Why “13 Reasons Why” Is Important

13

In the fine arts we are encouraged to go big with our ideas, to allow emphasis on the issue, the illusion, the piece of art being presented on the stage. The purpose is designed to get the point across to the audience, or keep them engaged. The true compliment to an artwork, no matter the venue, is that people continue the discussion beyond the actual event.

Watching 13 Reasons Why, a controversial Netflix series really blew my mind. I felt like I was back in my high school again, experiencing the turmoil that a teenager goes through trying to adjust, fit in, survive the utter chaos of peer rejection and acceptance, all in the same day, every day.

About half way through the series, episode 6, or tape 3 I was riveted to every moment. Watching Clay struggle with the reality of losing his friend was compelling. I watched the behavior of his circle of people, I won’t call them friends, because so often in this period of a teenager’s life it is difficult to define who a true friend is. 13 did an excellent job exploring that aspect of high school.

I felt like I was the student in the room, experiencing the pain that comes with pressure and bullying. While the world goes on around a teenager, their internal struggle is never really revealed, and 13 explored that well enough to suggest this is real behavior. I thought all the characters fit the proper stereotypes.

The parents of each character as they unfolded in the show seemed normal. What I mean is they depicted the dysfunction of raising a family, holding a job, keeping up with or losing touch with their responsibility. I think the relationship that tore me up the most was Justin and his mom, I felt his pain as he leaned against the wall and she closed the door on their communication.

The administrators of the school seemed effectively overwhelmed by their task. There was the initial counselor who basically didn’t get tenure and then the new guy came in and gradually established their grounding as a central figure. In the end, it was clear things were beyond his control. Imagine the guilt we feel as teachers when we realize we missed something, that if we had just … we can settle behind the reality that our role in the classroom is to deliver our curriculum. Clearly that was demonstrated in 13 Reasons Why, but at the same time, we could recognize the vulnerability that children experienced around adults that were not involved. Or, if they were, they didn’t have a clue.

As I suggested in the beginning, in order to keep an audience, a piece has to have big moments. In television plot lines are imperative, and this is where I began to lose my direct connection to the characters in 13. Everything that could possibly happen, did, all impacting this small group of peers. Why such a micro-managed focus on the energy of a typical high school? Because the ability to attach pain and suffering to familiar characters helps get the point across to the audience.

If we accepted our buy in to the characters then everything they went through was plausible. Much like the movie Crash years ago where a diverse populace all experienced tragedies and successes within a literal block of L.A., though perhaps not possible, the experience the characters endured was certainly believable in the right context.

In 13, the key to this story is they deal with every aspect of being a teenager – confusion with sexual identity, clear cognizance of sexual preference and the societal scrutiny, the lifestyle of a jock, of a nerd, a geek, an outlier, a weirdo, In every aspect of student or teenager, the experiences seemed real and tragic.

What is an important takeaway is to recognize the behaviors demonstrated throughout this series were pretty spot on for the most part. The story line of the tapes could actually happen, though the possibility of getting through a dozen involved students probably not likely. But, they all maintained their characters with a haunting consistency.

Finally, let’s not forget this is about suicide, and the helplessness that everyone feels with a loss they believe they are responsible for. Even though in the real world we always blame the person who takes their own life. The movie itself defined the act as weak. I found it interesting that the young woman who revealed her cuttings on her arms, suggested she was doing it right, that suicide is a cop out. I’ve worked with cutters in my hospital work, and there was always a distinction between real and attention seeking, vertical and horizontal cuts as so eerily demonstrated in the series.

13 might be perceived as a segment of peers in a typical high school all being responsible for Hannah’s death, but if that is a takeaway, it is possibly wrong. It really is the remarkable telling of a young person’s struggle to define themselves while walking through life in a world of hurt, and having the fortune to play out the process with direct and frightening evidence, ironically replayed in cassettes with haunting truth.

I believe this series, beyond the embellishment and soap opera moments, is vitally important, certainly not for the eyes of children under 12 – not yet, even though we think they’re ready. It is a wonderfully tragic piece to create healthy dialogue, whether the characters are realistic or not. I was moved.

When We Were Younger

I remember we had conflict,

a peer group,

a close friend we didn’t know.

