If you have not seen 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, the new series based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher, you should. Without being a spoiler, the story opens when we learn of the suicide of Hannah Baker, a lovely, yet clearly troubled Junior at Liberty High School somewhere in California.
Op-Ed by C J Oakes
The story follows 13 tapes left behind by Hannah Baker, her 13 reasons why she decided to end her life by suicide. Each tape is directed to an individual who played some role in her slow descent into despair and death. Starting with the first on her list, each person is to listen to the tapes, then once complete, pass them on to the next person on the list.
The protagonist of 13 Reasons Why is Clay Baker, a young man who worked with Hannah Baker at a local cinema. The story also highlights why bullying is a crime throughout America.
Why Everyone, Teens and Parents Especially, Should Watch 13 Reasons Why
Suicide is a tragedy. Suicide is also a crime. Suicide is self-murder. Yet, unlike other murders, there is generally no specific perpetrator held responsible. Rather, with suicide, the victim is the killer. Or is she?
One of the most powerful social statements in 13 Reasons Why is the idea that the victim is not entirely responsible for the crime, that others share guilt. To what extent and to what end, is not answered in the film. Still the show demonstrates more powerfully than any other means currently available that those who are closest to a person who commits suicide likely share in some way in the guilt of the crime. Why?
To answer that, I strongly recommend watching 13 Reasons Why or reading the book. I challenge anyone to watch that show without concluding that socially, we are all responsible for the mental state which precludes suicide. To some extent, we are all to blame for the untimely death of the Hannah Bakers of the world. Incidentally, suicide today is the second-leading cause of death among teens, so parents especially should pay attention to the poignant and powerful lessons in this show.
Why is Bullying a Crime?
In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah Baker was bullied, slowly, but increasingly over time. Yet, the story she told was not one which is fanciful fiction. Rather, her story is one that happens every day to teens, boys and girls alike, across the land.
From a personal perspective, I could related. As a teen, I had been bullied. Many folks have. Some have been the bully’s. Yet, I was lucky. Before it got too bad, I found a friend, someone who has remained my closest friend since. Our friendship has lasted for more than 30 years. He saved me. Literally.
When we met, I was suicidal. I never told him this, but I was spiraling into an abyss much like Hannah Baker. Yet, there was a key difference between myself and the fictional character other than finding a great friend. Social Media.
When I was in High School in 1979-82, once we went home, the petty issues, pretenses, pressures, and bullying stopped. When we went home, we were safe. In 13 Reasons Why, the ability of Social Media to follow teens home and continue to prod them every second of the day is shown. This is not to say that Social Media is bad in itself, but it has resulted in a very different dynamic that parents and teens should consider.
For good reason then, bullying and what is termed cyber-bullying has been made illegal to some degree nationwide, except on a Federal level.
In What States is Bullying or Cyber-bullying Illegal?
Every state in America has some form of law or policy related to bullying in schools. Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois, Arkansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii each have laws on the books related to bullying while the remaining states add that school districts must adopt their own policies relating to the practice. To learn more about these, visit StopBullying.gov/laws/.
A good summation of these laws may be found at FindLaw.com. To illustrate, that site sums up the Texas bullying statute as,
“any written, verbal or physical act that physically harms a student or damages a student’s property, or that creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment.”
– Texas Educational Code § 37.001
Generally speaking, I do not believe in laws which curtail free speech. Yet, as a society we must ask, “At what point does speech cross the line between freedom of expression and become genuinely harmful?”
This is not an easy question to answer, but if anything can make the argument that bullying crosses that line, it is the NetFlix series, 13 Reasons Why.
Don’t miss this one.