As someone who once considered suicide, I appreciate this show. Don’t confuse this as a defense of the show and certain parts of its content; I’m not going to take a moral stance of whether this show is something simple as good or bad. I will, however, get rather personal with why I appreciated it, so that you can see where I’m coming from. I don’t feel sympathy/empathy easily, so I apologize in advance if anything I go on to say is a bit harsh. I am just as harsh with myself as I am with my commentary.
Almost everything that fictional Hannah Baker dealt with I experienced in real life, and for that I relate to her immensely. The various forms of bullying for various reasons, and friends you think you can trust throwing you under the metaphorical bus of abandonment are just some of the things I also dealt with. Hell, to top it off I worked as a concessionist at a movie theater too. The customers there can be just as bad as high schoolers, but I digress.
I’ve seen some people get upset about suicide being depicted as a method of revenge. This isn’t an average depiction of suicide in media, and people seem to hate what it proposes. On the other hand, I don’t hate it. When I was considering suicide, one of the reasons I wanted to was purely out of spite for the people who made me want to die in the first place. Sure; they’d feel no regret if I was alive and called them out, but if I was dead? Maybe then they might feel something in their cold, vacant crevasses where hearts should be. I’m a creature of spite; my first grudge I ever began holding was in pre-kindergarten during nap time on the mat where some boy kicked me in the head. If I was going to leave this world I was going to leave it in the fashion I lived it, which brings me to my next reason.
Something people seem to forget about suicidal people is that they’re people. Say it with me: people who have mental health problems are people. People are complex beings and just because someone might want to kill themselves doesn’t inherently mean that they’re good people. It’s a selfish act and if someone’s doing it for revenge against others, that’s all the more selfish. I am a strong believer of calling people out, and whether they’re breathing or not doesn’t matter. If they weren’t respectable when they were alive, they still aren’t when they’re dead.
It’s important to show people as the flawed, multifaceted beings they are and to especially have representation of that in media so that we stop glorifying people and all of the actions they do. Hannah was selfish. Don’t erase that from her character. (The only other place where I’ve encountered this commentary is in the latter half of the song “Me Inside of Me” in the musical Heathers.) An old neighbor of mine died with heroin in her system and everyone painted her as a suicidal saint (despite there being no evidence linked to it being a suicide), completely ignoring the fact she was dating a heroin dealer and y’know, did something inherently stupid like doing heroin. I watch people glorify the dead in both fiction and reality, and I’m tired of it.
With that said, I appreciated that characters were developed to the point of becoming like real, living, breathing, flawed people. I binge-watched this series in the span of about two days, and when I went to discuss it with one of my friends, we found ourselves talking about the characters like they were legitimate people. While the show aims to spread awareness, it never made me feel like it was doing anything pointedly without narrative reason.
Even the fact nobody was trying to help Hannah while she was alive made sense. In the real world, sometimes people don’t want to help. People don’t always care. If I had a dollar for every unhelpful exchange with an employee of the schools (especially the counselors) or friends I had, I would’ve had enough money to produce this show myself. At one point I openly sobbed at a lunch table for the first time in front of all of my friends and they all just carried on as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Not everyone will care, and not everyone will help. There’s not always support around people and I feel like that’s deceptive to assert that there is.
This show is up front with its sensitive subjects, and I appreciate that most of all. There’s no shying away from anything to try to fluff up the horrible reality of the situation or cascade it as anything good. It’s intense, it’s abrupt, and it’s not for everyone. I don’t entirely see where people come from when they say it promotes suicide. Hannah died and her rapist walked free. He didn’t feel remorse. Some of the other kids might’ve felt remorse, but many of them didn’t, or at least, didn’t to the level she probably wanted from them. She emotionally wrecked her parents (not to mention also financially) and her only semi-legitimate friend that all cared for her on some level. How is that encouraging? End your pain to transfer it to the people who actually cared for you? That just doesn’t make sense.
However, it doesn’t need to make sense. If I had seen this during the time where I was suicidal, I might’ve done it. I remember trying to come up with a way to insure that justice would be delivered when I wasn’t there to deliver it. One of the few reasons why I didn’t was because I knew there was a chance of it not happening. I have a feeling I still might’ve thought something like: Well, it didn’t work out for Hannah, but it might work for me.
That thought alone terrifies me. This show isn’t for everyone, and it certainly won’t change any behavior of the kids who are bullying and it definitely shouldn’t be viewed by anyone who’s mentally/emotionally compromised. The true people who should be watching this show are the neglectful adults that stand by and do nothing to stop any part of the harmful cycles that kids like Hannah Baker got looped into. Maybe then it can shock them into action for caring about the children they impact.
After watching this show, I was launched back towards the depressive mental state I managed to free myself from. I knew it would happen, and it’s half the reason I watched the show. I write methodically, and it really helped me with a couple of chapters in one book I was writing. I know myself well enough to know that I won’t completely slip back to where I was, and I can still separate fiction from reality whilst still being productive. (I do not recommend this for anyone who doesn’t know themselves and how they react to things that well. It’s taken years of self-observing to figure out how my head generally tends to work.)
I think it’s important to remind everyone that people possess this wonderful thing called free will, and if you can’t handle a show with touchy subjects, you should probably avoid it. Nobody’s forcing you to watch it. If people want to blame the show for people copying what’s depicted, it’s quite ignorant to ignore the fact that the signs were most likely all there before the show/book was viewed. If you’re old enough to be caring for yourself, you should know what things trigger you and what you should avoid. For a show about a girl killing herself, there’s definitely enough foresight to find more extensive warnings online if you’re sensitive to the topic or other potential topics that might be covered.
This show isn’t something that I’d consider particularly good nor bad. It’s just modern depictions of raw, human suffering and the terrible things people –children, even— do to each other. Whatever you want to call that or morally dub that is up to you. I’m just appreciative that this was represented in a truly unfiltered, unflinching form.