13 Reasons Why Hannah Baker shocked the world

[Reading time: 3 minutes]

If you or your friends like watching Tv shows or if you have a Netflix account (and if you don’t, go and get one immediately!) you’ve surely heard about “13 Reasons Why”, the Netflix Original Series launched a few weeks ago based on the bestseller by Jay Asher.

But why did this 13-episode first season upset the entire press, the fans, took over every social network and even caused some Canadian schools to forbid the students from discussing it?

Isn’it just a classic boring teen drama like all the ones we’re used to?

The answer is clearly no.

What it is about

13 Reasons why is about a boy, Clay Jensen, who finds a box on his porch containing seven double-sided cassette tapes recorded by Hanna Baker, a schoolmate who committed suicide two weeks earlier. In these tapes, Hannah tells her story and explains the thirteen reasons why she killed herself and what Clay discovers will change his life and the one of some other students.

This is how it starts. And then it all revolves around signs.

Signs

1

First, I know what you’re thinking: why cassette tapes? Who even knows what they are and how to play them nowadays? (ndr, I am proudly one of those nostalgic weirdos) Wouldn’t some

audio messages on Whatsapp be better?

The point is: this is not just some hipster move to get more posts on Tumblr, this is a sign, one of many. Hanna didn’t want to communicate through a social network, she wanted from the very start (or, say, the very end) to set herself apart from that kind of world, a world that she will show us in all its dirty, mean, poisoned sides.

This is what Hanna does by telling her story: not only she points her finger at everyone who hurt her, abused her or didn’t listen to her while she was alive, but she also points her finger at us, she makes us feel like none of us is innocent for her death. She slaps the audience right in the face. Because in the age of social media, when communication has never been so easy, that’s what we do: we don’t listen. Not really. We do not read anymore into each other’s feelings if they are not clearly expressed in a facebook status. We are not even interested in digging deeper into the life and thoughts of a friend if she doesn’t share it on her profile.
And we don’t even pay attention to what we say. We have the opportunity of expressing our thoughts by commenting on literally anything and in this virtual crowd we do not realise how important and meaningful our words may be when we “shout” them online.

Normality

This brings us to the second main theme of the series, normality. 13 Reasons Why shocks us not only because of the brutality of some scenes, but mainly because something so tragic like the suicide of a young girl is depicted in a context of normality. Hannah had the life that many other girls have, maybe she had the life we had in high school: she was bullied, disrespected, she couldn’t find a true friend in anybody. It’s not that hard to find somebody who can relate to that. Of course, she had some very disturbing experiences, but what I really loved about this show is that it’s not all about that. It makes you understand that violence is a very nuanced concept, it goes beyond physical harm or verbal aggression. We are being violent when we make jokes about something intimate, we are being violent when we humiliate people, we are being violent when we don’t listen to people around us because we are too concerned in ourselves. And Hannah’s death is a violent death. One might say, yes, there are 13 “killers”. But I would say no, it’s more than that. Any of those guys could be the next Hannah Baker.

2

Truth

But what I liked the most about this show is that 13 Reasons Why is true. Truth is the underlying theme of all the episodes. Listening to Hannah’s voice means looking for the truth and finding out that it is not so easy, that Hannah is not always the hero or the victim, sometimes it’s hard to agree with her, sometimes it’s hard to understand her, sometimes we want to punch her in the face. But that’s the thing: she forces us to look for the truth. She forces us to care and this is the most important thing, caring. I must say I was amazed and shocked at the same time when I saw a tv show for teenagers with such courage. The courage of showing you the scene of a rape in all its brutality. The courage of showing you a 16-year-old girl who cuts her wrists without changing the scene when the blade goes through her skin. You get to watch her die. And I was so completely moved by the intensity of the scene that I had to turn my face away. And in that moment, I think I understood the meaning of this show.

I looked away.

Just like all 13 of them did.

So, if you’ve watched the show you were probably left wondering: what can I do?

Here’s my answer: We can listen.

 

Claudia Rizzo

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