11 Reasons why “13 Reasons Why” is good and terrible for you and your kids…

The blog title is crap, I know.  …And cliche.  But you’re here, so let’s delve in.

1Cinematically speaking, this series is very well done.

The production is on point with this series.  The music is well chosen, and you’re going to miss out big time if you don’t turn on the closed captioning.  Yeah, I know.  You guys hate them don’t you?  Well, tough.  They help so you don’t miss out on subtle narrative, and that assumes you get to fully concentrate on the episodes, which can be a stretch in a busy home.  The other thing the subtitles do is help with the music lyrics.  Many of the songs aren’t known to the intended viewing audience and this helps a lot, as they were chosen specifically to enhance the scenes or subplots.

The homes, outdoor areas, and especially the school scenes feel real and contain the hot, cold, or lukewarm you’d expect when you reflect on your time in each of them at those ages and stages in life.  So…  From a cinematic point of view, I’d give it the nod for being very well done.  The depiction of things like fight scenes are as real as they get, and if you’re not writhing in pain from watching Hannah slit her wrists up her arms, you aren’t human.  You better strap in if you’re going to watch this.  It’s heavy subject matter people.

I’ll be straight up with you.  There’s going to be plenty of spoilers along the way as you read this.  You should watch it prior to reading any further if you intend on actually experiencing the story.

On a side note, the tattoo shops in this little town must be thriving.  I’ve never seen such a heavily tattooed group of high school kids in my life.  That should be a cultural indicator for you to begin with.  I have no fundamental problem with ink.  Since the majority of the kids depicted in this film are sophomores and juniors and as such aren’t quite ready to decide what they prefer to grow up and become for the rest of their lives, popping out to the tattoo parlor for this week’s ink addition is hunky dory?  Ink is there forever, so it requires some thought folks.  When you see heavily tattooed kids well under 18, what you’re really seeing is darned little in terms of parenting.  Fact.

2Suicide is Power.  …At least in this depiction.

Now for the reality of the series itself.  Netlix comes up with an ‘original’ that centers teen suicide as the subject, manages to do some damage to you all with a series of false premises, you eat it up because there is a personal relate you may have to it, we all leave feeling like it was a good series and we’re equipped to handle it now, and then you realize there could be some serious flaws, but I haven’t pointed them out yet, so you’re in stark contrast and a little antagonized by my comments thus far.  Assuming you agree and you’re frustrated with me, you’d be right on the money.

Simply put, I don’t like the power exerted over the ‘survivors’ that stems from a Hannah’s suicide.  When I was a young man, my good friend went into my room, locked the door, killed himself setting on the edge of my bed with my gun, and I’ve been wrestling with it in some fashion or another for 20 years.  I’m not alone – others were hurt far more than me.  In fact it was 20 years to the day just a few weeks back.  I have some experience with this.

My concern with this single point is a simple one.  If we dramatize in film how much control a suicide manages to exert over others, you’re actually encouraging suicide whether you think you are or not.  Think about a person who is struggling.  Ask yourself what a person feels they need when they aren’t in control?  They need and desire power and control.  Power and control over their own lives, and possibly others.  From what I’ve read and experienced, even the pain folks with suicidal thoughts or plans have is nearly always more about control and power over a situation than anything else.  Even the act of making other’s feel pain over a suicide and loss is specifically about forcing others to an emotion – that’s control.  This series pushes power and control forth from the opening dialogue.  I agree it’s great for dramatic composition in terms of film, but it’s a hell of a risk if you don’t explain this concept properly and flesh it out to people, especially our youth.

