Whether you’ve watched it or not, Netflix’s newest original series, 13 Reasons Why, is most definitely on your radar. Originally aimed at teens — it’s based on a 2007 YA novel of the same name — the show, and the controversy surrounding its graphic depiction of suicide, has quickly become a minor juggernaut, making it impossible for even those of us who had no interest in wading through all 13 of the show’s hours not to take notice.
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a quick rundown: The show centers around a high schooler named Hannah Baker, who, by the time the action begins, has already committed suicide. Before she died, Hannah cataloged the reasons that she decided to take her own life, recorded cassette tapes for every person she deemed responsible, and delivered them to a classmate with a demand that they would be listened to and passed along.
If this doesn’t happen, Hannah warns from beyond the grave, a trusted individual will make the tapes available to the public, thereby implicating every person Hannah believes is on the hook for her death.
“This was not a spur of the moment decision,” Hannah says. “Do not take me for granted. Not again.”
The rest of the show plays out like a PSA wrapped in a murder mystery. As the tapes are played one by one, we learn that there’s much more than meets the eye to Hannah’s suicide, including bullying, victim-blaming, betrayal, and, most distressingly, numerous instances of sexual assault.
That’s a lot of drama, so it’s no surprise that it makes for addictive viewing — especially for teens, who report suicidal thoughts at an alarming rate. And while it would be easy to write off the concern that adults began expressing about 13 Reasons Why as needless hand-wringing, the way the show portrays suicide was deserving of some conversation.
As the show took off, schools began sending home notes warning parents of the show’s subject matter and websites commissioned a stream of think pieces on whether it should have been made at all. Soon, those who were associated with the series’ creation began defending the artistic merit of filming Hannah’s suicide, while, at the same time, more and more sources began to report that the show had been renewed for a second season — with possible topics being copycat suicides (a phenomenon that was most recently seen in a Palo Alto school districtt), a rape trial, or potentially a school shooting. All of this fueled even more wide-eyed adult terror and some involved parties distancing themselves from the project.