The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” was a huge success, at first glance. Based on the 2007 novel, the series follows teenager Clay Jensen as he investigates the suicide of his friend and unrequited love interest, Hannah Baker. Hannah left Clay a box of tapes, each one explaining why she killed herself — thus making up the basis of the show.
While the show was widely watched and praised by critics, it also was roundly criticized for glamorizing suicide. Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever wrote, “It’s an unbelievable and selfish conceit, a protracted example of the teenager who fantasizes how everyone will react when she’s gone,” adding that the story was “remarkably, even dangerously, naive in its understanding of suicide, up to and including a gruesome, penultimate scene of Hannah opening her wrists in a bathtub.” Writing for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino said the show “presents Hannah’s suicide as both an addictive scavenger hunt and an act that gives her the glory, respect, and adoration that she was denied in real life.” Despite the deep criticisms leveled against it, however, the show has already been renewed for a second season.
Schools across the country warned parents about “13 Reasons Why,” cautioning that it could encourage teenagers to commit suicide. The National Association of School Psychologists also discouraged teenagers from watching the show — especially those already struggling with suicidal thoughts. And it appears that the warnings were merited: a new study found that internet searches on suicide skyrocketed after the release of “13 Reasons Why.” Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study’s authors wrote:
Our analyses suggest 13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicidal awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation… [t]he most rising queries focused on suicidal ideation. For instance, “how to commit suicide,” “commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself” were all significantly higher.
How much higher, exactly?
Less than three weeks after the series was released, the searches for information on suicide had jumped by 19 percent. And that’s no small number — it meant “900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected” according to the study’s authors. Some psychiatrists revealed to The Washington Post that their patients have already begun to mention the show during therapy. After speaking to a 12-year-old patient, Dan Nelson, who serves as the medical director of the child psychiatry inpatient unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, became deeply concerned:
“She said to me, ‘I saw that show and it really convinced me that suicide was a normal thing to do,’” he said. “I’ve never heard that. In 30 years, I’ve never heard a child say this thing made me think suicide is normal. That really got my attention.”
Kimberly O’Brien, a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, agreed. “I personally have seen multiple psychiatric admissions where the admission note details the fact that the teen said that they wanted to ‘kill myself the way the girl in 13 Reasons Why did,’” she said. “This is extremely concerning because it is showing us, just like it has in research studies, that pictures or detailed descriptions of how or where a person died by suicide can be a factor in vulnerable individuals imitating the attempt.”
But while “13 Reasons Why” has been rightly criticized for glamorizing suicide, it’s sadly indicative of a much larger issue — and that is the growing culture of death. Today, death is, in many ways, encouraged, romanticized, and even celebrated. From suicide to abortion to euthanasia, it’s troubling to see how actively choosing death has become accepted by so many.
Activists have begun trying in earnest to insert it into our popular culture, to make it more appealing to the masses, to turn it into something light-hearted and funny. The television show “Scandal” controversially featured an abortion committed while the song “Silent Night” played in the background; Netflix cartoon “Bojack Horseman” mocked pro-lifers and encouraged abortion with a cartoon that sang “get dat fetus, kill dat fetus,” which television critics widely praised. Other television producers have vowed to put abortion on the air. There are now “abortion romantic comedies” and abortion musicals. Abortion is featured in wedding announcements and turned into a game to be played at birthday parties.
Below, Dr. Anthony Levatino — a former abortionist himself — describes the reality of one of the most common abortions committed in the U.S. every day. (He details other abortion procedures here.)
Another troubling sign that the culture of death is growing is the increasing popularity of and support for assisted suicide and euthanasia. People have had euthanasia parties before they kill themselves; deaths from assisted suicide have been broadcast live on television. Parents who murder their disabled children are praised and applauded. Euthanasia doctors even went on an “instructional” tour of Auschwitz, which they called “inspiring.” And as more and more states legalize assisted suicide, the troubling aspects of assisted suicide continue to grow.
Belgium and the Netherlands are prime examples, though the abuses inherent in assisted suicide and euthanasia have already reached the U.S. and Canada as well. Parents who don’t want to euthanize their disabled children are pressured to do so. Insurance companies push cancer patients into assisted suicide (which is much cheaper) while denying legitimate, doctor-recommended treatment. All the while, we’re told that this is death with “dignity.”
Even things that ostensibly should involve creating life have been corrupted. In-vitro fertilization, a method through which countless people struggling with infertility are able to conceive and bear children, has turned into a corrupt industry in which preborn children are commodified and treated as products to be bought and sold — and destroyed if “defective.” Defectiveness can include being diagnosed with a disability, a genetic disorder, or simply being the “wrong” gender. Prospective parents often implant multiple embryos, only to undergo selective reduction if the mother becomes pregnant with twins.
IVF costs thousands upon thousands of dollars, but if the product — who was once simply known as a child — has a disability like Down syndrome, the baby is frequently aborted anyway, as if the parents had bought a designer handbag with a flaw in it. Couples who get divorced fight over their frozen, already-created embryos, as if they were property, and not human beings. There is an IVF lottery, where couples can “win” a baby. Embryos — actual preborn babies — that parents create and then decide not to use are even killed and then turned into jewelry.
Our culture glamorizes death, encourages it, romanticizes it.
“13 Reasons Why” is a troubling symptom, but it’s not the disease. The glamorization of suicide for teenagers, abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia — all of it will continue unless our culture is able to change. We must find a way to turn our backs on the culture of death, and learn to once again embrace a culture of life.