If you were the boys at Columbine would you watch this series and extrapolate that Hannah has them eating out of the palm of her hands?  You sure would.  Hannah has the entire cast of characters dancing around like puppets on a string, and she’s masterfully laid the ground work with the tapes to keep the ball bouncing.  This entire precept IS the story line, and I believe it to be perilous.  It’s a masterful idea in terms of story line, but it’s making suicide counselors cringe all over the nation as we speak.  13 Reasons Why depicts Hannah controlling others from her grave with the act of suicide and the tapes, and that’s the last thing a suicidal person should glean from a series.  I’m really worried this false premise sends the exact opposite message to those considering suicide.  Suicide is not and should not be power over others, and Netflix gets this horribly wrong in my opinion.

3When we’re hurting, do we reach out?

The series does a good job of bringing the point home of the need to know somebody needs help before a suicide takes place.  This seems like a ‘duh’ moment, but you think on that real hard.  How likely are you to bring this up to others?  Put yourself in the position of a young student.  Do you see the faculty or staff of the school as people you’d confide your deepest secrets to?  In too many cases, no, even though you should.  I have no doubt some do and that’s fantastic, but we really need to be honest and realistic about this.  If you don’t speak to the principal or school counselor, what other options exist that you’d take as a young person?  This is assuming you’re in a high school setting.  What about college?  What about out in the workforce as an adult with kids at home?  A PTSD stricken adult?  Then who do you turn to?

I love that the encouragement to reach out for help and the need to make mention of somebody you know is hurting.  However, what person are you to be reaching out to?  We need this question asked and answered on every level if we’re going to get ahead of suicide.

4Sound the alarms.  The plot was great.  Acting was first rate.  Story lines intertwined beautifully.  Now cue the PC Police.

The PC police showed up about six seconds into the filming as near as I can tell and tossed out the ‘kindness card’ as it were.  It’s a good thing in precept, but we’ll find that it too often allows us to check a box with a big “X” that shows we acted properly when the opportunity arose.  The kindness card is often used, trending as a PC notion, and may eventually take the place of the word ‘tolerance’ in many liberal conversations.  Instead of being used in the traditional sense, as usual, we’re allowing people to manipulate it’s meaning, origin, intent, and thus co-opt it for the purposes of brow beating you into submission.  It’s really kind of interesting too, since we don’t often even realize how this stuff is done until too late.  I can hear it now, “you should be tolerant of this or that” which will morph into “you should be kind to him or her.”  …As if you or I weren’t…  Wait for it.  It’s coming.  I promise.

We’re supposed to be kind guys.  Big time.  But we’re also charged with understanding that true kindness isn’t solely a smile or a near meaningless gesture.  Rather, kindness is something you do in parallel with caring and it doesn’t end with a ‘kindness card’ being played.  Instead, the commitment to ‘caring’ towards those you know need begins with kindness.  That’s not the same as being kind or nice to someone.  Not even close.  Being kind is something we do to a stranger at a rest stop along the interstate when you see they dropped something out of their shirt pocket.  Caring is an act and far different.

5If you seek to normalize gay culture to your kids, this series is for you.  If not, you better have some explanations handy.

I’m noticing more and more that the homosexual lifestyle is promoted and pushed continuously in print, media, and motion picture.  A high school of this small size having this many kids thinking they’re gay?  That’s pretty far fetched.  That’s not an accident.  To market a series specifically with this subject matter that includes what appear to be fair proportions at a cross section of Joe Blow America High School, and then really go overboard with the gay angle really wreaks of agenda.  Of 20 or so characters 6 are gay?  You have to admit that’s heavily weighted and not reflective of a typical school’s sample size.

I’m not getting into the mental illness associated with being unable to avoid urges that lead to a person thinking they’re gay.  Rather, I’d ask anyone a very simple question.  If this series was actually and solely about teen suicide and the facets associated with it, can it not stand on it’s own without the gay agenda?  You can answer or justify any way you please, but the question remains.  Again, I have no fundamental problem with seeing a gay person represented.  Homosexuals get bullied.  I wasn’t gay in school, and I got bullied.  I’m not aware of anyone who is immune.  However, just like subject, plots, and subplots to this series, you as parents, better be ready to explain and inform your children so they don’t extrapolate the wrong ideas.

