The Glorification Of Suicide On TV | Emily Bashforth

The Glorification Of Suicide On TV


There's a series named 13 Reasons Why. You've probably heard of it. The show landed onto Netflix earlier this year and pretty much the whole world was eager to check it out after there had been so much hype surrounding it.
The show is based on a best-selling book, which already had a loyal following, and was co-produced by Selena Gomez, who also has a loyal following, therefore, expectations were high and the anticipation was real. The miniseries contains, yep, you guessed it, 13 episodes and has been bingewatched over and over by many.

13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who took her own life. But, prior to doing so, she recorded 13 tapes, each one aimed at a different person whom she was close to and each one outlining the reasons why these people pushed her to end her life. The tapes have been passed around the 13 subjects and each one learnt what they did that caused Hannah to feel how she did. The series follows her close friend Clay as he listens to the tapes and learns both his and everyone else's stories.
All 13 episodes were made available simultaneously, allowing viewers to choose how they watched them.

I watched the series over a two day period and, like many, saw its flaws instantly. The show was made to raise awareness of teenage suicide and, sure, it did that. It shows that mental health issues within teenagers are real and we need to start having conversations about them whilst thinking more carefully about what we say to one another. Many loved the show, they praised it for being so relatable and such an accurate reflection of high school life. Although, many criticised it. Of course, it's inevitable that any programme will receive negative feedback, regardless of the issues it discusses, however, seeing as though this show was based around such a serious topic and it became very well known very quickly, it received a lot of backlash, and I can see why.

It was recently revealed that a 23 year old man from Peru, named Franco Alonso Lazo Medrano took his own life by jumping from his balcony. Before committing suicide, he left behind a collection of tapes for people to listen to so they could understand why he ended his life. Sounds familiar, right?
Since this news was published online, social media users have been sent into a frenzy, some defending the show but many attacking it, which is justified in my eyes.
There is a clear link here between 13 Reasons Why and this poor man's tragic suicide and so I wish to talk to you about the romanticisation of suicide in the Netflix series and why I think, basically, it was done all wrong.

Portraying mental health issues accurately in a fictional show can be difficult, I understand that. I appreciate that it's hard to get it absolutely perfect because everyone's battle with mental illness is unique but, to me, when you're producing a show like 13 Reasons Why, you do your research. You spend years on it. You imagine every possible piece of criticism you may receive and you do all you can to ensure you do not receive it. When making a show surrounding a sensitive issue like suicide, you leave no stone unturned during the production process. I do not doubt for a second that the cast and crew were very thorough when analysing the pros and cons of certain aspects of the show and I like to think that they worked hard to ensure they didn't offend, however, it baffles me that certain scenes were still allowed in the final edit and that the show ended up how it did.
Mental health professionals and psychologists warned the makers of 13 Reasons Why about the possible ramifications of showing a person committing suicide on TV out of fear of a copycat suicide taking place, yet they still proceeded to include a scene in which Hannah slits her wrists, bleeds to death in a bathtub before being found, lifeless, by her parents. This touched a nerve with many, understandably, and the fact that the act of Hannah's suicide was actually included in the show worries me. It worries me how the method she used was portrayed so casually, it worries me that it can easily give people ideas on how to kill themselves, it worries me about how much emotional and mental damage watching a scene like that can scar someone. I was extremely emotional after watching that scene in which Hannah ended her life and the fact it may trigger other people to do the same is something I think of constantly. The intention of the show was to raise awareness of suicide within teens and I fail to understand how actually showing the actual suicide does this. People know the possible methods others will use to kill themselves, people know how to do it themselves, there was no need to show such a graphic scene which has traumatised viewers. There are a million and one ways to imply a character has committed suicide without showing the act itself. You can have a scene of two parents discussing the suicide of their child, you can show their funeral, you can have a simple voice over from the dead character, a school assembly in which the head addresses the matter to their pupils...there are more, however, the point is, it isn't my responsibility to think of them. I ought to be able to watch the show without feeling triggered, as should others. To me, the fact that the only way which the show's creators thought they could show a suicide had been committed was to show the suicide itself only shows lack of creativity and sensitivity on their part.

