Thirteen Reasons Why.
This title kept popping up on my FB feed, or on suggested lists on Netflix. Maybe because I watch lots of detective shows? I’m not sure. Maybe because one of my kids watched it before I was aware of the heaviness of the show and the starkness of the subject matter.
I watched this last week, primarily to discuss with the kiddo. We’ve had some good discussions as a result, with two main aspects I keep thinking about. I would not suggest our kids watch the show, to be honest, but I would guess many of our kids have watched or at the very least have discussed the show with their friends. The age of viral topics is deeply upon us.
The show, in case you have not watched or heard about or read about it, follows the story of a high school girl, Hannah, who commits suicide. She leaves behind thirteen tapes, each focused on primarily one person, explaining why she took her life. The tapes are passed from person to person on the tapes, and we follow the character of Clay as he listens to the tapes. He is number nine. The story of why Hannah takes her life is filled with sex, betrayals, false relationships and fear. Loneliness. There are graphic episodes, and the scene of her actual suicide is quite graphic and stark. (Apparently in the book Hannah takes her life with pills, while in the show she slits her wrists in the bathtub).
I am not interested in giving a point by point retelling of the show. Two things, however, have struck me, and these I wanted to share.
First. There is no mention of God, no awareness of God, no exposure to God, no calling out to God, no reference to God in these episodes. Ok…maybe a reference or two. There is no one in these characters who has a relationship with God. There is no one in these characters who tells Hannah that she is loved by the Creator with a deep and tender and true love. There is no one who tells her she is an image bearer of the One who can love her purely.
How utterly different could this story be if someone had spoken Gospel to her. If someone had told her of the redeeming love, the pursuing love of the great God?
We have to tell those around us that they are loved. We have to speak and not simply hope others will. We have to watch for those in our midst who need to hear the reality that they are loved and not forgotten, and there is a God who changes everything. The absolute vacuum of anything spiritual in the lives of the kids on this show was stark to me.
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” – Brennan Manning
Second. Sex. This is at the root of so many of the problems in the show. There is a reason sex is dealt with in Scripture. There is a reason we are given guidelines. Sex is not something to be treated cheaply, or to be toyed with. Especially in the volatile emotional teen years. Sex has such a deep impact on our psyche, on our identity. The bonding of one human to another so intimately….changes things.
When our identity is void of the reality of God, sex holds even more weight. When sex becomes common place in our relationships, when it becomes so casual, the weight of its implications may not be felt until later. The identity of these kids, and they are still kids, is marked by the impact of sex, of rape and of alcohol. They are tailspin. That is too much to carry in the season of life when they are beginning to find their identity as more than children. When that is even more amplified by gossip and rumors…it is no wonder despair results.
Sex should be a beautiful, life giving, wonderous act. Sex should fulfill and deepen a relationship, but when it is shared with so little commitment, or when it is taken forcibly, it shatters the person.
When I was in high school I was an awkward kid. I desperately wanted attention and I was too emotional and dramatic for my own good. I was a mess. I also got plugged in to a church early on and it probably saved me. I had a good home life and a good life overall…but that doesn’t always matter. In the midst of things it can seem like your life is the worst ever. In high school everything is amplified. Every insult, every slight, every hurt…it plays again and again in our minds and we can turn nothing into something life shattering.
I also got involved with an older guy. We never had sex, but he pushed me beyond my comfort level. It changed me. Thankfully, I had others around me who spoke life, and who spoke of God. Others who reminded me of my identity in Christ.
I struggled with thoughts of suicide. I never came to place where I was willing to follow through…never made plans. One night I was the closest as I drove home from church, and I don’t remember what had caused me to be so upset, but as I drove home my thoughts of suicide were interrupted by a car accident. My own.
The point is…suicide has been an option and a thought for a very long time. Thirteen Reasons Why is not new. Teen years are tough, and they have been for a long time. It is the season of figuring things out, the season of finding out friendships are not always what we think, and relationships are exciting and terrifying. The one thing that is new is how quickly rumors can be spread and images or gossip shared. That is part of Hannah’s story in the show, and the impact of rumors and gossip is validly given exposure.
Does the show glorify suicide? I agree with Russell Moore, the show does not glamorize suicide, but it makes it an option:
“In order to provoke tragedy in a hurting teens life, no one needs to make suicide glamorous; one only needs to make suicide plausible.”
The show makes much of what happens in the wake of Hannah’s suicide, and in some ways makes an argument that there is redemption in the characters as a result. Things change. Her death is a catalyst for honesty and even for repair of some relationships, while others end tragically themselves. Apparently, after reading a summary of the novel the show is based on, the show moves far beyond the book. The suicide scene in the show is stark and tragic. Hannah slits her wrists in the bathtub. The book has her take pills.
The point is that suicide does not have to be glamorized…it only has to be an option. The show absolutely makes it an option. For those kids who are struggling, who are feeling lost, it would absolutely not be a good show for them to watch. Those of us who are far from the teen years and all the angst, it might be worth watching at least parts as a reminder of all the emotional stress these kids are facing. Hannah’s story may be amplified and sensationalized, but it was a good reminder to me that the kids walking around with their heads hung down and even the kids who are outwardly over cheerful..they need to be seen. They need to not be invisible. They need to be reminded they are loved. They are special.
And our kids…they need to hear it from the start, and they need it repeated throughout their lives.
You are loved. Life can be terribly hard, and it can be incredibly wonderful. Learn to find that wonder…seek it out and hold on to it because there are times you need to remember the good. They need to hear as they are older the realities about sex…and why it is not something to be treated cheaply because it is so intimate and precious.
Life is precious. Life is tenuous. Let’s be gracious with these kids around us, and with the adults as well. Let’s remember what a story can look like when it is completely void of God…the hopelessness and the thinking that there is only one solution. Let’s remember that in God is eternal life is in His Son. (1 John 5:11) Let’s be quick to listen, and quick to share the hope we have.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. – Buechner
I have not seen the show, but I have read studies that say that suicide begets suicide. I, too, would hesitate to encourage people to watch.