6 Hannah isn’t the only victim.

Hannah is the victim here, right?  In point of fact she’s not the only one.  Blaming the victim is crass.  It’s inappropriate and unthinkable.  Yet, victims make mistakes too.  Hannah made mistakes.  She wasn’t truthful or honest all the time.  Neither were many of the other characters.  I don’t state these things to justify bad actions or diminish the pain of those depicted or the parallels in real life.  Instead, I’m asking you all to recall at least a single thing you’ve done you’re not proud of.  I’ll bet you can come up with more than one.  My point you ask?  If you can reflect on yourself as an adult looking back, then visualize yourself as a kid.  What about your kid?  I’ve got news for you, your child is no angel.  While they can be bullied, there can also be times of perspective.  I’m not suggesting we have some relevancy debate, but more so that your kid could be the bully too.  Anybody remember that scene from “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” where Heather, who thought for 20 years she was a continual victim back in school, realizes she too managed to make life hard on somebody else?

Heather:  Wow, all that time you guys were making my life hell, the A group was doing the same thing to you! I had no idea!

Michele:  You know? I bet in high school, everybody made somebody’s life hell.

Heather:  Nope, sorry, never had the opportunity.

Michele:  I bet that’s not true…

Heather:  You think?

Michele:  Oh, yeah, you were really unpleasant.

There’s a second component to this I initially opted to not mention.  But truth won out over loyalty.  Remind me to blog about the order of two good things sometime.  With things like truth and loyalty, which is better?  That’s a “John Patrick” thing if you’re into apologetics…  I better get right to the point with this one.

How likely are you to ‘call out’ a friend that’s suffering when they are self destructive?  Will people see you as picking on them?  Especially if others know the person is suffering and it’s not a secret.  What then?  Let me be more pointed.  You know somebody that has experienced a tremendous amount of pain or they have a huge emotional chasm to hurdle, OK?  They’re hurting and the last thing you want to do is call them on a bunch of malarkey they’re giving you.  But do you?  If you know somebody is a having a really rough time and makes excuses to not do something to help themselves, do you call them on the lie?  Nobody wants to be the person who confronts a pained person, but are you being a good friend or caring person if you know they’re being self destructive and allow it because you’re afraid?  Will the perception of confrontation to a person headed down a bad road be too much for each of us to conquer?

Some people place themselves into deeper roles of despair and become more victimized simply by virtue of not dealing with the problems at hand.  Sometimes pain can be crippling.  If the risk to us is great as we consider that confrontation, can we do it?  Especially when we know it is possible we’ll be rejected?  I’d wager too often we chicken out.  Should I be “kind” and avoid the confrontation???

7Kindness reconsidered.

I know I’ve hacked on the ‘kindness card’ but only in the sense that kindness and kindness alone isn’t enough.  Keep this in context.  We’re talking about kindness in terms of how to deal with a suicidal teen, or a teen headed that direction.  Think back to how kind Jeff was to Clay.  Jeff was a popular upper classman jock who received scholastic tutoring from Clay, and treated Clay well.  Jeff tried to help Clay socially and with girls and was continually seen through the characters in the series as a solid kid.  The Tape 5 side B episode brings that home.  Clay was kind enough to tutor Jeff, right?

So…  Even though I’m really critical of the kindness card as our means to combat suicide, it’s still a good thing and is helpful.  Jeff was the epitome of kindness and it shows that kindness makes a difference.  It’s not enough to keep somebody from killing themselves.  If it was, Clay’s presence alone would have kept Hannah around.   …And she comes right and says it didn’t.

8Even Hannah gets it wrong from time to time.

Everybody is wrong at some point.  More often than we realize.  In the same Tape 5 Side B episode where Clay discovers more of what happened to Jeff, he apologies to Jeff’s parents for no other reason than he was made at Jeff having died.  Clay assumed Jeff was drunk and that lead to his death.  Clay learned the accident wasn’t Jeff’s fault most likely.  How do you think it felt for Clay to hate a friend for being dead only to learn his assumptions were incorrect?

