'13 Reasons Why' Is Suicide Porn

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In the 1990s, My So-Called Life revolutionized television, even though it wasn’t an outright hit when it first aired. It was the first drama about teenagers that was real. The show dealt with bullying, homophobia, alcohol abuse, and infidelity in a way that other shows, which glossed over topics or offered instant solutions to them, couldn’t. The show was also uplifting and helpful to teenagers experiencing these issues.

Since then, there have been several attempts to create the success and influence of My So-Called Life, but most of those efforts have fallen flat – that is, until 13 Reasons Why debuted on Netflix this year. The show is one of the most emotional, heart-wrenching, and real (sometimes to an extreme extent) shows in years.

As a critic judging 13 Reasons Why purely on quality, it would rate higher than most of the shows out there. However, as a critic, it’s also important to point out that the show could be more harmful than helpful to teenagers and adults who suffer from mental illness. Reasons explores real problems such as sexual harassment, rape, and suicide, but it doesn’t offer any concrete solutions. Worst of all, it could be seen as suicide porn in the way a suicide is fully depicted in the final episode.

Make no mistake – the scene where Hannah Baker realizes she’s going to end her life, walks in the Liberty High School hallway with no connection to other students, puts her sweats on, gets into the bathtub, and cuts her wrist (graphically) with a razor blade is masterfully filmed, directed, and acted. But watching it feels also feels similar to watching a beheading video or looking at a car accident picture that shows a young man’s body cut in half. It’s engulfing, fascinating (not in a good way), and completely gross. Worse of all, you feel like a complete idiot for watching it.

The suicide scene didn’t come out of nowhere; 13 episodes completely led up to it. But the purpose of the scene should have been to teach some sort of lesson, or at least lead to self-reflection. The scene should have made the viewer cry and “let it all out.” And with some editing, it could have.

Instead, we see Hannah take the blade, make an incision, and then deeply cut her wrist. We see the blood pour out. We see Hannah taking breaths, which eventually become slower. The only thing we don’t see is the moment she passed. Instead, the scene cuts to Hannah’s mother walking in and finding her daughter lifeless in the tub. The scene will give you nightmares. Unfortunately, it may even teach you how to slit your own wrist. It could easily make you vomit as well, and that shouldn’t be the purpose of any scene, unless we’re talking about movies like Halloween, The Exorcist, or one of the Nightmare on Elm Street.

I’m not the only one who thinks 13 Reasons Why exploits suicide. The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino believes the show makes a “smarmy spectacle” of suicide. According to the Independent, mental health groups believe the series does more harm than good. If I was a suicidal teenager, watching Reasons may convince me to go through with the act since I would get sympathy. It would also make me believe that people who allegedly caused me to slit my wrist would certainly get their payback.

As well produced, directed, and acted as 13 Reasons Why is, the show is about victimization, not strength. It makes a spectacle out of a serious issue and doesn’t (at least yet) offer any alternatives.. Even if you are an open-minded parent, you should seriously think twice about letting your child watch the show. Hopefully, somebody else will make a show titled 13 Reasons Why Not.