It’s a brave new world, this Netflix.
Recently, Netflix produced a series based on Jay Asher’s best-selling young-adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why. The show is proving itself to be both an unheralded success and a societal lightning rod.
The story follows the suicide of a 17-year-old protagonist named Hannah Baker, who left behind audio tapes addressed to the people who bullied her, tormented her, and ignored the warning signs leading up to her decision to take her own life. The show’s themes—such as cyber-bullying, sexual assault, mental illness and teenage suicide—reside in the forefront of our society’s discourse on how we can better serve our young adults.
Watch: Mia Freedman talks to Robin Bailey about the reality of suicide (post continues after video..)
Unfortunately, the Netflix show, while a compelling narrative, fails to address these issues with any real compassion for Hannah or the issues—particular her mental health problems—that lead to her tragic death. It is a missed opportunity to have an important discussion. It also depicts the teacher, counsellors and school administration as a bunch of bumbling idiots.
Full-disclosure: I am a public high school teacher. I’ve taught high school English for 15 years, first in Las Vegas now in New Hampshire. Like many of my colleagues, the bureaucracy and paperwork can be overwhelming, but I genuinely love working with my students, encouraging them to read deeply and think critically.
In my experiences, however, no one smells bullshit quite like the adolescent. Adolescents experience life viscerally, in the moment, with an intuitive bullshit-sensor—think Holden Caulfield—that howls whenever someone or something feels “phony.” And the adult world, sometimes, appears as caricatures to them.
So the adult writer looking back on adolescence, who can tap into that visceral adolescent narrative without being didactic or condescending, has done something exceptional. They’ve built a time machine that allows them to tap into their own pasts and connect with the present.