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13 Reasons Why Controversy is everyday life

Disclaimer: This post contains **SPOILERS** of season 2, so if you haven't seen it and want to, stop reading!!

I've been contemplating whether to write this post or not because I know a lot of people have a lot of opinions about certain aspects of season 2 of 13 Reasons Why and want it cancelled, so I'm sure there will be people who disagree with what I'm about to say. However, I thought this series was fantastic. 

I've thought about 13 reasons why (lol at my attempt at being witty) Netflix and the series have done an amazing job at bringing important issues to our attention:

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  1. Status Quo: No, I'm not referring to the loved HSM song, I'm talking about how the make-up of school groups strongly affects and determines people's decisions. Take Zach Dempsey for example: we learn in this series that he did in fact have a summer romance with Hannah, and from what we see, he seems to be a lovely guy and the kind of thing/person Hannah needed. However, upon returning to school and seeing his 'friends' again, suddenly all memory of this relationship is gone. Because Hannah wasn't a cheerleader, wasn't popular, wasn't the prettiest girl in school, Zach was ashamed of telling 'the guys' that it was her who he lost his virginity to, and instead just said she was from a different school. Now I know this is the norm at school, for people to fall into groups depending on their interests, hobbies etc. but should these groups be so regimented that people can't branch out from their 'group' and defy the expectations of said group. Zach played baseball and football, he was meant to be dating a cheerleader, but who does it really harm if he continued dating Hannah? Nobody. He also shied away from the fact he was helping Alex recover from his attempted suicide. He told his 'friends' he was just his personal trainer, told his mum he was 'out with the guys' when he was at Alex's birthday party because Alex wasn't a jock. Again, why is this a problem? Does it do any damage to be friends with a nice guy? No. And this is a pattern that is impossible to get away from in schools. 
  2. School attitude to bullying: Without sounding like a broken record, I know how appalling some school procedures are to bullying, and this is highlighted in the series, especially during Mr Porter's testimony. I appreciate schools have a lot of students, some with a lot of issues, but I feel like more needs to be done to help the kids who need it most. When my parents went into school, the head of year asked them 'is there anything going on at home which could be causing this' which was the most offensive question considering every issue I was going through was happening at school. In the series, sometimes a similar pattern emerged: assuming there were issues at home rather than their precious school. These kids get swept under the rug, and the teachers are just told to 'keep an eye on them' rather than actually try and help them. Just take the scene where Kevin Porter is asked to leave: he tells the Principal that the files he gives him are the 'red flag' students who need to be checked in with everyday; what does the Principal do? Throws them on the desk. Who is in that pile? Tyler. 
  3. White/social privilege: Bryce's trial for raping Jessica. Need I say anymore? There is a massive parallel between this episode and the Brock Turner case. Bryce rapes a girl, and he gets given 3 months probation, Justin knows it happened and didn't stop it, but didn't actually rape anyone, and he gets 6 months probation. This is an issue in itself because Bryce gets this ridiculous sentence because the case had already 'ruined his career' and all of the colleges had taken back their scholarship offers, *boo hoo*. However, Justin comes from nothing, he's a recovering heroin addict, a victim of domestic abuse and was homeless for a number of months, and receives a heavier sentence because he's not an asset to society. It's also hard to ignore that Bryce's sentence is probably affected by the colour of his skin, which is all the more important in today's society where PoC are receiving longer sentences for the same crimes that white people commit, and being falsely accused in the first place based on the colour of their skin. 
  4. Lad vs. slag culture: I'm sure we are all aware of this belief system that fills our lives - a male is intimate in any capacity with a girl, they're a 'lad', they're praised; a female does the same with a guy, they're a 'slag', 'slut', 'whore'.  I don't think anybody really knows why, but that's how it is. Look at season 1 of 13 Reasons Why: the pictures of Hannah at the park with Justin - she is then known as the school slag, Justin gets 'lad points' from his friends. Again, the same with Jessica - Bryce rapes her (and obviously denies that part, says she wanted it), and Jessica is a slag, Bryce is a hero. I'm not sure how we go about changing this, but it needs to be changed. 
  5. LGBT+: 13 Reasons Why has addressed issues that surround homosexuality and other sexuality difficulties, but I think the character that struck me the most was Tony. He comes from a Latino background, where clearly violence is the norm for his family and where he came from. Being gay doesn't come naturally to him and he isn't as comfortable as others with coming out. For example, when he gets called a 'fag' when he's on a date with Ryan, Tony beats him within an inch of his life, Ryan tries to walk away. To be honest, I admire Tony for this: Ryan just accepts it for what it is because so many people are still so naive and ignorant when it comes to anything to do with LGBT+ topics and people, but Tony doesn't accept it, he can't just ignore it. Although nearly killing a guy probably isn't the best way to go about trying to change the world, at least he's trying.
  6. Accepting the help: Obviously, a major aspect in the series is mental health and suicide, however, I'm not talking about Hannah, I'm talking about Skye. Clearly, Skye also suffers with her mental health and comes to rely on Clay to make her feel worthy and loved, which I relate to oh so well. She becomes obsessive about him, to the point where she tries to get in his pants in front of his parents. However, Clay isn't good for her - he's very clearly still in love with Hannah: he talks to her ghost for God's sake. It wasn't fair on Skye for Clay to try and be with her when he hadn't had time to accept Hannah's death and try to move on. Nonetheless, he does help Skye, he's a support for her, until the point he loses it which results in Skye trying to kill herself and ultimately being referred to a psychiatric unit for her to try and recover. This is important in itself, by showing that suicide isn't the answer and it's okay to ask for help. 
