Netflix TV Show Causes Suicide Searches to Spike Dramatically:
Why Netflix Should Pull This Show Now!
By Ben Kayser, Managing Editor
The TV series 13 REASONS WHY, which is beloved by many, but criticized and heralded as dangerous by others, was released four months ago and is sparking controversy again.
The program is about a teenage girl who commits suicide after bullying and sexual assault, but leaves a set of cassette tapes about the 13 individuals who helped push her over the edge. Admittedly, it took me some time to get through all 13 episodes. This wasn’t because I couldn’t engage with the story, which is told very creatively and engrossingly. It’s because I could hardly handle watching the subject matter. I’m no stranger to dark and heavy entertainment. I’ve been reviewing all types of movies as Movieguide®’s managing editor for nearly five years now, and I can definitively say that 13 REASONS WHY is one of the most disturbing, gut wrenching pieces of “entertainment” (if one can ethically call it that) that I’ve ever seen. Worse, the viral nature of the series not only has captured the imagination of America’s youths, it’s also proving to be the deadliest television program we’ve seen in some time.
It took me four months to slog through the series. The day after I watched the final episode with my wife, I read a study that’s now making the rounds in the media.
The study reveals that people searching the word “suicide” on Internet search engines has increased as high as 44% following the release of 13 REASONS WHY. The study goes on to say that there were “900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected.”
Having seen the series in its entirety, this doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s actually the reason Movieguide® was started, to teach people in Hollywood, and in the masses about the correlation between what’s shown in the media, and how it impacts the viewer, and the importance for storytellers with this knowledge to make movies and TV programs responsibly. What does surprise me sometimes, though it shouldn’t, is how vehemently some individuals defend such programs as “art,” as if that gives filmmakers and television producers and writers a free pass.
Now, I don’t believe those behind 13 REASONS WHY, including its executive producer Selena Gomez, and the author of the original novel, Jay Asher, had any malicious intent. They wanted to tell a compelling mystery story, and they’ve done so with incredible success. They probably even had the noble intention from the beginning of shining a light on the real-life issues of suicide, rape and bullying that takes place in schools across America. For those who did watch, your heart broke for Hannah in her struggle to find acceptance, your blood boiled at Bryce the rapist jock, and you may have surprisingly felt some pity for Justin by the end. So, if their only intention was starting a conversation (while making some money), the filmmakers and studio certainly succeeded.
However, where 13 REASONS WHY has faced criticism is how the story almost glamorizes the fact that Hannah Baker takes her life and essentially enacts revenge on all the people who pushed her to suicide. The end goal is mind-crushing guilt for everyone Hannah left behind on the 13 tapes.
Now, some of these 13 people legitimately don’t deserve Hannah’s blame, though others do. The sickening twist in this program, though, is that this guilt eventually leads one of the 13 people to kill himself as well.
Good intentions or not, therefore, this portrayal of teenage suicide is completely insensitive to the surviving family members and friends of the real teenagers who decide to end their life.
Another huge problem with 13 REASONS WHY is the fact that it shows Hannah’s suicide in graphic detail in a scene lasting three minutes.
One of the program’s writers, Nic Sheff, a former crystal meth addict who himself tried to take his life at one point, told Vanity Fair that they were adamant to show Hannah’s suicide in detail. Nic argues that the best deterrence to suicide is to show it explicitly in all its gruesome detail.
He says, “It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like – to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse.”
Again, good intentions seem to abound, but what Nic and the other people behind this show don’t acknowledge is that researchers have already shown that the depiction of suicide doesn’t stop people from killing themselves but actually encourages those who are susceptible to do it in reality.
Thus, the National Association of School Psychologists said in a statement, “Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”
Obviously, no one is arguing that filmmakers or television writers and producers should ignore the topics of suicide and sexual assault. Conversations with our children and peers and shining a light on an important issue or problem are essential to helping solve it. However, as the impact of 13 REASONS WHY makes perfectly clear, portraying a teenage suicide in graphic detail is huge mistake that’s actually resulted in more teenage suicides, especially given the popularity of this misguided program.
The study released July 31, 2017, which revealed the increase in online searches about suicide, said 13 REASONS WHY did create some positive awareness. For example, the search term “suicide hotline number” increased by 21%. However, the search term “how to commit suicide” increased by 26%, “commit suicide” went up 18%, and “how to kill yourself” increased 9%. For goodness sake, if raising awareness also increases the problem, you’re raising awareness all wrong!
This new study should encourage Netflix to cancel their plans for a Season Two and (hopefully) even pull Season One off their streaming website.
Freedom of speech is an important value in this country, but just because you CAN say or show something doesn’t mean it should be said or shown. When artists dig in their heels and defend “artistic expression” at the expense of damaging children and teenagers emotionally, mentally and spiritually, they play a dangerous game. The writers of 13 REASONS WHY go to great lengths at blaming every person who contributed to Hannah’s suicide, but when their own TV show prompts an increase in suicide interest, and possible copycat suicides, somehow people are now responsible for their own lives and the media had nothing to do with it.
When will such madness end?
Editor’s Note: 13 REASONS WHY contains abundant foul language, depicted rape, depicted suicide, frequent bullying, and fornication, all of it between teenagers. As countless studies have shown, the depiction of sex, violence and drug use in movies and television lead directly to an increase in such immoral behavior among vulnerable people, especially susceptible children and teenagers. Movieguide®, therefore, advises all ages to stay away from 13 REASONS WHY.