Clay is faced with this same realization often through the tapes.  Clay assumes Hannah had told complete truths, and we learn she’s fallible, suffers from only having a single perspective, and makes errors and assumptions that lead to false precepts.  We do that same thing in daily life as well.  We’re human and we’re all going to make mistakes.

9Truth bomb.  We’re all fragile.

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  We must, and I mean absolutely must, recognize when somebody is reaching out for us.  I cannot stress that enough.  This is less about what’s said and more about your intuition than anything else.  We are born with a sense for things that are correct or incorrect.  Yet, we spend our formative years having out instincts dulled or denied.  That isn’t a plug at parenting or schooling.  It’s just the way it is.  As little kids our imaginations are part of our world.  As we grow older we place everything in boxes unfortunately and all too often, including our instincts.

I’m asking you all to listen and feel.  I’m not talking about the kind of feel where you cry at sappy movies.  I’m talking about the kind of feeling you get when you notice somebody else is emotional.  That’s your instant sign that no matter what you think about a situation, it is serious enough for them to be put well out of their comfort zone.  If you’ve got the over dramatic friend we all seem to have, do you really believe it’s all an act?  Nope.  That’s right, you know the difference.

When somebody reaches for you standing on a cliff you should autonomously thrust forward your hand to grab them.  When I was a teenager, I can vividly remember feeling like I was on that cliff’s edge.  I didn’t jump.  I also didn’t reach for help.  But if I had, would the outcome have been better or worse if somebody grabbed for me?

10 – If you’re not extremely careful suicide begets suicide.

This concept isn’t hit on heavily in the ending episode, but it does build throughout the series.  You can sense from just a cursory glance that something bad is coming down the line.  When the behaviors are bumping up, there’s more screaming, kids arming themselves, and the threats are being tossed around vigorously I assumed it was simply a matter of time when the characters who’d ‘given up’ or ‘given in’ would attempt taking their own lives.  The filming doesn’t do much with that concept, but having been thrust into a situations where people have taken their lives, it isn’t uncommon to see others considering it and following soon afterward.  If you find yourself in one of those awful scenarios, you seriously need professional and pointed intervention to ward this off.  It isn’t to be taken lightly.

11 – The classic “Inception” ending.

Assuming you’ve seen and enjoyed the movie “Inception” with Leo DiCaprio, you’ll know of which I speak.  You’re engaged with the film, just as any, and the end should explain something for you, right?  Nope.  “Inception” has inspired tremendous debate as to what the ending means.  Remember when the ending scene cuts away from the spinning top and you really don’t know whether the top stops spinning or whether it continues?  Well, for those of you familiar with the film, the difference between a spinning top or one that eventually topples over lets us know whether DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, is in and will likely remain within a dream or whether he actually is able to go home to his children and reality.

This kind of ending is hotly contended and many have deeply held beliefs about that end.  Oddly, they miss what the director, Christopher Nolan, had in mind.  Nolan wants you to discuss it and talk about it, and ask questions, rather than ‘know’ the ending, get up out of your seats, leave the theater, and never discuss it again.  The fact is, while most of you missed that the ending given is to inspire that particular response and reaction from you, you’ve none-the-less done it.  Nolan doesn’t care what you think the ending was.  He simply wanted to inspire the discussion, and he did and does.

