• Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” Delivers Demoralizing Message of Hopelessness

    by  • May 21, 2018 • Other • 6 Comments


    On Friday, May 18, Netflix dropped the second season of 13 Reasons Why, a teen-focused drama about the 13 reasons why its main teenaged female character committed suicide. That same day, America was rocked by reports of yet another school shooting in which ten soulslost their lives. In light of the tragedy, Netflix cancelled plans Friday night for a season two premiere event because of a story arc that involves a thwarted school shooting.

    Oftentimes in a write-up of a series like this, the reviewer will urge parents to watch with their children. Make no mistake, though the series is rated for mature audiences only, the target audience is clearly high-school-aged children. Few adults will have any interest in revisiting the high school years and all of its attendant emotionalism and drama. If your high-schooler is interested in watching this series, they certainly should not be permitted to watch alone — there’s a lot to process, and no child should have to process it alone – but no high-schooler should be encouraged to watch. I cannot conceive of any good that would come of watching.

    Season two opens in the aftermath of Hannah’s suicide. Her parents (now divorced) have brought a lawsuit against the school for failing to protect their daughter from the bullying she was experiencing at school. Various students and members of the faculty are called in to testify, and the narration shifts throughout the series based on who is on the witness stand that day. Much of the action revolves around Clay Jenkins, who harbored a deep (unrequited?) crush on Hannah and seems to be most deeply affected by her death. He imagines her in the room with him and talks with her throughout the series as  he seeks to reconcile the idealized image he held of her in his mind, and the sometimes-sordid details he learns about her through the trial.

    Suicide HotlineIn the first episode, student Tyler Down is called to testify. Tyler is an amateur photographer  who takes pictures for the school yearbook and had arranged a private photo shoot with Hannah. Tyler became obsessed with Hannah and engaged in stalker-like behavior which eventually led to him spying on her and photographing her while she was “sexting” with another boy. When he returns to school after testifying, he is labeled a “perv” which leads to more bullying and social isolation for him. Eventually he joins up with a group of other outcasts, led by Cyrus. Together, he and Cyrus decide to settle the score on their own by calling out the hypocrites and rapists who are being protected by the school’s social caste system and by the administration itself.

    As the story unfolds, other students are targeted with menacing messages and other bullying tactics, usually in connection with their time on the witness stand. Jessica Davis, another rape victim, has photos of her sexual assault posted on a classroom whiteboard. Alex Standall, who attempted suicide at the conclusion of the first season, is anonymously sent a single bullet, then later, a gun with the suggestion that he should try again. Clay is sent polaroid pictures of star athlete Bryce Walker sexually assaulting other girls. Cars are vandalized and broken into. 

    As Clay and his allies in the school try to prove that Bryce Walker raped Hannah, they try to persuade Jessica to go back on the witness stand to  testify about her rape, but she is reluctant because of the way she was treated during cross examination her first time testifying, and her fear that if she got back on the witness stand she’d only do harm to the Baker’s suit. She is finally persuaded to go to the police to file charges against Bryce for her rape, but it is her ex-boyfriend who corroborated the rape who serves time in jail (as an accessory), while Bryce gets off with three months’ probation.

    Tyler is labeled as troubled for his acts of vandalism (spray painting words like “rapists” and “hypocrites” around the athletic field and on school lockers, burning the word “rapists” on the grass) and sent to an intervention program. When he returns to school, he is rejected by his former friends, and then brutally beaten by a group of jocks in the boys’ bathroom (in retaliation for the end of their season being cancelled, for which they blame him) and then — in a shocking, gut-wrenching scene — sodomized with a mop handle. As a viewer, you share his feelings of isolation and loneliness, of hopelessness and despair. It’s also clear that things will never get better for him, and that high school will continue to be an unremitting hell for him. Ultimately, Tyler drives to the school dance with a car full of guns and ammo intending to open fire on his classmates.

    Clay intervenes, talks him down and finally persuades Tyler to leave before the police show up.

    Where are the adults while all this is happening? The kids never bring these things to the attention of either the police or the school authorities. Instead, they take it upon themselves to see that justice is delivered, and to hold Bryce Walker accountable for his sexual assaults. The adults in this series, if they are there at all, are either completely clueless about what’s really going on in their kids’ lives and how best to help them, completely absent, or complicit in allowing the abuse and bullying to continue.

    If you need help, or know somebody you think is in need of help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org and Click to Chat

    Before the second season debuted, Netflix rolled out a new PSA encouraging young viewers who are struggling to “reach out to a parent, a friend, a school counselor, or an adult you trust,” but that message is undermined by the series itself which conveys the message that there’s no point in seeking help, because the “system” will fail you. The rapists get off with only a slap on the wrist, and the bullying will continue indefinitely, and it’s the victims that are punished in the end.