Confuse that with desires we were not sure of,

the outcome can be rather shallow.

We make allowances with artificial ideals,

I did that very night, when with you,

in all of your beauty and grace,

I wished only to have you, yet didn’t really have any idea

just whom I was given the opportunity to know.

Then the winter air became its bitter cold,

my value had diminished to a confused young

hormonal teenage boy.

That night I watched you look sad in the reality

of self-image I was callous to place upon your lovely self.

Oh to be the young man that could find chivalry

replay that moment with deep glance in your eyes,

if only to suggest how lovely I felt to be with you

for that brief time.

Later, as life continued to journey forward,

and ours was now a past reflection,

I would see you move beyond that world,

always with a desire to honor

your presence, beauty and elegance

you’d offered my own erred judgment.

A Picture of Change We Will Unravel

Photo by Annie Liebowitz

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

I have heard ‘secrets,’

that interview was extensive,

a great deal of suggestion,

people complained,

some wondered, others scowled,

many didn’t care,

about the man’s affairs.

~

What do we read?

the hottest magazines that demonstrate

our most monstrous needs to associate

with a world we might sooner

discard than understand.

Please know there is little derision

in supporting the decision,

We just wonder again,

what is so important in our lives,

that a 62 year old woman,

makes the cover of Vanity Fair?

Now there’s an obvious thought,

who is it reads such affairs,

or perhaps are there a volley,

a vaulting interest in readership,

let’s dive in now, won’t we all,

join the list of new subscribers?

How quickly we pirouette the personal

into an arena of public scrutiny.

~

A man who no longer felt like a …

such confusions are beyond my realm,

when today I walked down the street,

see a pretty woman and a handsome man,

I really haven’t a clue,

of her suffering … just months to live.

By her demeanor they look happy together,

almost sort of teary when we think about it.

Yet tonight what is trending,

because that really is what we’re after,

in a world drawn by ruinous imagery,

we welcome in good, old, Caitlyn Jenner.

~

Meanwhile, across the world, in lunchrooms,

classrooms, gyms and locker rooms,

there’s those damn kids again,

struggling to find their identity,

wanting to cut, to use the wrong dosage,

drive a needle into their arm,

be gothic, morbid, walking zombies,

whatever trend that moves aside,

their own personal fear of scrutiny.

I wonder if any of these ‘miscreants,’

even think of buying the latest,

Vanity, vanity, vanity,

Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair.

At Seventeen Again

Years later, I returned, I didn’t ask,

I just recall the time I lived there,

alone in my own quiet space,

lumbering vacant emotions were near.

I glance around the hallways

see the faces exist alone together,

happy, smiling, crying, scared

defiant, denied, demands, devoid

of all the worry that years later,

their lives will wish might be a return

to that simple time when almost a child

we could all live again, at seventeen.

~

Let’s not forget the nightmare exists

when every morning in a mirror,

their souls rely upon one happy line,

a smile, a glance, a potential kiss,

a date to the prom, instead of alone,

let’s recall that every step they take,

through a sea of like minded souls

contains the trappings, the stirrings,

the mystique of the human condition.

When next you round a corner, take

heed in the eyes, they’re your tell,

the windows of worry that suggest

we’re all seventeen again in awhile.

~

I want to live my life as a whole

individual, one that might relish,

a summer morning, without worry

of where my food will come, where,

shelter will present itself in the middle

of a haunting night that reflects

the somber reality of my life, known.

~

Yet, at seventeen, I’m surrounded,

so why, where is it, I stand alone.

Be Pretty Please?

We expect only that you reflect our dreams
Our anticipation is your responsibility
Remember that when you question us
The mirror you see becomes slate gray
All of your efforts are left on the vanity
As deep inside the soul we often
Forget to respond to our reality

Visualize, and be pretty please
And recognize respect reacts
In simple ways to the world around us
We can only know so much about ourselves
Without wishing winsome welcomes will
Allow our lives a quiet day of normalcy
Washing away anxiety and scrutiny

For while the world continues around us
In the morning another sun will rise
When as evening travels so the moon …
Again I wonder if she or he might realize
That every day their lives are on display
Rarely the general public asks your response
Genuinely simple, I wish to be pretty please

While receptive to a society and left alone
What wonder holds then our natural tone?