"But the show was a book before it went to TV! People didn't kill themselves after reading that!" You may argue, which is true, however, I think we can all agree there is a stark difference between reading something on a piece of paper and actively watching something happen. The book can be interpreted how you wish and is likely to cause less harm than an actual visual presentation of suicide. Books are words and whilst readers are still able to form bonds with characters and really immerse themselves in the story, watching a TV show almost places you as a character in the narrative. You become one of them. You get to know the characters, how they talk, how they act, you have a physical appearance to match to a name and everything just seems so much more real when you see real people doing it. The books leaves audiences to imagine the suicide whereas the show shoves it in their faces. It says "HEY! LOOK AT ME! I AM SUICIDE! THIS IS WHAT I LOOK LIKE AND YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO WATCH ME!" Nothing can prepare a person for watching a suicide, nothing and I will never back down from my argument that there wasn't any need for it to be shown. The show is about raising awareness, not harming the very people it was supposed to be raising awareness about.

"But the show has trigger warnings!" Indeed it does. Before the episodes containing graphic scenes, trigger warnings flash upon the screen to remind viewers that this episode contains potentially harmful material. Trigger warnings do not do anything, though. I agree it's worthwhile having them, just in case, but the point is that a single "This episode contains graphic material" appearing on the screen for five seconds isn't going to prevent people from being harmed by the episode. People are going to watch it anyway, and surely the creators know that. It's like your parents telling you that you can't watch a film because it's "bad," immediately, you want to know why. Trigger warnings only intrigue viewers, not deter them from watching mature content. People want to know why episodes could be harmful and, whilst they may regret it afterwards, they're still going to watch it. I studied A Level Media this year and covered a whole module on media regulation. We looked into the regulation within the film industry, or rather the lack of it, and how giving violent films high age ratings only makes those who aren't eligible to watch them, want to watch them even more. The BBFC must classify each film before it goes to cinema, or else the creators will be fined. In the case of Human Centipede 2, the film was effectively banned by the organisation for it's graphic, violent scenes. However, this only worked in the producers' favour as the public went online to watch the film instead. The makers specifically advertised it as a 'banned' film to entice audiences. This simply gained them popularity and caused the BBFC to reconsider their banning, due to many people already watching it illegally. Eventually, the film was given an 18 certificate after 32 cuts were made and now anyone can watch it, whether they're 18 and want to buy the DVD or if they're below 18 as it's available online for all to view. Policing the internet is impossible due to the extent of it and how much material is available to anyone of any age, which is why those who are putting stuff onto the internet need to ensure they're doing what they can to protect their audiences. Trigger warnings aren't going to stop someone from watching your series, especially if they're already 7 episodes in. The warnings should also be more specific. People need to know from the outset that this show contains footage of rape and of someone slitting their wrists and taking their own life. Oh, what's that? You don't want spoilers? To hell with spoilers. When a man has taken his own life after watching a TV show, the rest of the world need to know what they're getting themselves into before they start watching it. It's also worth mentioning that people who watched the show outside of Netflix on illegitimate streaming sites didn't always get the trigger warnings.

The show had hotlines too and they often encouraged viewers across social media to call them if they were affected by what they saw, which is great, we should always offer a helping hand out to those struggling, whenever we can. But, honestly, suicidal people are not going to call a helpline. I know many do but, generally speaking, as the show shows, people suffer in silence with their mental illness and saying "Hey kids call this phone number if you're depressed!" is futile.

"But people don't have to watch it! If they feel triggered, they can choose not to!" The series aims to raise awareness of suicide, by not watching it, people aren't getting the education they need on the matter (although, I don't think the show educates people in the best way, if I'm being honest.) The creators can't advertise it as a show which raises awareness of suicide and then tell people not to watch it if they are suicidal. Plus, people are triggered by different things so would have to watch the show in order to know how bad it is. As well as being a show which raises awareness, 13 Reasons Why should also be a series for those dealing with mental health issues to find comfort in. It should be something which suicidal people should be able to watch and think "Wow, I'm not alone in this," but how are they supposed to do that if they're being told not to watch it? This show should be targeting people who are suicidal, not alienating them. It is messy. Very messy.

