A couple of nights back I started watching 13 Reasons Why, the TV show that everyone is talking about right now.
In brief it’s about a schoolgirl who commits suicide, but not before sending out a bunch of tapes to selected people stating the 13 reasons why she did it. What it boils down is the mistreatment and bullying of her by friends and class mates, each of whom receive a copy of the tapes for their troubles.
The narrative focuses on one boy who comes home from school to find a box waiting for him on his front door step. He’s an awkward, geeky kid, sensitive and decent, and passionate in his own small way. From the outside you’d call him a good kid – but he’s on the hitlist.
He listens to the tapes and follows the instructions left for him and becomes tormented by doubt and wonder and the harsh reality of what occurred to a girl he had a secret crush on. He rushes trying to find out more, tortured by the knowledge that somewhere on the tapes he features.
It’s well done and compelling and, as it goes on, not altogether comfortable viewing.
Watching you wonder how much is objective truth, how much is reliable – it’s all from the dead girl Hannah’s perspective, so distraught that she is about to end her life – yet there are others who claim it’s not the whole truth, or that it’s not true at all.
All the same it’s clear that some unpleasant things were done to her – she was stalked, one lowlife kid claimed falsely to have had sex to her, another – a gentler soul – upset by her lets people believe he did the same. She is accused of stealing boys away from their girls, or conspiring in something untoward. As she says the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in far off South Africa cause storms elsewhere. It’s these combination of these events that made her life unbearable.
Like most people I find stories of bullying pretty distressing. It offends some notion of justice and fair play in me, and each time I hear such a story I feel like wrapping the bullied person in my arms and telling them it’s okay, it’s not you, ignore them and you’ll grow up to be the wonderful person you’re meant to be. I feel so tender, and so helpless at the same time. More than most things some bullying is just diabolical. (Terrible for the children, but a terrible thing for the caring parent).
It’s not as simple as that though. Yes, there are clearcut cases of bullying which are deplorable. Some bullying is unwitting though I suspect, in much the same way that offense can be. I think that’s particularly true of children, capable of great cruelty, but also so caught up in their own lives and fluctuating feelings that they frequently become oblivious to the feelings of others. Adolescence, volatile hormones, doubt, wonder, mystery make for rich cocktail of feelings. From the outside what appears to be wrong is to the perpetrator simply an expression of their own complex feelings.
There are many who are bullies as children who will grow to be bullies as adults. Others, their social development not yet fully evolved, who will commit acts of bullying they’ll grow up to regret and redeem.
I’ll continue watching as I’m fascinated to learn more and understand – I fear though it’s moving into areas I’ll find very distressing. It’s a worthwhile watch though, particularly for parents. I was never bullied at school, but the opportunities for it then were much fewer than there are now. I think every parent should be aware of this and conscious of being alert for it – whether a parent of the bullied, or the bully.