“A Bunch of Self-Obsessed Teens”: Adult responses to 13 Reasons Why

13-reasons-why-trigger-warning

The BBC, rather than taking the time to watch and review the second season of 13 Reasons Why itself, chose to put together a number of quotes from other mainstream reviews on their website.  What is interesting when the reviews are pulled together in this way is the use of language:

“A tawdry, unnecessary exercise…” (USA Today)

“Season two does enough to justify its existence…” (NME)

“Only justified in Netflix’s desire to bulk up inventory” (Deadline)

“Frustratingly unnecessary” (Hollywood Reporter)

Look at the terminology here.  “Unnecessary.”  “Justify its existence.”  “Justified.”  How many other programmes are judged on whether they are “necessary” or not?  Are people talking this way about season 2 of Riverdale?  Or season 4 of How To Get Away With Murder?  Or season 7 of Suits?  Or season 14 of Supernatural?  I very much doubt it.  But, oddly, I heard the same terminology used on Twitter by some users discussing Love, Simon, the recent high school movie featuring a gay lead character.  “This film really isn’t necessary in 2018,” was something I saw on more than one Twitter account.

One has to wonder why it is only series or films dealing with serious teen issues that need to be “necessary” or “justified.”  Of course, some will say that Netflix are making entertainment out of serious issues, but entertainment is what makes them digestible and gets those issues talked about – otherwise we might as well be watching dry lectures, Open University of the 70s style.  And it’s not like serious issues are not intertwined with entertainment in adult dramas:  racism, corruption, homophobia, rape, sexual assault, mental health issues – all of them are dealt with often in adult dramas with varying degrees of success.  So why not a series made for teens?

Some more of that terminology:

“It’s like being locked in a room with a bunch of self-obsessed teens…” (The Guardian – Sam Wollaston review)

“As exasperating and melodramatic as teenagers themselves…” (Entertainment Weekly)

This is a series dealing with, among other things, mental health issues.  The series premiered during Mental Health Awareness Week, and yet here are critics talking about teenage characters with mental health problems as “self-obsessed,” “exasperating,” and “melodramatic.”  Oh, the irony.  It’s hardly surprising why mental health issues amongst teenagers is on the rise if the adult population view them in this way when they start talking about their problems.

This shouldn’t be a them-and-us world.

The show has been criticised for possibly increasing suicidal thoughts in some teenagers (although I have yet to see any credible evidence that this is the case – if you know of any beyond a single incident in a news report, please do let me know in a comment).  One online news report talks of how 12 and 13 year olds watching the series had became distressed and talked of suicide.  (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/13-reasons-why-link-increase-suicide-threats-toronto-1.4164774).  But one has to ask what they were doing watching the show in the first place.  The rating on Netflix UK is “18” (which seems a little extreme to me, but that is beside the point).  So should the news report be blaming the creators of the show or the parents of the kids in question who aren’t checking up on what their children are watching?  Well, it’s not going to blame the parents, when they are the target audience for the website, so they blame the show.  Besides, it makes for better headlines.

We can’t wrap teenagers (or adults) in cotton wool and avoid the difficult subjects just because some people aren’t parenting their kids properly and are letting them watch inappropriate things on TV.  And just as harmful as the content of the programme is this talk of teenagers as self-obsessed, exasperating, and melodramatic.

As as adult with bipolar, and his fair share of “problems,” I certainly didn’t see the first season as over-the-top or in any way “glamourising” suicide (another accusation levelled at the series).  But I do seriously wonder if adults are more uncomfortable about these kinds of series than the teenagers are.    Perhaps it makes us too uncomfortable to think that our kids at school could be suffering from bullying, homophobic abuse, sexual assault, negligence, or racism.   If nothing else, 13 Reasons Why has opened up a discussion about all of those things, and tries to force us as adults to admit they exist and may be happening to our own sons and daughters or our loved ones.   But every person who sees the series as “unnecessary” is just burying their head in the sand.

I will admit that I have yet to see the second season.  I have seen two episodes of it.  I thought the first was a complete mess, but that the second was much better, but I will give a full review when I have finished the series in a week or so.  But this blog post is not about whether this season is as good as the last – although I would put forward the suggestion that many were just waiting to shoot the series down after getting so riled up about the first season. Instead, it is about the terminology being used here.

Out of all the reviews, perhaps IndieWire understand the viewpoint of the series more than most, stating “the show doesn’t offer solutions, but it does offer empathy.  And sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed.”  It’s a shame more of the adults moaning about the series are not more empathetic towards those pesky self-obsessed, exasperating and melodramatic teenagers in society that are going through serious problems and looking for some help.

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