There are rights people, Let’s use them
What are you doing right now? No, I’m not being weird…not this time at least. Right now? Well, if you’ve made it this far then your are indeed reading. I know, it’s crazy, but news flash – reading is important and you do it everyday; you’re doing it right now!
Reading has been very controversial in our teachings. When I sit in any class I can hear teenagers babbling about having to read some stupid book. News flash – you read Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram messages 24/7; you can’t complain about reading. You also can’t control.
I Reference thee Old Looking Papers
For my readers in America, we have this wild thing called “the freedom of speech”, or the First Amendment. This entitles you to both directly and symbolically express your voice. Congress can’t even make a law that shortens it or changes it. I know, it’s serious business, and the United States Courts’ website (uscourts.gov) tells you just what this Amendment is all about. With this freedom, Americans have the right to:
- Not speak (specifically, the right not to salute the flag).
- Wear black armbands to school to protest a war (“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”).
- Use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
- Contribute money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns.
- Advertise commercial products and professional services (with some restrictions).
- Engage in symbolic speech (e.g., burning the flag in protest).
Now isn’t that just interesting. I never thought of how important those things were. More specifically the second bullet from above, “students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.” Many students would contradict that in a heartbeat, all our school rules seem so below us. If we have a right to speak, we also have a right to write down what we speak. We could write a book.
Yes, yes you have finally made it to my topic. I am so proud of all my readers, that’s right, you have been reading. The most controversial book that has been taking up social media and your lovely news for the past week or so is (drum roll) 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
More importantly, the actions taken because of it.
13 Reasons Why
For those unfamiliar, 13 Reasons Why is a book about a girl in high school who commits suicide, and leaves 13 cassette tapes to the 13 people who made her do it. This book is in the genre of “young adult fiction” but could just as easily be under mystery also. As you read you try to figure out what each person did, and why. Personally, I loved this book.
Books. Those darn things are just so outdated. We get iPads at school, just for textbooks to still be required weight in our backpacks. What really is bringing this series into the light of every teenagers view is one of the most popular ways to watch movies or shows: Netflix. Netflix created the series based on the book and released it on March 31, a whopping 40 plus days ago.
And you could write new novels with all the controversial papers, studies, and reviews because of its growing popularity. According to businessinsider.com, the series is gaining popularity for “all the wrong reasons”. In fact many mental health experts, concerned parents, and teachers are saying that it glorifies suicide, and could be a dangerous lesson for teens who could be going through the same things as the main character Hannah. Businessinsider.com says that these are the reasons the series got so popular:
- It’s based on the 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
- Dylan Minnette stars on 13 Reasons Why.
- It got so popular so fast that it’s probably getting a second season.
- The show is about a teenager, Hannah Baker, who kills herself.
- Before taking her own life, she leaves audiotapes for people she believes are responsible. The tapes are an act of revenge, and part justification of her fatal decision.
- The show gained an immediate following on Netflix, especially from teens.
The Debate (bum, bum, bum)
How is this harmful though? Mental-health specialists interviewed by businessinsider.com have “expressed concern that the messages the show sends about suicide are “dangerous.” They’re saying, along with many others on the internet, that the show delivers an extremely problematic take on suicide.” On BuzzFeed, an Australian spokesperson for youth mental-health organization Headspace said 13 Reasons Why “is raising a really important issue, it’s doing it in a really harmful way.”
Hate to barge in, but suicide has been around forever. All the way back to Ancient Greece, that’s how long this topic has been around, and nothing has really been done about it. First, for the history lesson about it, thanks to soars.org.uk, suicide was generally regarded as not wrong in itself, but there had to be a justification for it. Plato made three important exceptions for suicide: when “legally ordered by the State”; for painful and incurable illness; and when one is “compelled to it by the occurrence of some intolerable misfortune”.
Now, when an author decides to then write a compelling mystery, his book shouldn’t be banned, even if it’s on such a scary and fragile topic as suicide. What these experts, these parents and teachers are not seeing is that it’s been around. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US, half are done with firearms and highest in middle aged white men, according to afsp.org.
Some people support my view of it being “artistic”, not harmful. It’s a good book, and the show has taken huge risks. Going back to businessinsider.com, Selena Gomez (one of the show’s co-producers) told the Associated Press: “We stayed very true to the book and that’s initially what Jay Asher created was a beautifully tragic, complicated yet suspenseful story and I think that’s what we wanted to do.” A warning to viewers: there’s extremely graphic content in the show involving sexual assault and suicide. The creators of the show call the violent scene depicting Hannah’s suicide “necessary.” Go watch Law & Order: SVU, it’s hardsy to critique things when you’re not informed.
A school in Canada banned all references to the show completely, and some schools have had to issue statements warning parents about the material. I think I’m going to lose my mind. Yes, Canada isn’t the United States, but what is keeping schools here from banning it now? When I read it, as an eighth grader, we had to have our parents signature so that we could read it. If you haven’t already guessed, I really enjoyed the book.