It's easy for people to say "Oh it isn't as bad as everyone is making it out to be!" especially if they do not struggle with mental illness themselves but it worries me that people cannot see the issues with this show. It scares me how desensitised to violence and self harm our society has become. People are triggered by this show and, ultimately, someone killed themselves because of it and one life taken is one too many. This show was years in the making but, when I watched it, it felt like it was just some drunken idea conjured up by a group of friends in a bar who went out and shot and edited it the next day. This isn't just some one off documentary or reality show, things like this stay with people for the rest of their lives. Shows like this haunt people. It saddens me, truly, because it had the potential to be amazing. What with Selena Gomez producing it and it being aired on such a huge streaming platform like Netflix, this show was inevitably going to gain a large audience so they really could've utilised their devout following to motivate them to make something accurate and half decent. The show had potential to be amazing but, alas, it sucked.

To me, showing a suicide in the way that this series did can never be justified. I often think about how there must have been a number of people sitting in a room, talking about this idea. I think about the countless number of people it must have had to go through before it was approved and I question why not a single one of them stood up and said "Actually, I don't think that would be a very smart move to make."

Someone killed themselves after watching 13 Reasons Why and, whilst that person clearly had other issues in their life and the show cannot be 100% to blame, it has to be acknowledged that the Netflix series had some form of impact on why this person did what they did. "Oh but people don't just kill themselves because of TV show - that's stupid!" 1) How ignorant of you to even think that, 2) There is an endless list of reasons why people kill themselves, we never know the full extent of what goes on inside another's brain and a TV show can be what tips someone over the edge and 3) Perhaps if this show hadn't aired, that man may still be alive, but we'll never know.

Another criticism of the show regards the tapes, which the man in question here took inspiration from when taking his life. Recording 13 tapes for 13 people who caused you upset makes for a great narrative, I understand that, but the whole concept of tapes merged with suicide simply perpetuates the idea that people are to blame for a suicide and also further glamorise the whole thing. It gives the impression that making tapes for this purpose is cute, quirky and "OMG SO TUMBLR!" It implies suicide is a great revenge mechanism for those who have done you wrong, as if killing yourself is the ultimate method of getting your own back on people. The show glorifies suicide in a way which they were strictly advised not to.

To summarise, if 13 Reasons Why was beneficial to some people, that's amazing! I would never want to take that away from anybody and, if you found comfort in the show, then I'm glad. I'm glad you found something to support you through your struggle and I hope you're now seeking help for you mental illness. I think it's admirable that the company wanted to make a show for young people to raise awareness of the fact that their words and actions can impact people in severe ways.
However, if you can see the flaws in 13 Reasons Why, I can understand where you are coming from and want to remind you that the anger you feel towards the show is completely justifiable. To me, the show got it wrong, which saddens me. I am yet to see a representation of suicide on TV which I think is totally spot on. I had hoped this show was going to be the one for me, sadly it wasn't. Nothing could've prepared me for what I saw and I pray that the people who have also been affected by the show are now seeking help. Details of a suicide or graphic scenes of suicide itself should never be shown, but the show went against those rules, despite knowing their audience would be primarily teens, which was irresponsible. There are ways to write a script, there are ways to present suicide which don't romanticise it and which don't centre so much around the fact that it can be used for revenge, not to mention the fact that 13 Reasons Why really went to town on the whole "love can save you" thing. The show contradicts itself, as do those who defend it, by saying it's a programme to provide comfort for the mentally ill but then saying they shouldn't watch it if they feel triggered, and by claiming to raise awareness but does all the things it was advised not to. It's easy for people to claim it's a good show when they haven't killed themselves because of it.

If you watched the series and felt uncomfortable, isolated or misunderstood, I'm sorry and I hope one day things will get easier for you. I also hope you will one day see a representation of your mental illness on TV which you can relate to and which doesn't romanticise your crippling illness. Remember help is out there.


If anyone needs to talk, I'm here. <3

May Franco Alonso Lazo Medrano rest in peace.

Love, Emily.

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