Six reasons why you shouldnâ€t bother watching Thirteen Reasons Why


At the end of March, Netflix released the series adaptation of the popular young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why to much enthusiasm. Even though itâ€s aimed at teenagers and young adults, many older people have enjoyed watching the show and call it a step in the right direction for representations of mental health. While the show does have some positives, like a cast of diverse races and sexualities and open discussions of mental health and sexual assault, the depictions of many sensitive situations have been dangerous.

Many young adult novels and series romanticise and glorify dangerous parts of being a teenager, such as suicide, eating disorders, heavy drinking and drug-taking. Thereâ€s a huge culture for young people advocating for very destructive lifestyles, perpetuated by social media sites such as Tumblr which are hotbeds of pro-ana blogs and suicidal young people talking about self-harm as a form of expression. Far from putting kids off these things, these platforms make them more appealing. Criticisms of novels written for teens by older people who donâ€t understand youth culture today is necessary, even if you really liked the show. Here are a few reasons why Thirteen Reasons Why is actually problematic af, despite all the praise.

Warning: spoilers. But thatâ€s cool because you shouldnâ€t actually watch this show.

1. It uses the manic pixie dreamgirl trope, hard

What is the manic pixie dreamgirl? Think 500 Days of Summer, Eleanor & Park, Looking for Alaska – the beautiful, interesting, quirky girl who brings light and fun to the life of a brooding, boring guy. She turns his world upside, in all the right ways. Then something tragic happens and she disappears from his life. But it doesnâ€t matter much, his life carries on in a slightly better way because she made him a better person. Cute, right? But itâ€s also misogynistic. This trope perpetuates the idea that women are only there to provide free emotional labour and help men achieve self-actualisation. The reader never learns what happens to her after she leaves because she was only there as part of the guyâ€s story. And that brings us to Hannah Baker, who kills herself in Thirteen Reasons Why. Her whole life, her death, her reasons for suicide, are all part of Clay Jensenâ€s narrative of life. At the end of the series, how much do we really know about Hannah other than the parts that affected Clay?

2. It romanticises suicide

Suicide as revenge is an incredibly risky move to depict in media. Using Hannahâ€s suicide as a method to get Liberty High students to think about their actions and guilt them into becoming better people isnâ€t something that should be promoted to teens, who may see self-harm as a good option to get back at the people who have hurt them. The explicit suicide scene was also dangerous, as repeatedly viewing these scenes can desensitise a person to the actual horrific act of killing oneself. Not to mention teaching kids the correct way to slit their wrists. Placing so much emphasis on her suicide dehumanises Hannah – the viewers only care about her because she killed herself. How many women and girls go through the same shaming and bullying and arenâ€t given screen time because they survived? Alex also attempts suicide, but that isnâ€t depicted at all. Throughout the series, Hannah is defined by her death. All we know is some terrible stuff happened to her and she died and made everyone a better person by telling them, posthumously even, how terrible they all were.

3. Literally all the rape scenes

Hannah and Jessica both get raped by Bryce, and both scenes are gut-wrenching. Thereâ€s been controversy of the depiction of rape in film and television with some arguing that an audience shouldnâ€t be made to witness rape and sexual assault to make it ‘more real†and cultivate empathy. Most people can agree that victims and survivors should be believed and understood without having to go into detail about their experiences, especially since the person who seems most pained by Hannah and Jessicaâ€s rape is Justin, the boy who basically let it happen. The girls†trauma is barely dealt with. There are more sensitive ways to create awareness about the sexual trauma that too many teenagers face without voyeurism. Like with suicide scenes, normalising these depictions of sexual assault have the added effect of desensitising viewers.

4. The characters of colour are all really problematic

Leave Tony and Jeff out of this. The majority of characters of colour, including Jessica, Courtney, Marcus, Sheri and Zach are incredibly selfish, manipulative and deceitful. Itâ€s one thing to have a diverse cast to create the impression of progressiveness, but representation for its own sake isnâ€t worth it if theyâ€re all assholes. Mr Porter, the black school counsellor, is an incompetent and unsympathetic man who, after being told by a girl that sheâ€s been raped, tells her to get over it. Most of them are one-dimensional and peripheral. Jessica isnâ€t even a real character, her sole purpose is to play foil to Hannah. The series fleshes Hannah and Tony out well, couldnâ€t the rest of the characters be made more real too?

