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12.05.2017

Too late? | Connecting with Culture

‘If you’re listening… you’re too late’. That’s the tagline for the new hit Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. Recently renewed for a second season, the programme has provoked intense online discussion about its portrayal of suicide, sexual assault, and contemporary teenage life.

It tells the story of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Her suicide ‘note’ is 13 cassette tapes telling the story of her life – and death. Each tape blames a different person for contributing to her death.

Despite being certified 18, thousands of teenagers are binge-watching this programme and discussing it on social media.

I am not recommending that you watch this programme for entertainment. It comes with heavy trigger warnings, and contains graphic depictions of rape and suicide. There are reasonable fears that it will lead to copycat suicides. It is intense and at times overwhelming viewing.

The fact is, however, that teenagers are watching it. And although its tagline is that ‘you’re too late’, we are not too late to begin talking about the issues it depicts, especially those which are often overlooked or downplayed elsewhere.

Although the issues it portrays are troubling, more troubling still is the way that 13 Reasons Why deals with them. It fails to suggest a viable alternative to suicide should a teenager identify with Hannah’s experiences. There is no discussion of mental health, or where to find help.

Throughout the series, there is little semblance of hope. Where hope is present, it is false. It conflates redemption and revenge, implicitly suggesting that redemption involves seeking revenge on those who have wronged you.

This programme raises serious questions we should be discussing with our young people.

A world without true hope is one in which many people live. It is one which our teenagers rub shoulders with every day. We must equip ourselves and our children with the truth of the hope that we have that is not of this world. We must begin conversations about these issues, but show that there is hope to be found, no matter what.

So is it too late? No. If your friends are watching 13 Reasons Why, use it as a conversation starter. If your teenagers are watching it, consider watching it with them and talking to them about it – ask how accurate they feel it is. Introduce the gospel into it, and be prepared to give an answer for the eternal hope that you have, despite the problems this show presents as insurmountable.

Other helpful articles to read:
13 reasons everyone’s talking about new Netflix Drama 13 Reasons Why (BBC)

13 Reasons Why: what you need to know as a parent (selfharmUK)

13 Reasons Why: the what’s what (selfharmUK)

Author

Nell Goddard

Comments

  1. What would it take to create an alternative? 14 Reasons a Netflix series filled with hope, joy, love, forgiveness.

    By James - 12th May 2017
  2. Thank you. I have two teenagers, so I watched all 13 episodes. I concur with your piece, thank you for the perspective. As a parent of teenagers, I was disturbed by all the themes you identify. But I have had a nagging concern about one that seems to have raised so little attention – the complete apathy on the part of many teachers and parents depicted in the series.
    Why have so many of the teachers and administrators been depicted as having given up on holding the students accountable for their behaviour? Or confronting the obvious absence of “joy” in their lives.
    I fear that many adults in this series are portraying a culture of “lowest common denominator” of expectations for emerging youth. My greater fear is the portrayals are accurate, and could easily be found within Christian circles as well. All too often I have perceived Christian parents more concerned about popularity than the true hope to which you refer.

    By Michael O'Neill - 12th May 2017
  3. great piece, even though I’ve never seen it!

    By Bruce Gulland - 12th May 2017
  4. It is so important that young people are listened to and their words not dismissed as unimportant. Adults who live or work around teens need to be acutely aware of the trauma many young people go through as a result of interactions with their peers. It really matters to them if someone calls them fat, or ugly, or stupid, or if they are ignored – it can literally be a matter of life or death to them.
    So parents, teachers, youth leaders, church leaders, please take note of this series and let’s all learn from it!

    By Margaret Parker - 12th May 2017
  5. Great choice of subject, Nell, and well written. There’s no pulling any punches with stuff like this. And it needs talking about. Thankfully our church’s youth leader is on the ball and has already raised it as a topic for discussion with the youth.

    By Siobhan O'Reilly Calthrop - 15th May 2017
  6. Dear Nell,
    Thank you for your very thought provoking message.

    This is definitely I will be addressing within our church setting

    God’s blessing

    By Ruth Jacklin - 15th May 2017
  7. Many thanks for this; I was not aware of this particular series before. Watching two episodes was more than enough. The teenagers I know personally also suffer verbal and mobile abuse, but thankfully they do talk about it and get listened to. We already discuss most of the serious issues that are illustrated in the film and most of them know that under-age sexting is illegal. I am wary of your suggestion “consider watching it with them” as, almost certainly, it would be in violation of the child protection policies of the church and schools I work with. Thanks again.

    By Tony Foord - 16th May 2017

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