Based on how much Netflix’s new series about teenage suicide has set social media on fire, it can be safely declared that it’s already one of the biggest hits of 2017. How such a controversial topic exploring destructive themes and executed with such graphic detail has now seeped into mainstream media is a testament of how much our culture has become desensitized to issues that once were treated with absolutely care.
Having two daughters ages 11 and 9, I should’ve been at least two more years away from having to deal with tough and uncomfortable teenage issues and I would’ve preferred to start with say, crushes, hormones, or why romantic relationships are not a good idea in high school. I certainly would have not wanted to discuss suicide, rape, and self-harm with them until an appropriate time. But Netflix just ruined everything for me.
Sure, there have been reviews that the show has positive messages such as speaking out against bullying and showing teens that all actions have consequences, but quite frankly, cashing in on mental illness and the normalization or mainstreaming of suicide far outweighs those well-meant themes. Here are my 13 reasons why I think this show should be pulled out:
It’s morally wrong for Netflix to be exploiting the issue of mental illness and make billions of dollars.
1| The show targets teens, a life-stage when many people are highly impressionable and presenting suicide as a real option out of their problems is absolutely horrifying.
2| People struggling with depression and other forms of mental illness can find this show triggering or magnifying the already overwhelming issues that they have to deal with daily.
3| The show presents graphic content of rape and self-harm. Granted this show is not the first to show such scenes, the fact that the show is targeting teens and showing these disturbing actions in the context of teen life is again normalizing deplorable acts.
4| The show presents teens as being alone surrounded by adults who are either uncaring or ignorant of what it feels like to be a teenager and so they present the only solution of the worst possible outcome.
5| Promotions for the show have reached fever pitch and has insidiously entered the world of young children such as mine robbing them of innocent years that I thought I still had with them. A close friend of mine with an 11-year-old boy had to explain in length why he wasn’t allowed to watch the show because he was really interested in the series after seeing the adverts on Netflix and online.
6| The show defends itself by saying that it’s a lesson for bullies to see what consequences are borne out of their actions but seriously, this show will not make bullies think, “Hmm…maybe I should stop teasing this person because she might just kill herself.” That’s just not how people think!
7| It’s morally wrong for Netflix to be exploiting the issue of mental illness and make billions of dollars.
8| In the U.S., the National Association of School Psychologists have already issued guidelines of how to talk about the show to students and New Zealand Office of Film and Literature has issued an advisory that the series should only be seen by viewers 18 and above. Netflix has an international reach and countries such as the Philippines still haven’t issued similar guidelines to help teens, parents, educators and other affected audiences.
9| The warnings on disturbing content were initially shown at the end of the series and not at the beginning, by which time the damage has been done. Netflix has only recently agreed to publish additional warnings after countries such as Canada banned discussion of the series in schools.
10| Several mental health authorities and psychiatric experts have warned of the dangerous content of the show exacerbating mental illness among audiences that are already struggling with these conditions.
11| There have been several credible studies documenting the contagion effect on publicized suicides. It is an economic term referring to how one incident produces a ripple effect in the community with the very famous example of how national suicide rates in America rose by 12% in the aftermath of Marilyn Monroe’s suicide.
12| If one of the goals of the series is to open discussions about issues that have previously been taboo, there are ways to do that without presenting graphic content that can possibly trigger the very thing they are trying to prevent.
13| The show promotes hopelessness and not hope, isolation instead of community, guilt as a motivation for doing the right thing instead of upholding values of love and compassion that are the real antidotes to hate and apathy.
There have been talks that the show is so successful that a second season now is in the works. For all the reasons above, I certainly hope that we don’t see that coming into reality. Parenting kids is hard enough. Now it just feels like parents and educators alike have to be on guard on all fronts all day, every day because for some, it could be a matter of life and death.
Anna Meloto-Wilk, cofounder of HUMAN Nature and Global Beauty Industry's Woman of the Year, was one of people who supported the Change.org petition to remove 13 Reasons Why from Netflix.
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