The ending scenes here in “13 Reasons Why” are the same for me.  Are any of the characters shown to you with true conclusions?  Sure, Clay and Skye along with Tony and his boyfriend head off into the sunset.  To where though?  The ending leads us to believe they’re going to be OK.  I tend to agree.  But what about Alex?  He shoots himself and we’re told he’s in the ICU.  What happens to Bryce?  Does he face justice?  We see Zach, Courtney, and Tyler in their deposition tapes rendering half-truths, but we don’t know what happens with the suit.  With the law suit in mind, what about Hannah’s parents, and the school, and Clay’s mom?  We know that Jessica begins to tell her military Dad what happened to her, and we learn that Sheri comes clean on the stop sign she mowed down, but we have no idea how it comes out or what happens next.  We have no idea if the Baker’s little pharmacy survives or gets swallowed by WalPlex.  What about Mr. Porter?  Did he even listen to the tapes or simply toss in the 13th cassette?  We assume Justin takes off, but where?  I mean, seriously guys, Justin is armed with a gun in his bag and fresh bottle of vodka with ‘destination unknown’ written across his forehead in the last scene, and we see Tyler has enough firepower and pipe bombs to do serious damage to anyone anywhere.

There are only about 2 or 3 hundred really vital questions the ending scenes leave you with.  …And that’s the point.  We’re encouraged to discuss what happens or might.  It’s logical to assume we’d flesh some of those possibilities out and the talk would be vital for us and how we carry ourselves in the future.

My Summary…

I’m not so old that I don’t remember high school.  My wife and I had our children late in life and my classmates now have kids that are already graduated, while my little tikes are 3 and 7.  I have no doubt I’ve forgotten plenty, but I can tell you some of things I do recall…

I remember social circles.  I remember being within the “in crowd” and also being out of it.  I remember saying and doing awful things to classmates.  I can remember being the recipient too.  I remember my folks caring and wanting to talk with me and listen and guide.  I remember resisting them with every ounce of my being as well.  I remember casual drinking, binge drinking, doing stupid and dangerous things, and tossing caution to the wind often.  I remember doing things then that resulted in community service and apologies, that often land you in prison now.

Ask yourself what you remember.  Seriously.  How likely were you to talk to an adult or your folks about what was bothering you?  Imagine if you were barely getting by emotionally or otherwise, if you’d prefer to have some power over your situation or other people.  Place that in context and mull it over.  I love how real and intimate this series is on the subject.  It really hit home for me.  But I’m pleading with you to not just hit the ‘play’ button on the remote and walk off leaving your kids to draw the conclusions you hope they do.  Frankly, you might not have the right ones either.  Seriously.  Do you?  Did you watch this from the perspective of a teenager that was anxious and manic like most teens are?  I’ll bet money you didn’t.  So don’t take it for granted your kids will draw logical conclusions.  It’s your job to help decipher this stuff and guide your kids.  So get off your ass and do it.

I read an opinion piece from an 18 year old woman, Jaclyn Grimm, that was posted in USA Today.  She wrote “How ’13 Reasons Why’ Gets Suicide Wrong” and I noticed it on a friend’s facebook wall.  My friend is a counselor at a school that recently experienced the suicide of a young girl, and in a small rural school setting, especially when the girl was a beloved person by all, it tends to send the whole community into a dark place.  I think her comments back up my concerns.  Give it a read.

I have two parting thoughts for you and I can’t overstate them.  First, I loved the series and it provoked me to think about a good many things I hadn’t in years.  I’ll approach this subject and this series with a plan and clarity for how I discuss it with my children.  You should certainly do so with yours.  The ending provides us with no shortage of things to discuss with our kids and others, so do it.  If you intend to watch this series and skip discussing it thoroughly afterwards, save yourself 13 hours and don’t even bother to watch it to begin with.  Same goes for the book.

Secondly, anybody who has read this blog before knows I include a minimum of one piece of scripture to make a point and/or consider.  If you didn’t know that, you do now.  I’m skipping the scripture this one and only time in order to make my point.  And here it is.  The jocks, dweebs, squares, geeks, mean girls, stoners, gays, straights, parents, teachers, staff, law enforcement, lawyers, small business, goliath retail stores, rapists, do-gooders, poor families, rich kids, wife beaters, absentee parents, and more were represented in this series.  Do you find it odd God and church were omitted?

Think on that.

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