When the first season of ‘13 Reasons Why’ was released on Netflix, it became one of those shows that was more obligation than choice. Everyone had binged it, everyone was talking about it and each had their own opinion on the controversial series. It may not have been award-winning television, but it was clever and once you started, you had to finish. However, it was also deeply criticised. The portrayal of the main character’s suicide was unabridged and graphic, more so than necessary, and was glamorised as having positive impacts on the lives of other characters.
In the 19 days following the release of the show, searches relating to suicide attempts, for example “how to kill yourself” and “teen suicide”, increased by almost twenty percent. This translates to between 900,000 and 1.5 million additional searches. As the show is targeted at a young audience, it is alarming that these searches could be primarily teenagers or young adults. This is of course not to say that an increase in searches means an increase in attempts, but it is certainly indicative and worrying nonetheless. Further to this, on several occasions the show has been directly implicated in the deaths of several young people.
While it is commendable that the show brings to light many important issues, there are serious concerns to be addressed. When creating a show aimed at a young audience it is hugely important to take into consideration the potential repercussions. A show that addresses these kinds of issues has a responsibility to do it in way that is not damaging and encouraging to a young audience, with the potential to trigger people at risk. The depiction of the suicide and its glamorization through the narrative is, in my opinion, unacceptable.
This article is written ahead of the release of season two on Netflix. In light of the serious repercussions of the first season, this time a warning has been added that states it “might not be right for you”. In addition to this, Netflix will be providing more support resources for parents and teens. While this is a step in the right direction, I am hesitant to believe it will achieve much. It is not out of the question for a warning to be ignored and the resources to go unused, while a similar reaction to that of the first season is highly likely. It begs the question whether it is justifiable to create a show with this potential for danger. Is the motivation to start conversation about difficult topics or is it simply to create a show that sells and makes money, despite the effect it could have on so many young lives? In either case, with consequences so severe, I am not sure I am able to support it.