Grier: Three seasons later, “13 Reasons Why” still needs to be cancelled

"Thirteen Reasons Why" focuses on tough issues like suicide and sexual assault - but should it have been renewed for a third and fourth seasons? - Image from Netflix

Unlike the show’s name, there are many more than 13 reasons why this show should have been canceled by now.

“13 Reasons Why” is a Netflix Original Series that first aired in 2017, based off of the novel of the same name by Jay Asher. The show’s supposed mission is to spread awareness about mental health and to prevent suicide. However, even after just the first season, it is abundantly clear that this was not done well.

The show is about Hannah Baker, the show’s protagonist, and why she committed suicide. Before Hannah took her life, she created tapes describing why she did so, and sent them to each person mentioned on the tapes as a “reason”.  We watch Hannah’s life through flashbacks, from the moment she starts as a new student at her local high school, to when she ultimately dies.

The concept for the show in itself is problematic and even if it is unintentional, to some degree it encourages revenge suicide. Hannah made these tapes not to explain to those who loved her why she took her life. No, the purpose of these tapes were to hurt the people who had hurt her while she was alive. The show paints a dangerous picture of what happens after someone commits suicide: your enemies will feel guilty and the boy who you had a crush on will finally admit that he likes you. The way suicide is glorified, especially in season 1, is extremely dangerous.

Of course, the show had good intentions and it isn’t inherently wrong to create a show that raises awareness for topics such as suicide and sexual assault, as “13 Reasons Why” does. In fact, there should be more discussions about these topics in the media. However, they need to be done right.

When discussing suicide, the part that mental health plays in suicide was never acknowledged. Bullying and other things Hannah experienced can certainly contribute to someone’s decision to take their life, but not discussing mental health in a show about suicide downplays the seriousness and complexity of the topic. Because these topics are so sensitive, listening to medical professionals and experts is vital. This is something “13 Reasons Why” failed to do, and it resulted in dire consequences.

Suicide Prevention experts reportedly warned the show about the possible effect it may have on its impressionable audience. As it turns out, they were right to worry. Google searches of “How to commit suicide” rose 26% just after the show’s release, and a new 2019 study even links the 29% increase in suicide attempts with the show. The most controversial and worrisome scene, of course, is the scene in which Hannah commits suicide. The scene was overly graphic, having Hannah slit her wrists instead of swallowing pills as she did in the book.  Despite warnings by experts, the show kept Hannah’s suicide scene as it was.

Two years after the first season aired, Netflix has finally decided to alter Hannah’s suicide scene to be much less graphic. Although this is a nice gesture, the most of the damage has been done. The scene shouldn’t have existed in the first place, and this decision just seems like a late attempt at damage control.

Even ignoring the harm “13 Reasons Why” did with its first season, it never should have been renewed for a second season. Hannah’s story had been told, the show conveyed its message. There was no second book or material to go off of. The show simply did well, made money, and Netflix cared more about that than the impact it had on its audience.

The renewal of this show for a fourth season is especially unfair when it is considered that shows such as “One Day at A Time”, “The Get Down” and “Everything Sucks” have all been canceled. These are all Netflix Originals with real representation for marginalized communities. Each one has dealt with issues such as mental health, racism and homophobia, and they have done it in an intelligent and helpful manner. Meanwhile, a show that continues to do harm to its audience is renewed.

“13 Reasons Why” never should have had a second or third season, and certainly not a fourth. The show romanticizes suicide and other serious issues, and refuses to acknowledge the impact it has on its audience. The show that once prided itself on wanting to help teens, has been reduced to a bad teen drama due to the greed of Netflix and the show.

Television and media are extremely influential, especially to young teens and adults. Creating shows that spread awareness and discuss issues well are important, and shows like “13 Reasons Why” are preventing that from happening.

For comments/questions about this story, email or tweet @TheWhitOnline.