Name/Age: Karina Dale/27
1.) How did you hear about the show?
I saw the show advertised on Netflix. I had never heard of the book, the show, or the premise before watching it.
2.) Did you know what the subject matter was going into the show? If yes, were you hesitant to watch?
I read the description on Netflix. I am educated on the subjects of suicide, mental illness, and sexual assault, so I was not afraid or hesitant to watch the show because of that. I wasn’t sure if I would like it based on the fact we are watching a young woman’s experience through the eyes of a boy, and I’m REALLY tired of that, but the rest of the themes did not scare me away.
3.) If you’re willing to share, do you personally suffer from a mental illness, or do you have family/friends who have impacted your life with an illness of their own? Feel free to share as much or as little as you’d like.
I don’t personally have experience with sexual assault trauma. I have experienced mild depression and mental illness from physical and psychological abuse as a child, but I don’t feel the full weight of that trauma any longer. Occasionally I feel uncomfortable when people find out about my past and act like I’m damaged goods. Even then, their ignorance makes me more uncomfortable than any kind of thought pointed at myself. I am educated on the themes in the show, so watching isn’t difficult for me beyond the obvious empathy. A large part of that education came from working with people who live with mental illness, and those recovering from sexual assault. I have had many jobs in the human services field. I have also seen and dealt with suicide more often than I would like to recount. My husband and a few of my very close friends struggle with suicidal ideation, now and in the past.
4.) What did you like about the show?
I liked that they hired Ross Butler and Christian Navarro.
I find the way they handled the hate and contempt women face on the daily redeemable. They realistically tortured a young woman for the entirety of the series and rarely repeated themselves. They did a fantastic job of showing how unfair it is, how arbitrary, how boys worry about getting what they want, and girls worry about surviving. Honestly, they didn’t cover things like racism, classism, and the intimidation women face enough because they ran out of screen time, I’m sure. It was disturbing and difficult to watch, but I didn’t see anything happen to the main character that was unbelievable in any way. Things like that happen to women constantly, and far worse. We don’t talk about that nearly enough. I wish that was the national conversation happening, but most people seem to have taken that fact in stride and are concentrating on what the main character chose to do about what she faced instead because it was sensationalized.
5.) What didn’t you like about the show or found too difficult to watch?
I don’t like that people are saying, at least everyone is talking about it now as if that absolves a far-reaching television show for putting this kind of sensational misinformation out there. A worldwide conversation about something as huge and impactful as teen sexual assault and suicide should start with true, helpful facts being shared, not the desperate struggle to re-educate young people who glorify shows and want to believe what they saw is real, at least in some way. Let me assure you, it was not. No teen suicide has ever been manufactured or carried out in such a way. Not even close. Nothing about the situation is realistic, but myself, and people like me, will be screaming into the abyss about it for the next decade because people want the sensationalized version to be real more than they want to look at the horrific reality faced by people who suffer sexual assault and suicide.
6.) As someone who works in a human services field, would you say the subject matter was reflected accurately or was it dramatized for effect?
The subject matter was so dramatized I’m struggling with where to start. Less than 25% of people leave a suicide note because the overwhelming majority of suicides are committed in the midst of a crisis. The act of writing a note often derails a suicide attempt because it forces the person to stop and think, which usually leads to enough calm to provide doubts. The act of planning and recording the notes would inevitably dissipate the emotional fuel behind the crisis Hannah was experiencing. After such a huge effort, most people are too tired to do anything but rest. Adult males are more likely to plan an intricate suicide like they showed in the movie, which is why the majority succeed the first time they try. The writer of the story is an adult male.
Also, people who are often in crisis become numb to their own struggle. They can suffer from such a profound sense of worthlessness they don’t think anyone will want to read a note. Someone who believes 13 other humans might care about their struggle is angry, not hopeless. Angry people do not commit suicide, they fight, even if it’s just with themselves. Hannah was angry through the entire show, rightfully so. It’s what fuels her final effort. She serves up her own death like an act of revenge on the people who wronged her, solidified by the entrapment of her guidance counselor at the end, and the recruitment of Tony to finish the job. Her tapes were a final act of war. The story is twisted and compelling, like a Victorian melodrama about a wronged woman who throws herself out a high window to make it look like murder. But murder mysteries, romances, and horror movies should not be places where people seek education on these subjects. They do though, we can’t change that.
The huge mistake they made was presenting the story like it was good for the world like it was different than a Holmes novel, or a Stephen King story. It is the white male perspective on the teen female psyche as it relates to a deceased love interest and her suicide. I’m not sure if you can actually get further away from Hannah’s own perspective without just cutting her out of the story entirely. Even her final words are defamed and said to be untrue right at the beginning, forcing the audience to struggle with the fact she might be lying about all of it. American society turns women into unreliable narrators when convenient (see question 5). As viewers, we are told to have more empathy for Clay because he might be tricked by a liar than we are told to have for Hannah who experienced the trauma first-hand. That’s pretty fucked up, and they do not address it. Subsequent to making Hannah an entirely unreliable narrator, the creators of the television show believed we had to see her rape, and her suicide, graphically, to believe her story at all. That is sensationalism. It is also not true. We believe it. We know it happens. Sexual assault is so common people joke about it constantly. We, as a society, are also aware of how we discredit victims.
