There's been a lot of talk lately about the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which follows a high school full of teenagers as they cope with one of their peer's suicide. School districts are warning parents that the series is extremely popular with middle schoolers and junior high students, and administrators are worried about copycat repercussions. This has led to increased worries among parents in regards to the nature of our culture, etc.
We've been watching the series. Our son had heard about it (as had we, from older, childless sources). He said his friends at school were watching the show with their parents, discussing it along the way. And then he and his classmates were talking about it among themselves.
What we found is a complex drama with plenty of hard edges, but also plenty of hard-earned truths we're glad to have tackled with its help. Yes, the language is blunt. There's drinking and drugs among kids. Guns play a role, as they do in our lives these days. The boys act badly towards girls. The girls act out how they're made to feel on themselves. There are two rapes, as well. And not the usual movie kinds, but instances where a male bullies his way past any chance of a girl saying no.
The most important lesson from all this is that all the moral issues teens face are very real, and truly complex. Sex is a minefield, as is bullying. Attitudes hurt. Being able to talk about things help.
Watching and discussing all this with our kid has been a revelation. We were able to touch on all the pitfalls that many of us have forgotten as we've grown older and faced other challenges, from economics to families and the engrossing battles of modern-day politics. The other night we had a bunch of boys over who all talked about how sexist much of the rap music they listened to was, as well as how hurt they felt by older kids, and each other. It was cathartic.
Do we recommend 13 Reasons Why? Yes, but only if one's willing to talk truthfully about challenges, and not pretend they're best dealt with by ignoring them, or trying to be something not all of us can.
The hardest thing to face? Culpability. The fact that we can all be complicit in a tragedy. There's always more we can do, new ways we can learn. These are eternal human lessons. Especially in communities like ours, where addiction, and even murder, have entered our teenagers' lives in recent years. As if they'd never been present in the past... or it ever does any good to compare what is, now, against what may have been, sometime back then.
On a similar front, we feel it important to note how good we're feeling that issues of addiction, be it to drugs or alcohol, cellphones or meanness, are finally being addressed not as aberrations or crimes, but illnesses that can occur to any and all of us. On the day this issue of the Journal was to come out there were new forums taking place around the readership area, with representatives from helpful resources on hand to help parents and children, addicts and those pained by their loved ones' battles, deal with today's scourges.
Yet we should also add how worried we are about a national resurgence of older get-tough-on-crime attitudes and how they counter all this progress. Do we really want to fill our jails with those we can't take the time to help? Do we feel that helpless against the ills that have arisen from the complicated lives we've built for ourselves over the years? Do some of us really feel they know better how we should all live, rather than working within communities to heal ourselves as a whole nation, and not just a country of disparate populations?
We've been watching another streaming series that deals with some of those issues. It's talked about elsewhere in these pages.
And yes, we do still believe that fiction offers lessons to all of us about how to live better. And no, that's not an endorsement for fake news... but for real searches and experiences culled as a means of dealing with real issues and never-ending challenges. Which is what life's always been about.