  7. The reasons why not: This point has some link to the above, but I was really moved by the last episode when Olivia showed Clay Hannah's 'Reasons Why Not' list. Although it didn't outnumber the 'Why' list, it showed an important thought that there are always reasons to live.
  8. Drug abuse: I have absolutely no experience or first hand knowledge about drug addiction and/or abuse, but drugs have become so easily accessible nowadays and I thought Justin's story was a really important one. I think it's fair to say that he didn't have much hope coming from the home he did, with a drug-addicted mother and step-father, an abusive step-father, and a no-show father. He couldn't cope with the guilt after what happened to Jessica and he had nobody to turn to, no family, no friends; so he ran. He ran to what he knew - drugs. So many young people are living on the streets, with no support, and turning to drugs as a coping mechanism. Maybe going back to how schools look after their students, I think it's important to see the effect drugs can have on you like they did Justin. 
  9. #MeToo: Now I really wasn't expecting this part of the episode - after Jessica finally finds the courage to face Bryce and tell her story, a number of the other female characters are shown testifying against men that have sexually assaulted them: from 'friends', other people at school, bosses, even religious figures, I'm not sure there's a woman on Earth who hasn't experienced some kind of sexual assault or harassment. It's important to note, men are not immune to the same assault and harassment (which I'll return to), but this scene only included women. It was an extremely touching reminder of the #MeToo Movement which I'm sure we are all aware of in the recent months, bringing these issues to the real world. 
  10. Female rape: We hear four stories of a male raping a female across the two series, along with the countless numbers of polaroids that are found. Again, linked to the previous point, this is another issue that the series brings attention to. It happens all the time. The fight that these victims have with themselves to actually tell someone, and then the fight they have with others to be believed. Look at Hannah and Jessica: both raped, but because Bryce was Bryce, there's no way it was rape: 'they wanted Bryce and when he said no afterwards, they call it rape'. And then there's Chloe - raped by Bryce, but won't accept it because she's under his spell that so many rape victims are. There are photos of an unconscious Chloe with a trouser-less Bryce on top of her, and she still can't accept it. And then the ridiculous sentence that Bryce receives just mirrors real life all to well.
  11. Jessica's acceptance: When I watched the last episode of series 2 with Luke (my boyfriend), he was really annoyed that Jessica had sex with Justin after only just starting to date Alex again. I disagreed, I thought it was so moving. I understand Luke's point though: it's similar to what I said about Clay and Skye - Alex is recovering from suicide, and throughout the second series, Jessica and Alex rekindle their friendship and it leads towards a romantic relationship in the final episode yet she goes back to Justin. Maybe this will be revisited in season three, but it was unfair of Jessica to give Alex hope. We see Jessica begin to be intimate a few times in this series, but pulls away because it reminds her of the sexual assault she experienced. But the fact she feels comfortable enough with Justin and trusts him enough to be with him in that way was really heart-warming. I can only imagine how rape-victims feel but it must be near impossible to move on from it and forget it, so to see Jessica move on maybe gives hope to others who are in the same position. 
  12. Male rape: Now this is where most of the controversy lies, that episode. Tyler returns from his diversion programme feeling better, but Monty (Bryce's number 1 fan) is not pleased to see him return after he and Cyrus vandalised the precious baseball pitch. Monty throws Tyler's head against the sink, forces his head down the toilet and anally rapes him with a mop. Yes, it's sickening, I felt sick to my stomach watching it, and I feel the same typing it. But it happened, and it does happen in real life. Why did people not demand that Netflix remove the episodes of Hannah and Jessica getting raped? Is it okay to see women getting raped but not men? Absolutely not. But they are important issues that the series brings to people's attention. Men are not immune from sexual assault. Men get raped, and people need to know this. It's not acceptable whichever way it happens: rape is rape. 
  13. Gun violence: This is the only aspect of the series I was a bit unsure of. I felt that they added this extra five minutes to leave a cliffhanger for series three. Could they not have ended the series on the school dance, everyone supporting each other when Hannah's song comes on? However, gun violence is another massive issue for schools, especially in the USA and Canada. Children shouldn't be going to school and having practice drills in case there is a terror attack or gun attack, parents shouldn't be worrying about their child being shot at school that day, but it's happening. Little old me isn't going to change the gun laws in America, but maybe they should look at the UK - we had one school shooting in Dunblane in 1996 which changed the laws on guns and we haven't had one since. Is that not enough for the USA to look at? Every year, over 2700 children and teens are shot and killed and over 3,000,000 are exposed to gun violence. I just don't know what more needs to happen for America to change their laws.

So there's my 13 reasons: you may agree, you may disagree. It's painful to watch, I spent 90% of the series in tears, and some parts really resonated with me and made me think about my mental health, but that's the point. There are children, teens, school students and adults who experience these things everyday: people like Hannah, like Jessica, like Justin, like Tyler. There's a warning before each episode of 13 Reasons Why, but the people that these things happen to don't get a warning, they don't get a helpline before it happens, they're living these things. Netflix always pushes the boundaries with their Original series and this is no different. You choose to watch the scenes with drug abuse, gun violence and rape, but those people who experience it in really life don't get a choice. So maybe rather than writing letters of complaint to Netflix and the producers of 13RW, take a look at the people in your life and help them, and yourself. Do something about the real life. 
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