Ever since the release of the television series 13 Reasons Why, speculation on the show’s quality spread like wildfire. Based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, 13 Reasons Why, often abbreviated as 13RW, has received both criticism and praise. Most commonly, people have commented that the show fails to implement trigger warnings, paints Hannah as a revengeful character rather than a sympathetic one, and romanticizes mental illnesses. While these concerns are merited, perhaps the real problem behind 13RW isn’t the show itself but the aftermath of it.
Whenever a television show, movie, novel, celebrity, etc. becomes well-known, social media escalates in conversations surrounding it. Although this application to the Netflix series certainly has positive aspects, such as education or awareness surrounding mental health, the opposite also occurs. The popularity of the show means that it faces the risk of being demeaned as a joke or casual conversation.
One of the first examples of this detriment is the “welcome to your tape” joke. In the show, Hannah assigns a tape to thirteen people that contributed to her death. While the plus side of this has caused people to reevaluate how they treat others, it’s caused others to exaggerate the specific context of the tapes.
The joke began as a criticism to Hannah, with some people believing the reasoning behind her tapes was dramatic or undeserving. Tweets, such as the one below, mock Hannah’s tapes by having her assign them in outrageous situations, such as a student not letting her borrow a pencil.
Moreover, social media has applied the lackluster attempt at humor in personal situations. For example, in one tweet, the annoyance of paying money for guacamole is deserving of giving the Chipotle employee a “tape.”
While the tweet is trying to make a joke, it instead places a minor irritation at the same level as bullying, spreading rumors, sexualizing women, stalking, and the other actions that drove Hannah to suicide, thus demeaning the seriousness of these actions.
Shockingly, even Netflix has contributed to this joke. After Hulu tweeted about shows not streaming on Netflix, the latter replied by saying “Welcome to you your tape.”
Ironic, considering the main messages of 13RW focus on erasing the stigma of mental health and conveying how serious they are. With one tweet, though, Netflix diminishes the severity of depression, bullying, and other issues to something as inconsequential as a rivalry.
But the trivialization of mental illnesses and suicide doesn’t end there. Social media has turned Hannah’s act of assigning tapes into a game with the catchphrase “Let’s play 13 Reasons Why.” Posted on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites, the request calls for people to comment their name, and the poster will notify them whether or not they’d receive a tape. “Games” such as the above lack the realization that Hannah’s tapes were recorded before her suicide, not a simple “I like or dislike you” conversation among teenagers. Once again, an attempt at humor or entertainment undermines just how detrimental and relentless mental illnesses are to those with them.
While 13RW certainly had the best intentions, the popularity of the show and its presence on social media caused most people to completely miss the message, thus incriminating all those who live with a mental disorder.