5. Menâ€s mental health isnâ€t taken seriously, at all

Throughout the series, Alex is obviously suicidal. He talks about killing himself, is visibly depressed and ashamed and withdraws himself from everyone. The kid was crying out for help, but no one noticed. Did anyone learn anything about being a better person after all? They ignored Alex, and also ignored Skye, another obviously depressed character. After the abrupt mention that Alex shot himself in the head, he is never mentioned again. This contributes to patriarchal ideals of how men should deal with pain – ignore and internalise it until it becomes unbearable, and then have people act like nothing happened. This isnâ€t progressive at all. It perpetuates how menâ€s mental health isnâ€t taken seriously.

6. The cost of Clay and Hannahâ€s love story

See also, “I didnâ€t deserve to be with someone like you. I would have ruined you.”

Clay and Hannahâ€s almost-love story is seen as one of the reasons she killed herself. Hannah was gradually withdrawing herself from everyone around her – a typical symptom of depression – and she pushed Clay away too. This makes him feel guilty because he feels like he could have saved her if he spent more time with her. He feels guilty for leaving a girlâ€s room and for stopping sex with her because she asked him to. Maybe if he had stayed, she wouldnâ€t have killed herself? No, this is not how consent is taught. It isnâ€t Clayâ€s fault that Hannah killed herself. A child should not have to save another childâ€s life. Why didnâ€t Clay tell Hannah he loved her when she was alive? It doesnâ€t matter. A boyâ€s love will not save you from everything bad in the world. We need to stop buying into the notion that soft boys are supposed look after damaged girls. Hannah did not need a boyfriend to stop her from suicide; she needed the people around her to stop being misogynists, her friends to stop being bullies and her parents, teachers and counsellor to stop ignoring her pain.

Featured image via Pixabay


  1. Couldn’t have said it better. “We need to stop buying into the notion that soft boys are supposed to look after damaged girls ” This 👌👌👌👌👌👌

    Well Done !!!!

  2. Why so triggered by a show for teens? Young adults will watch shows like this for escapism. It’s like saying video games cause violence.

    What does it matter if the characters of colours aren’t perfect? The point is that they are great actors who were able to take on challenging roles.

  3. Everything said here was complete and utter nonsense. Of course, OF COURSE, someone managed to turn this show into a racial issue. Just because you 0refer to look on the negative side of the show doesn’t give you the right to try and convice others that the show is bad. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so next time you decide to post something similar to this, please do have some consideration for others and their views of the show.

    • Institutionalised racism doesn’t cease to exist just because you’d prefer it doesn’t, Catelynn. Catch a wake up fam.

  4. I find your analysis of 13 Reasons Why problematic for a number of reasons. To debunk all your reasons as to why you believe the show should not be watched would take too long, so I’m going to make a few brief comments. Firstly, you really should get an audience appreciation of the movie. Get youth who watched the series to test whether your assumptions that the series ‘romanticise and glorify’ suicide are correct. This is critical for any media analysis. Secondly, suicide is more complex than you imagine. It takes far more than watching one show for someone to consider suicide. Thirdly, all the characters are depicted as deeply flawed, not just those of colour.

    Yes, some parts of the plot was a bit much like introducing the fact that Hannah was raped by Bryce (especially since this was not in the book) and unnecessary given the wider narrative. If anything, this series struck some real blows for bullying at school and that all of society is culpable when someone sees no way out but to commit suicide.

    Criticism is always valuable but dogma is not.

    • I am a youth who watched the series and I thoroughly agree with the author’s anaylsis. You haven’t really provided any reasoning to debunk this article in your comment, just mere questioning of the author’s judgement. Dogma is defined as “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” If you want to discuss dogma, discuss the institutionalised rape culture and slut shaming which was at no point in time resolved in the show, only perpetuated. Glorifying suicide, rape and depression is not helpful nor educational. You can’t conveniently overlook misogyny and the fact that the main character was a trope playing homage to the male protagonist’s ‘transformation’ and say this critique is invalid.

  5. This is not a show that must be watched by a teenager on his or her own. This is something that must be watched with a parent. Why I say this is then mom or dad can point out what is not real and how you could also deal with these type of things. Teachers and parents I think can learn even more than teenagers from this. Till now nobody really wanted to show us what can and does happen in schools, why do we always shy away from the truths of bulling and all the crap that happens in schools?
    As a parent and a teacher this show opened my eyes to a lot that I did not always noticed.

  6. Thank you for your wonderful points. I totally enjoy reading your blog because your writing style makes things so easy to understand while keeping the tone energetic. Keep it all up!


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