(Fewer Than 13 Reasons) Why "13 Reasons Why" is Important
[I should mention here that "13" is based on a Young Adult fiction book by Jay Asher under the same name, "Thirteen Reasons Why", which I have not yet read... but may well look into, after this.]
Initially I bypassed “13”, on purpose—not because I knew what the subject matter was (which I did), but because of an (unfounded) assumption that it was probably just another in a string of annoying, modern-teenagers-acting-out pieces (which, at my age, I’m SO OVER).
I’m really glad I was wrong. And, I’m glad that curiosity (fate?) led me to push the “play” button on my remote one night, when searching for something to watch while I worked out.
For anyone who doesn’t know—and this is not a spoiler—“13” is about the suicide of a 17-year-old girl (“Hannah”)… all the events which inexorably led to her last and (very) final act, the parts that other people played (and, interestingly, how they were viewing the same events and circumstances), and—of course—the repercussions which followed.
One interesting choice the writer(s) made was Hannah’s use of audio cassette tapes (yeah, as in “the 1980s are calling, and want their mix tapes back”) to convey her thought processes to everyone she left behind, post mortem. (This actually didn’t ring true for me, since she wasn’t a Luddite; she used her cell phone—exactly as most of us do, and as the other kids in the story did [with great effect regarding several key plot points, no less]—all the time, throughout the series, which would’ve made recording digitally—both audio AND video—way more likely. Still, the tapes and boomboxes were a little blast from the past for Gen Xers [and earlier], so a nifty plot contrivance, at least.)
And sure, the teens were—in some ways—just as annoying as I expected… but much more importantly, they were just as I remembered… and that, to an adult (especially one who doesn’t have any children) is where this series really shines: in its ability to put you right back in the middle of your own high school career, feeling Every Little Thing—whether it be a joy or a slight—so very, very deeply.
It seems that things—people, in particular—haven’t really changed, despite the aforementioned Gen Xers' (and beyond) insistence that “kids these days”… know nothing, have no clue what “it” was like, etc. High-school girls are shown to still be catty, fickle, and often cruel to/about each other, and their male counterparts are depicted as over-sexed, cocky, and way too into their own statuses to be aware that anyone else even has feelings. (See? Just like when I was younger, and no doubt, when you were, as well.)
Well… at least the “popular” kids still regularly exhibit such traits. The less-popular—from the misfits to the brains to the “just-plain-different”—have their own things (although typically not quite as hurtful to others, by sheer dint of understanding what it feels like to be slighted, and trying a little harder not to do so). The point is, ALL of them are dealing with their own STUFF… and, just like the adults we run into every day—friends in real life, people we know on Facebook, or strangers in the news—not everyone deals with his/her stuff successfully.
What “13” really got right, to me, then, is that concept: every single person is affected by all sorts of things… but each individual’s reactions to the same/similar things may be vastly different… so different, in fact, that we may not have any inkling that someone else is going down the tubes, circling the drain, or ready to pull the plug. (Just how many sayings with negative connotations having to do with water are there, anyway??)
Did “13” successfully take me back? Hell, yes, it did. And were they comfortable, those memories? Some, sure… but there were plenty that were anything but pleasant, too. I even shed a few tears (though not, I suspect, where the writers expected me to).
As for the overarching “lessons”—in what my admittedly-jaded self longs to refer to as a “glorified, thirteen-episode-after-school special” (which again, is something Gen Xers will get)— what of them? Was anything solved, were there any brilliant pieces of new wisdom that came through? Well, no. Teenagers will, it’s no great stretch to assume, likely always be some combination of cruel and unthinking to each other (and don’t even go into how they are with adults; anyone who is no longer a teen remembers what a mess all of that was). And technology and social media—which have only increased the scope of how such damages can be done—are surely not going away, ever, so there’s that, too.
In the end, the best we can do, I think, is probably not all that different from what our parents and other adults tried to do, back whenever… Pay attention. Be aware. Ask questions. Have uncomfortable conversations. Set boundaries and enforce rules. Be compassionate. And hold onto a hell of a lot of hope, because when one person does slip through the cracks? It creates a hole we are all left trying to figure out how to fill… which is, when you think about it, really just as it should be.