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One Overlooked Reason Why '13 Reasons Why' Shocked Audiences

by Mark Janz 4 years ago in tv

There are many reasons people condemn the Netflix juggernaut, but here is one that you may not have thought of.

13 reasons why is very much in the top five most controversial topics in the late 2010s. That’s a high honor/dishonor, as that contends with the Trump presidency and whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza (it doesn’t). Season 2 premiered earlier this year, and as expected, people had A LOT to say about it. Something I noticed scrolling my social feeds was that the negative opinions on the show all followed more or less the same points.

Point 1: it misrepresents mental illness.

Point 2: it’s a revenge fantasy.

Point 3: it shows extremely graphic scenes of suicide and sexual assault.

And point 4: it glorifies suicide.

Points 1 and 4 are issues I have a lot to say about, but for the sake of keeping things moving, I will refrain from doing so, as they aren’t directly relevant to my thesis. The main points I want to explore are the second and third, because those directly correlate with what I believe is a largely overlooked reason as to why the show shocked so many audiences, and why these points should not be grounds to condemn the show.

As you may recall, the points I want to highlight are numbers two and three. Point two is that the show is a total revenge fantasy. I will not deny that part of the show is a revenge story, as shown by Hannah’s intended impact she made on those she deemed responsible for her suicide. The thing that I have an issue with is that people saw this as a reason to condemn the show. There have been multiple recent films in Hollywood that are completely centered on vengeance. One prime example is 2014’s John Wick, a story that centers on John seeking revenge for the killing of his puppy. This is also seen a few years earlier in the 2009 reboot of Wes Craven’s 1972 classic The Last House on the Left, which centers on two parents taking grisly revenge on a gang that raped and attempted to murder their daughter. These two films were both very much mainstream like 13 Reasons, and were shown in mainstream theaters as well. So if people are going to get upset about 13 Reasons Why being a revenge story, shouldn’t they condemn John Wick and The Last House on the Left as well? Quite the opposite, actually. Last House on the Left remains hailed as a horror classic, and John Wick remains in critical and commercial adulation. So why should there be two reactions to the same idea?

The third point claims that the show be condemned because it has extremely graphic depictions of suicide and sexual assault. Now I will not invalidate or trivialize anyone for being disturbed by these scenes, as they were intended to be disturbing, and depict something so disgusting in a way that isn’t a glossed over piece of television. These are very real and very ugly issues, and the show did a superb job of depicting how disturbing they truly are. What got me stirring was that people saw this as a reason to black list the show. Why would people say that when mainstream media has had even more graphic depictions of these things on our screens a mere few years prior? The Mark Wahlberg film Boogie Nights featured a scene of William H. Macy committing suicide on New Year’s Eve by shooting himself, and Michael Bay’s 2003 reimagining of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre saw a hitchhiker commit suicide in the same way. (With a lot more blood and guts in the latter). Even the famous cult classic The Human Centipede featured a throat slash suicide scene. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was shown in mainstream theaters, and The Human Centipede gained popularity on Netflix due to being famed as a notoriously disturbing new horror film, so both were easily accessible to the public. So why the controversy about the suicide scene in 13 Reasons but not these films? Graphic scenes of rape were not shy in the 2010 remake of the horror classic I Spit On Your Grave, where a woman is brutally raped by a gang of dirt bags and left for dead in the wilderness. I remember watching this movie with my friends, and everyone was pretty shaken up after these sequences. This was also seen in that Last House on the Left reboot I mentioned in the last paragraph. An extremely graphic and vivid depiction of a young woman being sexually assaulted, which was so intense in fact that the movie theater I worked at issued a warning to people at the box office if they purchased tickets for it. The plots of these films are very similar involving the graphic and vivid depictions of gang rape of a young woman, and then grisly revenge being sought out by the victim (I Spit On Your Grave) or the victim’s parents (The Last House on the Left). Both these films had intense blood and gore, and this violence was preceded by scenes of intense and unforgiving sexual assault. Not to mention both were also revenge stories. But both these films were in mainstream theaters, and with On Demand and streaming services, were just as accessible to audiences of the 13Reasons demographic. So why do I Spit On Your Grave, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Human Centipede and The Last House on the Left get adulated as classics while 13 Reasons gets spit on? (Pun unintended).

The conclusion I came to is really quite simple: the mainstream audience is not used to the disturbing content. I do not believe these issues were anything wrong with the show, but they merely reflected an issue with the demographic. 13 Reasons Why is very much a mainstream show with a mainstream audience. If you didn’t notice, four of the seven films I mentioned were horror films. Horror films may get shown in mainstream theaters a few times a year, but horror still remains a very non-mainstream genre. Graphic violence, scenes of sexual assault, these are elements often depicted in horror films. So since horror is such an underground genre in this day and age, only horror fans would be the ones prepared to process these elements on a screen. One of the reasons 13 Reasons Why shook so many people is because it brought elements of the underground media into the mainstream media. Because the majority of people weren’t used to this kind of content, 13 Reasons gave them a real shock when it included them. I do not think there is any issue with being disturbed by those scenes, as that was their intention. And I also do not for one second deny that suicide and sexual assault are horrifying topics, but my thesis for part of the chastisement of the show is that it brought elements from underground films and media to the mainstream. And by doing so, they simply shocked audiences with something they weren’t quite prepared to see. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is no reason to condemn the show, as countless of other films have done it and continue to do it.

What do you think of my theory? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know by emailing me at [email protected]

Follow me on Instagram @mark.janz

Follow my band on Instagram @dextressband

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Mark Janz

20th Century Boy

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