When watching the first season of 13 Reasons Why, I, like most adults, was shocked by the graphic teen suicide and how it addressed the hard issues of teen life. Yet, the show brought these questions to the fore, whether for good or for ill, to the point that they can no longer be ignored by youth, parents, teachers, and counselors. Though a bit extreme, these issues of sexuality, bullying, and rape need a serious examination to get to the root of these problems. The root is obviously the sin that dwells in human beings, reaching back to Adam and Eve and their disobedience of God. However, there is a need to acknowledge the sin and to work toward developing the opposite, that is, virtuous living that begets happiness.
In the second season, while still reeling over Hannah Baker’s suicide, the students at Liberty High are faced with innumerable situations that create fear, anxiety, sadness, and depression. Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) is fiercely determined to bring Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) to accountability for his rape of Hannah and Jessica (Alicia Boe). School guidance counselor, Kevin Porter (Derek Luke) also wants Bryce to pay for his abuse of young women to the point of losing his job when he attacks Bryce.
Justin Prentice as Bryce Walker. Courtesy of Netflix.
With the high profile accusations against Harvey Weinstein’s sexually abusive behavior toward women, these issues are finally being addressed by society as a whole. This behavior is so ingrained in a former male-dominated culture that it will take years to sift out the strains of behavior that lead to such abuse. In the case of Bryce, his parents have a laissez faireattitude toward raising a teenager to be a man. Being wealthy, they give him whatever he wants—materially—and the freedom to do as he wishes. What are obviously missing are love, care, and concern. These are not shown in giving a teenager “freedom” but rather in parenting, that is, teaching a young person right from wrong, disciplining them when they behave badly, talking to them about life, loving them so they learn to healthily express their feelings. All parents struggle to help their teens open up and share freely what is happening in their lives. There is no easy answer to this issue. However, being present to them is the first step. The Walkers are too busy living their social lives and traveling the world than caring for their son. Parents need to be parents. Hello! Teens are so underdeveloped in their brains to know how to handle life or learn to respect other people that they need the guidance, support, love and care of parents to show them how this is done. The lack of it and other factors from a pornified society is obvious—a rape culture that has proliferated exponentially to where RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) has calculated that every 98 seconds a person in the United States is sexually assaulted. This is unacceptable! How can we keep this hidden any longer? The producers of 13 Reasons Why have the gall to bring this out into the light by shocking society into facing what we prefer to ignore.
Bryce’s rape of young women is not the only sexual assault issue addressed. All during season one and season two, awkward Tyler Down (Devin Druid) is constantly being shunned and abused by other students. His fascination with assault weapons and target practice leads the viewers to what may be coming. The nation’s school shooting incidents over the last decade make this topic a very delicate issue to bring up in a television series. We think addressing gun violence and access to guns will solve this problem. I believe it goes much deeper to the sin that pervades our society. Only when we see Tyler trying to overcome his anger issues and returning to school after being sent into a program by his parents do we even begin to understand the pain and suffering teens shunned by other teens, experience. Montgomery de la Cruz (Timothy Granaderos) and his jock friends secretly terrorize those who testify at the trial for Hannah Baker, a lawsuit that Hannah’s parents bring to the school for what they failed to do for their daughter. The trial spans all of season two. Monty wants to protect his friend Bryce at all costs. Why? So he’ll be accepted, included, and appreciated by Bryce, perhaps. It is not until he and his buddies pounce on Tyler in the school bathroom, pounding his head on the sick and sexually assaulting him with a broom handle that we see this problem crosses genders. Male-on-male assault is probably less likely to be reported than male-on-female, according to National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This harrowing scene, though not justifiable, makes it more understandable why Tyler feels his only way out is through extreme violence. His silent, isolated suffering can only be endured for so long before it bursts out uncontrollably.
Devin Druid as Tyler Down. Courtesy of Netflix.
The producers decided that the shooting would be averted, thanks to Clay’s reasonable thinking. He intervenes because he truly does care for Tyler and all the others. He takes on himself the fight for justice—a true hero of the story. It’s a good thing that it does not end with a bloodbath, but it still leaves the issues of sin present in the human person unaddressed. There is another way. There is a way out of the pain, suffering, violence, and depression. There is grace. God gives us the grace to overcome the darkest desires in our own hearts. He offers us the grace to reach for the glimmer of light, slim though it may be, to find that only in forgiveness, compassion, and hope do we see that there is more to life than the horror we inflict on one another. Our teens need hope. More than anything they need to know they are not alone in this world and their pain is not beyond healing. God’s grace purifies our souls and gives us the courage to stand up to any suffering, just as Clay fights for justice, showing his passion for truth, but also his compassion for those who suffer.
I commend series creator Brian Yorkey and the producers for opening our eyes to the darkness that underlies youth culture today and for having the courage to bring it into the light for questioning and discussion. Let’s also add our prayers for youth today who struggle with bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. May the adults in their lives be the presence of God for them when they are most in need of hope.