her. You then read all these comments made by teenagers on articles – you know, things like ‘this series is like my life’, ‘Hannah is just like me’, ‘i went through exactly what Hannah went through, i wish people questioned more what was going on in other people’s head’ etc. etc. and all Hannah is ending up as is being built as this weird cultural touchstone.
But she shouldn’t. Hannah is not okay. She makes choices that aren’t okay. Her standing outside Mr. Porter’s office wishing him to come and chase her sums that up to a tee. Hannah is a horrible person, and yet no one – including a whole bunch of audiences members who are defending the show to the hilt – questions it. As the audience, she is one of the two sympathetic figures who I figure we are meant to align with. But we shouldn’t… because Hannah doesn’t do a single thing here that deserves such treatment. And no one calls her out on her shitty behaviour, except for a couple of references as to how she is a ‘liar’.
And sure, just because a character isn’t clearly called out to be flawed doesn’t mean the audience isn’t smart enough to read into it and come to that conclusion on their own, but this is a teen series. And we have to remember that the things we create exist within a context. Within a culture. And I don’t believe this series mediates this well. Hannah is like a metonymy of everything that is wrong with culture decline these days. She’s the social media generation in a nutshell. She’s neo-liberalism gone wild. She’s completely self centred and yet somehow manages to become a hero to the rest of the world because she loves to call out how she’s a victim. All she’s about is doing something more distinctive than anyone else, and people love that. She’s exhibitionist culture that values the individual experience over the collective. And of course, it’s no wonder this series is awash with this. It was made in 2017 after all. Oh, wow, I’ve just gotten mega grumpy.
But when you are presenting yourself with such serious subject matter, I really feel like you should have the capacity to understand what you are contributing to the culture and what you can do to make this world a better place. And when everyone in your show is a villain and you’re meant to feel sympathy for Hannah and no one is questioning the fact that she is actually a terrible product of a me, me, me society, then that just… sucks.