Believing is a matter of convenience, not morality. It does not need to be graphically shown for us to believe it is real. We all live with it daily, especially kids at school. Anyone who says otherwise is seeking the convenience of faux ignorance. Catering to faked ignorance is why the story reflected the worn out male discussion of these events. We need to talk about the reasons people reach for this faux ignorance, not argue about whether or not sexual assault, or any other hate crime, happens at all. Until we change that subject, the majority of sexual assaults will continue to go unreported and unprosecuted.
7.) Do you think anything was missing or could have been added to make the series more enjoyable? More realistic?
Yes, I believe the girl Clay ended up with at the end could have been a powerful speaker if she wasn’t presented as an onlooker, a resource, and then a prize. If she was given more of a platform to share her own struggles and how she accessed help for herself and why then been given an opportunity to speak that wasn’t Clay giving it to her, she could have made an incredible impact on the accuracy and helpfulness of the information being presented.
Also, Zach. He was childish and redeemable. He could have educated himself and delivered that education to the rest of them easily in one of their endless strategy discussions. His stance for the safety and rights of victims could have had more weight than any other male character because of his relationship to the rapist and his previous apathy. His words could have been epically damning and elevating, like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.
That’s what pisses me off the most about this kind of sensationalism. The original story was not as dramatized as the TV show. Switching media creates vacuums in the story line, but filling it with sensationalism, then presenting it as a piece of social justice cinema is dangerous and irresponsible. There is so much danger in not saying what needs to be said to educate and bring the audience back to center when your audience is impressionable, vulnerable youth. They need good information. The story took place in a school. It shouldn’t have been difficult to deliver that.
8.) How did you feel by the end of the series?
At the end of the series, all I could think about was how afraid I was for my nieces and nephews to watch it. That took a long time to wear off. Then I asked my friends not to watch it, or to let me help censor it. Mostly I worry about the impact it’s had. I don’t want people to harm or kill themselves because they are poisoning our stories to entertain the masses, and feeding them back to us as cinematic hits that reduce people who suffer with suicidal ideation and sexual assault to tragic heroes that sacrifice themselves for other people’s self-awareness.
As hard as they tried to sell Hannah’s death as redeemable because so many people know better now, I’ll be fighting just as hard to let people know their life is worth more than feeding some boy’s hero complex or getting revenge on the people who made life shitty. I don’t want anyone, or their death, to be remembered as a tragedy that taught people something. I want them to be embraced by society so they can live.
9.) Do you think it’s important for there to be mental health education as well as sexual assault education in school systems?
Yes. Parents do not have this education, and they are not seeking it out. They aren’t educating kids. It has to start somewhere, and school is the appropriate place for it
10.) Do you think media like this helps or hurts the reality of suicide/mental health awareness? What do you think would help show people the severity that comes with mental illness instead of treating it like something easily fixable?
Media in America is filtered for the white male audience. Changing stories to be entertaining and consumable by a white male audience strips them of their unique humanity and homogenizes characters by pretending that the white male perspective is shared by everyone. People most in need of supportive information about suicide and sexual assault are queer, trans, cis female, and people of color, as examples. They have a wildly different life experience than a white male. The danger happens when we relate to the people that look like us on screen, but the advice/reality/lesson they are learning is catered to an able-bodied, neuro-typical white male.
If you need an example look at the schoolyard “he hits you because he likes you!” trope fed to us by every TV sitcom since the Honeymooners. In reality, there is interest on the little boy’s part, but the abuse, the hitting, happens when boys are frustrated by a plethora of potential judgments handed down by their peers. He doesn’t hit you because he likes you, he hits you because you are an acceptable target for his rage, and his male friends aren’t. Think of how a viewer’s idea of relating to a character might change if that one small discussion was different. How many abusive relationships would young people avoid, or know to seek help for, if they weren’t told the lie that people hit them because they like them? The themes in 13RW are more complicated, and far more impactful in our lives. They deserve more consideration than they were given. The safety of vulnerable human lives were traded for sensationalism. When someone does that to the US military, they call it a breach of operational security and charge the offenders with treason.
11.) What would you tell people who suffer from mental illness or have experience sexual assault who are curious about watching the show?
Do not watch it. You don’t need to. If you are curious or want to for your fav, please do not watch alone. Have a friend and a plan for watching something else after to reset your brain. I recommend Yuri!!! On Ice. Not kidding. Find a reliable source for content warnings. Do not assume it’s not that bad. It shows rape and suicide graphically, in full cinematic glory. Do not underestimate the impact it will have on you. It’s bad for everyone. Talk to your friends and parents about the things that made you uncomfortable, and if you find yourself thinking about any part of it in an invasive or upsetting way, seek help. Do not blow it off as just a TV show. You are your first and last line of defense against an insensitive world. Take care of yourself.
Lastly, you deserve space, love, and respect. You are not someone else’s entertainment. You are not someone else’s lesson to be learned. You are worth so mu
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