    A teenager watching this series who is already the victim of bullying or sexual abuse will not walk away from this series feeling hopeful about the future or about justice ultimately being served. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. No promise for a better future. No message of hope. Not even the suggestion that life goes on beyond high school. Even teenagers who haven’t been victims of bullying or abuse will likely feel depressed and despondent after watching.

    For kids who are already on the edge, watching this second season of 13 Reasons Why could push them over.

    It’s hard to imagine any positive outcome for anyone watching this second season of 13 Reasons Why. It offers no solutions. No path forward. No hope.

    Netflix was advised not to air the first season. They aired it anyhow. Netflix is aware of the possible psychological impact of this series on impressionable viewers. It’s why the conclusion of every episode directs viewers to their website for mental health resources and helplines. School counselors are on high-alert in the wake of the second season release. Yet they released a season that will only add fuel to the fire of depression, suicidal ideation, or despondency potential viewers might already be experiencing. While we hope there will be no real-life consequences, after reviewing season two, we’re only left with grave concern for children who watch the show.



    Ms. Henson is a noted expert on entertainment industry trends and the how the impact of entertainment affects children and the American popular culture at large. She also directs the organization’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign, which encourages companies to sponsor family-friendly entertainment. She previously supervised the research and program content analysis operations of the PT and produced a number of groundbreaking PTC studies that document the levels of graphic sex, violence and profanity on television. Some of those reports include: The Ratings Sham I & II, Dying to Entertain, Faith in a Box, The Sour Family Hour, The Blue Tube, and TV Bloodbath. She began her career with the PTC in 1997 as an entertainment analyst, documenting instances of inappropriate content on television. Ms. Henson has appeared on a variety of television shows including Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story, CNN Headline News’ ShowBiz Tonight, CNBC’s On the Money, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, and CBN’s Newswatch. She is a frequent guest on radio talk shows across the country and has been quoted extensively in news sources such asEntertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Variety, Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms. Henson is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a BA in Government. She resides in Falls Church, Va., with her husband and their son.

    6 Responses to Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” Delivers Demoralizing Message of Hopelessness

    1. Georgi Malchov
      June 4, 2018 at 11:58 am

      Disney-owned ABC finally realizes that family-friendly content=More $$$.

      The network announced a new reality show earlier today called “Family Food Fight”. It will follow eight families from across the US who share “a common kitchen and a common goal: to claim the title of America’s No. 1 Food Family.”

      This is clearly a show worthy of a PTC Seal of Approval. It will be up there with Shark Tank(another ABC show), Growing Up McGhee on UP, and pretty much every single Hallmark Channel movie

    2. Anonymous
      June 1, 2018 at 5:26 am

      This is absolutely rediculous. NO ONE should sign your petition cause that just encourages people to ignore situations like this. You don’t want children to be encouraged by the wrong thing yet you basically tell them don’t pay attention to situations like this one because they’re graphic. Too bad. Men go through what happened to Tyler and many other forms of sexual assault everyday and it’s people and groups like you that cause them to not report them because they know people like you will ignore it. Get off your high horse and realize that just cause it is graphic doesn’t mean people shouldn’t see it and feel their pain with the character to really understand the actions that take place in our world every day. I am disappointed in every person that thinks signing that petition will be a good thing for children. You’re shielding them from the truth in this world which is even worse than showing them and education them with it. Unbelievable.

    3. Kayli
      May 25, 2018 at 10:36 pm

      13 reasons why does not deliver that message and definitely isn’t intended to. The show is rated MA. For mature audience and is not even broadcasted on national television. It’s on its own in Netflix. Just like many other Netflix originals and private television there is some explicit scenes. But thy are not intenddd for children. This show is trying to send a message that other kids that may feel this way are not alone. And although their first thought may be to jump to suicide or worse, there’s always someone that cares enough for it to not be worth it. You are taking that away from the people who need it the most. Do yourself a a favor and save yourself the time and dignity of trying to distort this show, and simply not allow your children to view without caution.

      • Anonymous
        May 25, 2018 at 10:38 pm

        Not only do they encourage to get help but they offer it before and after every episode. Do not try to point fingers just to put a face on your excuses

    4. HEX Aligner
      May 21, 2018 at 7:46 pm

      I sincerely hope a renegade hacker disables the entire Netflix website permanently. If and when that happens, only then will Hollywood exercise the restraint you desire. People who are not afraid of anything will do anything, no matter how much it hurts others. Netflix needs to be very, very afraid.

      • Maddox Cox
        May 23, 2018 at 2:19 am

        Johnathan, your so true, it’s not like ned flanders or anybody who gives a crud will know how to hack a billion dollar website.

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