Preface: This is an atypical post, as Bluebeard is an art project, not a platform for media commentary. I write stories, I’m the opposite of a diplomat, abrasive, even. Yet, I’m inclined to defend this series’ integrity. This show is an exception, in many regards. It handles topics most people won’t touch in a deft and admirable fashion. I’ll spare you a half-assed plot summary and get to the point. If you haven’t seen it, and you have access, I highly recommend it.
It’s not an easy thing, to balance entertainment and tragedy. Catharsis is one of the most misunderstood and least accepted precursors of joy. The concept is this; without negativity, without different emotions, and without pain, joy would be meaningless. A constant and uninterrupted joy is the equivalent to a never ending supply of heroin at your bedside. It would be fake. Light is only recognizable amidst darkness, so to speak. This is why I respect ’13 Reasons Why’ and what it does.
It creates a meaningful dialogue in a country where, frankly, we suck at feelings. It’s 2017 and people still say “Commit Suicide” like it was a crime, a murder. It’s not, and has not been in the United States since the ’80s. We treat it like it’s something dirty, we don’t educate our youth about the dangers of depression and self-harm. We ignore the victims who suffer from it every day, telling them to suck it up, because we’ve cultivated an individualistic sink-or-swim community where many would prefer to see their friends fail than see their friends surpass them. It’s this ignorance an repression that ultimately leads to higher rates of suicide in every demographic.
’13 Reasons Why’ is a perfect example of what we need more of; exposure. You can’t fight what you don’t understand, as a chemist, that fact has been drilled into my mind for years. You don’t cure cancer without an intimate knowledge of the mechanics surrounding the mutations that cause it (cyclins, P53, etc.). Yet, research on suicide and depression continues to be given a backseat to things like developing new tanks, war-machines, and war-heads because if it can’t knock the earth from its orbit, it isn’t explosive enough. The best way to combat depression is to talk about it.
As someone who has suffered from depression, as someone who’s lost someone close to their heart to depression, and someone who has thought about suicide at least once a week for the past five years, I can tell you with near-perfect certainty that the one thing that has been effective for me was having someone to talk to. Someone who wouldn’t call me an attention whore. Someone who wasn’t going to judge me for what I might be going through, however trivial it may appear from the outside looking in. Those people aren’t easy to find, because we are socialized to value stoicism and strength over emotion and introspection. The result of that, by the way, is that the cruel and stupid flourish at the expense of the thoughtful. If you’ve ever been beaten up by over four people on the playground while the aid turned the other cheek, you know what I’m talking about.
The argument against ’13 Reasons Why’ is this: Hannah’s suicide romanticizes self-harm, the tapes glorify suicide, makes it appealing, thereby increasing suicide rates.
Ironic to see this coming from the same news outlets that have a field day when when some kid shoots up a school. Glorifying school shootings by making the shooter famous and showing their face to everyone gives the killer what they wanted. This isn’t that. Hannah’s characterization is slowly revealed through the tapes, the (extremely valid) reasons she was in pain. One thing above all led to her decision, though. That was the fact that no-one was there for her. She tried, very explicitly, to reach out. Nobody gave a fuck. Instead they continued to abuse her, both verbally, and in one grim instance, sexually.
That’s the point. That’s all there is to it. Compassion and the simple act of being there, the act of not presuming to know what somebodies going through.
Not everything people are saying is wrong, her suicide scene was romanticized, in the artistic sense of the word. It was an artistic and cathartic scene that made me cry. But romanticizing something doesn’t glorify it, it’s the act of making it relatable. It’s the context that matters.
’13 Reasons Why’ accomplished something when they made depression, pain, and suicide relatable to a mass audience. The people who jump on it and condemn its intentions are the same callous, sensationalist, and opportunistic folks who’d sell everything they are for success. Success is relative. Means do not always justify ends.
I’m not arguing Hannah’s character is perfect, because she’s not. She has flaws that inhibit other peoples ability to help her, most notably Clay, the socially inept protagonist. But who doesn’t have issues? Who doesn’t have the occasional self-destructive moment? People who say they don’t ever have painful moments need to take their masks off and look in the mirror.
Another salient point is that just because Netflix produced something that contains an instance of self-harm, doesn’t mean Netflix is trying to get people to kill themselves. That same logic only holds when applied to everything, including murder, crime, and things a whole lot worse than depression that are regularly aired without criticism. We do this, this taboo stuff. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s ironic and damaging. The reason people get mad that a suicide is depicted in a story is the same reason that people get mad when there is nudity. All the while mass-murder and unapologetic gore become normalized.
I’m not arguing against depictions of violence or further censorship, rather, that people start giving more credence to actual context than click-bait titles. ’13 Reasons Why’ doesn’t convince people to kill themselves, if anything, it’s a positive step in combating the enigma of depression,
Maybe it could help our society grow in a positive way that encourages youth to be open instead of smothering uncomfortable emotions and pretending they don’t exist. That’s when the damage is done, when you bottle the negativity up. This show simply tries to alleviate that built up societal pressure. One thing it won’t do, however, is convince psychologically healthy individuals to up and kill themselves. There are reasons for suicide, it’s never trivial.