Locals remain concerned as ‘13 Reasons Why’ renewed for third season

Locals remain concerned as ‘13 Reasons Why’ renewed for third season

The June 6 renewal of the Netflix original show “13 Reasons Why" for season three has renewed the controversy surrounding the show, which addresses teen suicide, rape, and other issues.

Based on the 2007 young adult novel by Jay Asher, the show (rated TV-MA) follows the story of Hannah Baker, a 17-year-old girl who dies by suicide and leaves behind 13 audio tapes explaining why she blames 13 classmates for her death.

Asher, with executive producer Selena Gomez and creator Brian Yorkey, adapted the book into a Netflix original show, releasing its first season in March of last year, and its second on May 18. With the renewal, season three should arrive sometime in 2019.

The series airs at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide rates went up more than 30 percent in half of U.S. states since 1999. The Rhode Island Department of Health reported an average of 124 deaths by suicide annually between 2013 and 2017, and the state’s annual suicide total is four times more than its annual homicide total.

With suicide obviously a pressing issue, “13 Reasons Why” had the potential to be a valuable source of conversation and possible solutions, say some local critics, but its execution fell short, according to Erika Sanzi, former Cumberland School Committee member, parent, educator and blogger, and Trevor Yingling, licensed mental health counselor.

Yingling works at Anchor Counseling Center in Lincoln and has 10 years of experience counseling children, adolescents, adults, and families in a variety of settings. He told The Breeze that the show has promoted awareness of topics such as suicide, but not in a good way.

“TV and movies don’t always portray the long-term consequences that come after suicide,” he said. “They focus on the immediate shock value, and then show everyone else moving on.” This depiction, Yingling said, ignores the reality that the consequences of suicide continue long after the initial shock fades.

Beyond the graphic portrayal of Hannah’s suicide in the show, which he described as “glamorized,” Yingling said he had issues with the show itself.

“In the show, Hannah uses her death as a weapon, to get back at those who hurt her,” he said. “For young people watching the show, this makes suicide a much more attractive option.”

For Sanzi, “13 Reasons Why” raises more than a few concerns.

“The show is rated MA for mature audiences but has been directly targeted to middle schoolers and young high schoolers. As a parent and former educator, my fear is that children will watch this series alone, without any adult who loves them even aware that they’re watching it,” she said.

Sanzi added, “The producers of the show have sensationalized the very issues they rightly say we should be talking about. Whether it’s the suicide scene in the first season or the violent bathroom scene (a depiction of sexual violence on a male character) in the last episode of season two, they have pushed the envelope further than necessary in the name of ‘dialogue’ and as a result, traumatized some viewers unnecessarily.”

Though viewers can watch the accompanying documentary, Sanzi added, “a viewer has to go out of their way to watch that and the episodes end in a way that makes anyone watching anxious to see what happens next.” In binge-watching mode, she argued, no one wants to pause the show to watch people “discuss” the previous episode.

Some local teenagers declined to comment on the drawbacks of the show on the record, but did say they think fewer young people are watching now than in the first season. The show isn't discussed nearly as much anymore, they said.

Sanzi recommends that parents ask their children about the show, decide if their children should be allowed to watch it, and watch the show with them if so. They should “keep lines of communication open, and be willing to talk about subjects that may be uncomfortable and even new for us,” she said. “And we as parents should be letting fellow parents (and teachers, friends) know about series like '13 Reasons Why' to help ensure it gets on the radar of as many adults who interact with kids as possible.”