Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Thoughts on 'Thirteen Reasons Why'
Background... I have owned a copy of this book since last Autumn. Long before I had heard about the TV show. It was a gift from an acquaintance of mine. We (she and I) both agreed that it was dubious. Written by a 31 year old man, it is an epistolary ramble through the flawed logic of a suicidal teenage girl. A vindictive burn-book from beyond the grave. Two chapters in, once it was clear where the story was going, I quit reading. I have a 100 page literature rule. If I'm not emotionally invested by page 100 then I stop reading. I didn't make it nearly that far.
But last weekend I made myself watch the show. Because the conversation it is generating is absolutely important. And I wasn't qualified to comment without bearing witness. And on May 15th, I took the book to bed with me and read all night. These are my thoughts.
May 15th. Thoughts on 'Thirteen Reasons Why'. Let's start with the Netflix show. Mostly, it's shit, improbable, generic teen melodrama. Hannah's tapes are vindictive. Inconceivably awful. Clay's character is entirely unconvincing. Listen to the fucking tapes you fucker!
Anyway, I'm 10 episodes in. One of those things I feel I need to actually watch in order to justify my bitching. But fuck you Hannah Baker. I have been bullied, raped, fucked over by my dearest friends. And I have planned to end my life. And I have tried. But I have never blamed anyone but myself.
May 16th. Iced tea and suicidal ideation. At this point I am writing about the novel.
"Looking back, I stopped writing in my notebook when I stopped wanting to know myself anymore... If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don't want to cry anymore you don't listen to that song anymore.
But you can't get away from yourself. You can't decide not to see yourself anymore. You can't decide to turn off the noise in your head."
No, but you can disconnect. Disassociate. Shut down. Go dark. Shut the world out. No mirror. No witnesses. The world is quiet here.
"And yet the loneliness I entered the party with came rushing back.
... How in the world was I alone?
... Because I wanted to be. That's all I can say. It's all that makes sense to me. How many times had I let myself connect with someone only to have it thrown back in my face? Everything seemed good, but I knew it had the potential to be awful. Much, much more painful than the others."
This. This is decent writing. This is BPD logic. I love you. Don't hurt me. Go away. Build a shell. Disconnect.
The thing that hits me most strongly in Thirteen Reasons Why is something I can't quite verbalise. The victim-blaming, slut-shaming, splitting. The obscene over-simplification of it all.
"That's not why you did it Hannah. That's not why you joined them. You knew it was the worst choice possible. You knew that."
But did she? Maybe, by giving herself to Bryce, by sacrificing the last of her bodily autonomy to him, she was trying to absolve her guilt over Jessica's rape.
Or perhaps she just wanted to feel something? To be desired. Wanted. Touched. Not love, but something. I get this.
"That's why you did it. You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible. And Bryce, you knew, could help you do that."
It's your fault Hannah. Clay is slut-shaming you. Even now. Even after he has heard his tape. He never could have helped you.
And I feel this scene, in a disconnected way. Because it is dangerous.
I know the grey area that floats between rape and passive non-resistance. Sex as a form of self-injury. Yes. I get it.
And possibly the worst thing about this story is the ending. Not Hannah's end. Hannah's end is inevitable. Her move. Her choice. But Clay, you fucking idiot. You have learned nothing.
You feel hope! You have a mission! In your ridiculous, misogynistic, stupid teenage boy mind. You think you can save Skye! Absolution. Replace one broken girl with another. Save Hannah by proxy. Turn back the clock.
How are you going to save her Clay? By being nice? Because you are nice, aren't you? That's your thing. Put in kindness coins, get the girl, save her. Hero-porn.
Maybe she doesn't need to be saved. Doesn't need a hero.
Maybe it's her choice. And maybe Hannah is just a fucking horrible person. Because ultimately, no-one is responsible for another person's suicide. No exceptions. You can rip a person's heart out. You can be the worst person. The very worst.
But the dead one? They chose their own path. You can't save a person who doesn't want to be saved. Sometimes life is just too painful. And some of us just cannot keep fighting.
So no, we don't need heroes. Token kindness. Kindness tokens.
Try actual, everyday kindness. Try to just be a good human. Just be nice to people.
I don't judge Hannah for her suicide. But for the tapes. Yes, yes I do. And I do judge Mr. Asher for dreaming her up. For feeding the manic pixie dream girl trope. Fuck you Jay Asher. But also thank you. For initiating this conversation.
I hear echos of another dead girl's story. 'The Lovely Bones'. And Susie Salmon is blameless. Does her rape seem more legitimate to me? Am I an awful person? Because my definition of rape is so blurred? Distorted. Because I make rape jokes because I refuse to feel those particular feelings?
In summary, Thirteen Reasons Why was good for me because it helped to break down my walls just a little. To shed a few tears about just how shit things have been. The book is of far more merit that the TV show. But kids don't read books apparently. And conversation is vital. However horribly flawed the narrative. I would like to have been able to sympathise with Hannah. But what she did in leaving those tapes was too awful. Absolutely unforgivable.
Yes, suicidal people do cruel, hurtful things. On his last night in our home, my partner told me that his actions, the actions that started the particular snowball effect that ended his life, were my fault. Specifically, because of something that I did 10 years previously. But he was extremely distressed that night. He didn't plan it. He didn't spend weeks cooling recording a legacy of hurt for his survivors. What Hannah did is not a suicide note. And suicide notes are rare enough.
I am glad that people are talking. About rape culture. About consent. About taking responsibility for our actions. But I am disappointed by the simplicity of the story. And the tedious presentation of the Netflix show. I feel that a generic two hour movie would have been a far better format. I do like the story telling style. I do like the concept of unreliable narration. I would definitely advise that survivors of rape, sexual assault and suicide proceed with caution.