I want to begin by saying that more so than young people, I think that adults would benefit considerably from watching the series. In reality, adults can massively underestimate both the power of social media and the many horrors of being in secondary/middle/high school. It really can be one of the most daunting places and I wish I could say that it was nicer, but teenagers are mean and being a teenager amongst mean people is even more difficult. As you mature you do learn how to deal with things better. You learn that voicing your anxieties is better than bottling them up and you build a thicker skin that allows you to let some things fly right over your head instead of allowing them to hit you. Which is why adults can lack understanding and why I feel like the way the tv series presents its issues would be hugely eye opening to an older audience.
Wow. When it comes to this series, I am honestly mind blown. I don’t know where to begin or how to formulate my thoughts because there is just so, so much to it. Although the series addresses a number of uncomfortable issues, there were two in particular that really stood out for me – social media and rape.
Whilst adults certainly realise that social media has a huge impact amongst young people, I don’t think they can ever realise just how bad things can get. You have to be inside the experience to know that it dominates teenage culture and seeps into every space of your secondary school life. I mean, it definitely did for me and I wouldn’t doubt that the age at which it’s effecting young people is getting lower everyday.
In the programme this is addressed perfectly. Hannah is just a normal teenager who is interested in one of the popular guys at school and feels lucky when she’s able to grab his attention. But then the mobile phone comes out and a picture is taken and everything is ruined – because once something is put onto the internet, even if it’s just to one person, it’s there forever and it can be found. Although the picture of Hannah could have been a lot worse, that really isn’t the point. The picture of Hannah at the top of the slide with her knickers showing emphasises just how little it takes and just how nasty teenagers can be. She was just on a date with a boy, having fun. Within a day, she was the school “slut” with her picture being passed around and whispers filtering through the hallways and classrooms.
Throughout the series, there was a part of me that kept begging Hannah to just talk to her parents about everything. They seemed so genuine. But even with the most genuine and loving parents, sometimes it’s not that easy. Even if you have a very open mother like mine, who encourages you to tell her everything and never to be scared, it doesn’t really help to hear those words if the thing you have to tell them is scary. And in Hannah’s situation, having to tell your parents that someone is sending an indecent photo of you around the school can never not be scary. Which means that even if you have the loveliest parents in the world, it doesn’t mean you’re going to sit down and tell them everything. You might keep secrets and be scared for a little while and maybe you’ll tell them before it’s too late – but maybe like Hannah, you won’t.
Another integral part of the programme was Hannah’s struggle to form lasting friendships – something that may seem insignificant, but can bring you to a really low point in your life as we see in the programme. As I’ve said, school can be horrible and even though Hannah did make friends, she really struggled to keep those relationships intact. The people in her life came and went, which left her with nobody to trust and most of all, left her alone. Once again, she had her parents, but being young and having parents that love you can’t always be enough. If you have to go to school everyday, not knowing who to sit with in the canteen or who to catch up with in the hallways before and after class, then school is going to feel like the most desolate place to be. Even if you are surrounded by hundreds of other people. Which makes Hannah’s ability to latch onto almost everyone that showed an interest in her, even after they had mistreated her, make sense. She obviously just wanted another chance.
As I was watching the series, I did feel like the progression was staggered. Clay’s constant lingering as he listened to the tape was irritating to viewers because we want to know the full story. But if you received 13 tapes and had to listen to the voice of a dead girl talking about how all the various people you know at school hurt her, could you just sit down and listen? I think his distractions, although annoying, were definitely necessary. It’s a really painful story and you’d have to be heartless to sit down and listen to the tapes all in one go.
By the time I got to episode 9, I was in tears. Hearing Jessica’s story completely broke me. It’s something that probably happens to more girls than we would even think. It’s a situation that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of the word, but when you see the story, it makes you wonder just how many situations like this arise everyday. Parties, alcohol and boys who don’t really understand what it means to give consent is just a recipe for disaster. The whole episode was really difficult to watch. And then seeing a similar situation occur later in the series made everything even worse. Perhaps the most horrible part of it all is that all of these people knew what had happened, people that were supposed to be close to Jessica and nobody said a word. And even afterwards, Bryce was still willing to pretend that he was her friend. Disgusting.
I’ll be honest. At first I thought that the show was an unrealistic portrayal of the more brutal aspects of teenage life. That these were just a bunch of messed up kids with dramatic stories. Everyone had a problem and it felt staged that all of their problems intertwined the way they did. But then these things happen in real life and it’s kind of sad that I don’t find it more difficult to believe.
Some of the reasons did feel a little bit unrealistic – like the fact that Hannah’s poetry got published by Troy, that she felt like she was too good for Clay and that Sheri ran that stop sign on the way home from the party. Those all feel too trivial to cause someone to take their own life and I don’t think they should have been included. There were almost too many reasons. Or is that what it’s like when you get to such a low point in your life? That you remember every single detail, no matter how small and you remember how much pain it caused you (even if somebody else thinks it was nothing) and how much pain it still causes you now.
If I had to comment on one thing I really didn’t like about the series, then it was Clay’s sudden ability to present himself as invincible that became really irritating. It was absolutely ridiculous. He was always out and about confronting people as if he had any leverage to do so. As if the tapes didn’t tell him that these people were dangerous. And he would take beatings here and there – for what? That didn’t compensate for Hannah’s death at all, it just made Clay vulnerable and stupid. What he should have done, is shown the tapes to his parents and taken it from there. It felt like he was constantly walking around with a bandaged face (which he was), taking more beatings every episode for absolutely nothing.
Overall, its definitely not easy to put yourself in Hannah’s shoes or Jessica’s shoes or even Bryce’s shoes to understand why these things happened or why those people did the things they did. But the programme shows us, even if we cannot fully understand every single reason, that these are reasons for suicide and we shouldn’t ignore them.