“I read 13 Reasons Why in the sixth grade and again earlier this year,” said sophomore Marley Wells. “I read it because my mom had read it first and liked it, so I decided to read it too. I reread it because I wanted to see if my thoughts this time around were the same as they were when I was younger. It was one of my favorite books when I read it the first time, but this time I honestly didn’t really like it. The characters were angst and cliche and boring. Not for me.”
Other Examples: Unwind by Neal Shusterman
There’s been plenty controversial books written. One that is vivid and red in my mind is the book Unwind. It was a required class book we had to read in eighth grade. Now I’m an avid reader, but when I say I read this book in two days I don’t say it with a smile. For me, Unwind gave the miracle of Organ Donation the nastiest stereotype yet.
Unwind is a series, but the first book is about a group of kids who were sent off the be unwound because they caused trouble or their parents just didn’t like them. The process was harvesting not just organs, but everything. Picture reading about have someone else’s arm where yours was, and you now have the ability to do card tricks like the previous person.
This is one view point of for the other side of the 13 Reasons Why debate. I got so upset with Unwind because it made the lifesaving operation that gave my mom her life back an unrealistic fear. The emotional distress that book gave me, the sense of hopelessness for any family having to suffer a loved one dying and no one wanting to save them because they are scared…did the author think of how these fears would affect people? How his words could mean life or death to so many families.
For 13 Reasons Why, it’s the same way. The families, friends, and colleagues who have lost someone to suicide must feel relatively the same. Instead of seeing it as an idea for suicidal people to carry out, maybe they see it as the perfect way to relay a warning. We can’t see everyone’s lives or what they deal with, and that’s the main shock the character Clay faces. He saw a girl who had an ideal life, but that wasn’t true.
Come On Man, Let’s Be Real
I guess you just have to be mature enough to know the difference between a story and instructions. When you read the book, you are seeing the pain and suffering a teenager dealt with, and you see what happens when people who get sexually assaulted get themselves into more trouble. Like I said, there’s plenty of shows like one of my favorites (Law & Order: SVU) that handle these type of serious topics without any huge uproar. You just are expected to be able to handle it, and many people can handle reading an interesting story or watching an interesting show.
It isn’t until episode nine that a trigger warning appears on the show to caution viewers about what they’ll see, according to businessinsider.com. As of right now, episodes 12 and 13 are the only others with the same warning. After getting a storm of criticism, Netflix released this statement on May 1: “While many of our members find the show to be a valuable driver for starting an important conversation with their families, we have also heard concern from those who feel the series should carry additional advisories. Currently, the episodes that carry graphic content are identified as such and the series overall carries a TV-MA rating. Moving forward, we will add an additional viewer warning card before the first episode as an extra precaution for those about to start the series and have also strengthened the messaging and resource language in the existing cards for episodes that contain graphic subject matter, including 13ReasonsWhy.info — a global resource center that provides information about professional organizations that support help around the serious matters addressed in the show.”
A bit more open-minded, newstatesman.com says “for all its faults in structure and execution, 13 Reasons Why does provide an insight into the cultural psyche and adolescent tensions of the 21st century American teen. It’s a shame that this is trivialized by its irresponsible mishandling of its primary concern.”
I think that’s one of the butting-head problems I have. From a teenage perspective, I know the seriousness of suicide and know how dangerous and hurtful it is. From the parental perspective, I see the concern for not wanting your child to think that it’s okay, because life is a fragile thing. Finally, from the teachers perspective you are trying everyday to teach kids right from wrong, prepare them to enter the workforce and the rest of their lives.
Tackling controversy is just the way to do so. When The Da Vinci code came out, there was such terrible controversy about the movie depicting Jesus as an ordinary man instead of the key religious figure in Christianity. What was it really? A thought provoking movie. What gets skewed in the Hollywood life is that everyone does everything for attention, or is that just high-school again.
“I think controversy can be a good thing sometimes,” said Wells. “In this case, the controversy over whether 13 Reasons Why is appropriate for teens to watch as well as if the show is a positive or negative thing for mental illness awareness has gotten people talking; which I believe is a good thing. The more people talk about the show, the more light is shed on the issue of mental illness and suicide and the like. I don’t think that the series should be banned or removed. If you personally are opposed to it, don’t watch it. If parents are afraid of their kids being exposed to it, set parental controls. It is important not to shelter people from the reality of some issues. And yes, the show certainly could have been more tactful towards some of the more sensitive issues in the show, however I still believe it wasn’t detrimental to the stigma against mental illness or anything.”
People shouldn’t be viewed as higher or better than one another. Religions should not be ranked one over another. Books shouldn’t be banned because they talk about difficult topics. What we need in this world, oh that there is a really long list. We need to have respect and understanding. What we don’t need is the jumping to a plausible conclusion. We can’t avoid talking about something that is now not just growing in popularity but growing in coverage.
I don’t need people to take my freedom to engage in other people’s speech, just because it’s difficult. What I should ask is, why are we letting fear of something so big make us bar up the right people have to learn. If anything, shouldn’t we encourage books like this to be read because we will learn. You can’t just learn the easy stuff.
Feature Image from thirteenreasonswhy.com