Okay. So. I read the book back in the mid 2000’s and I’ve now watched all 13 episodes of the Netflix series including the behind the scenes documentary. I’ve also read a few of the many articles written about it, participated in some chats and talked to some of the teenagers that I work with. And…I still don’t know how I feel about it all.
Ultimately I think that is what is both good and bad about the series, because it does do a lot of things right, but it also does a lot of things wrong.
Claire’s 13 Reasons…
- Mental Health. We are so backward about ACTUALLY talking about mental health issues, and at its heart this is what this show is about; Hannah’s mental health. Except the show doesn’t talk about Hannah’s disintegrating mental health. Not really. Which I have a problem with, we can’t effectively empower others to talk about mental health issues, and seek help if they don’t know how. It’s like the show has said here are multiple examples of people suffering with mental health issues but we’re not going to show you anything about it. In fact we’re just going to suggest that mental health professionals are incompetent and if you’re nice to someone it’ll all be okay. NOT HELPFUL.
- Tattoos. As a lady with a lot of tattoos this really, really annoyed me. For starters only the ‘bad’ kids had tattoos. But how old were they? 18 max. TATTOOS ARE EXPENSIVE.
- Adults. This show portrayed all adults in these young peoples lives as flailing and incompetent; every parent and every teacher had no idea about effective communication and working with, chatting to, being around young people. UGH.
- Trigger Warnings. The show completely and inadequately pre-warned it’s viewers. Particularly in the episodes that dealt directly with sexual assault.
- Grim. We think there is power in being hard hitting and brutal to get a message across, and sometimes there is; but if you do not also activate the support systems, the appropriate conversations to manage the content then there’s really no point. You end up doing more damage because people can’t process what they’ve seen appropriately and then do the work needed to move forward with this new found information in their own lives.
- Adolescence. I did think it was an accurate representation of contemporary young people and some of the shit that they are navigating. I think parents should watch it and see how fucked up and messy and complicated it all can be in this day and age.
- Conversations. What happens when the young people watching it don’t have an active support network or access to professional resources to talk to about what’s come up for them or what they are experiencing? I know the show has been a great way for some parents and guardians to talk to their kids about the big issues. But what are we doing to help the young people who do not – and believe me, there are more of them than we acknowledge.
- Triggered. The young people I work with have been amazing at activating their own communities of friends or online spaces to support each other. Tumblr is pretty bloody amazing space for young people who sit on the edges. My kids told me that they’d encouraged friends to not engage with it who they thought would have a tough time. YOUNG PEOPLE ARE AMAZING. But, where are the adults helping them with this? That, breaks my heart.
- Suicide. There are clearly set rules about making media and reporting about suicide. There is an easily accessible list of these in multiple places on the internet. This show did not follow those rules; particularly in how they depicted Hannah’s suicide. And I get why they made the choices that they did, but I also worry about it too.
- Well Intentioned. You only need to watch the behind-the-scenes making of documentary to see that the creative team behind the project had a team of people making choices creatively that they thought were best. They had medical professionals guiding them and backing these choices. I am curious about whether they had considered the push-back about it, and if they didn’t well then that seems weird and naive to me. And if they did, well then, why haven’t they countered any of the argument or concerns about it?
- We have to talk. We’ve got to talk honestly and openly with young people about all of the stuff that the show dives into; mental health, suicide, grief, relationships, sex, sexual assault, parents, social media, peer pressure, bullying, drunks and alcohol, consent, making choices etc. The show dives into it all. But we cannot shy away from this content.
- Have they fucked it for the rest of us? I worry that when something of this nature has a kick-back like this has, well then, producers and makers and the people putting the cash in to bank-roll projects of this nature get wary and sets us back another million years in dealing with the stuff that we should be helping young people to deal with. Adolescence is not going anywhere, but the shit that they’re having to deal with just keeps getting bigger and more complicated, but the outlets to engage with content that represents accurately what they’re navigating gets smaller and smaller. Shows like Heartbreak High and Degrassi Jnr High, even Beverly Hills 90210 dealt with all of these things when I was young. What’s the saying? You cannot become what you cannot see. We need to talk about the representation of young people in media and the responsibilities we have to not fuck it up.
- Beautiful Mess. I’ve been perusing all of this content with grand interest because my novel, Beautiful Mess, comes out on August 28 and it deals with all of the issues I mentioned above. It is my love letter to the young people I’ve worked with over the last thirteen years, it is the nothing held back look at all of the stuff they want to talk about and rarely get the opportunity to. There’s a line between honesty and fiction that I’ve tried to navigate and a commitment to helping and doing no harm. I had a conversation with my editor earlier this month where I asked her if it was too full on, and she reminded me in no uncertain terms that it was honest, and real and that maybe some teachers, or parents or librarians may not be happy with me. And at the end of the day, i’m okay with that. I didn’t write my book for them. I wrote my book for the young people I’ve had the grand fortune of working with and getting to know who are curious and smart and passionate. Who want to be respected and and spoken to honestly about what they’re curious about.
What did you think of it, pearly ones?