Tuesday, April 11, 2017

13 Ways of Watching "Thirteen Reasons Why" on Netflix #SOL17

I binge-watched Netflix's adaption of Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why this past weekend. Monday, I asked students who had viewed the series their opinions. Their perspectives differed considerably from my own. What they saw as an accurate portrayal of teen life, I perceived as a flat, one-dimensional depiction of educators and teens, whom I know don't get stoned en masse every weekend. 

I've taught students who committed suicide and have written in this space about their tragic deaths. I've heard the grief of their parents and the sorrow of their peers. Suicide baffles me, and I know schools, despite all our best efforts, can and should do more to address the mental health needs of students. Yet I refuse to believe educators bear the lion's share of responsibility for the values of students; nor do I accept the portrayal of educators as seemingly omniscient beings who gaze into the private lives of teens during the summer and on weekends. 

We simply aren't privy to every communication via text, note, phone call, or personal encounter our students have with one another. Nor are we prone to ignore drinking during school hours or graffiti on the bathroom stalls. 

The above is the subtext of Netflix's adaptation of Asher's 2007 YA novel, and it's why I wrote what follows, with apologies to Wallace Stevens. Poetry is not my strong suit. 

"13 Ways of Watching 'Thirteen Reasons Why' on Netflix"

On a windy weekend,
The most anticipated show
Was a YA adapted television program.

I was on the couch
Like a mother
With three frames of mind.

The drama unfurled in fragmented strips.
It was a segmented flashback of past and present events.

A teen girl and boy
Are one.
A boy and a girl and a suicide
Are one storyline.

I do not know whom to believe,
The hubris of self-interest
Or the fragments of gossip and teen angst,
The victim whispering
Or moments before.

Blood seeped through glassy water
Which shredded innocence.
The memory of the girl
Pierced it, above and below.
The tone
Scribbled on the witnesses
An unspeakable blame.

Of incompetent educators,
Why do you ignore the sirens?
Do you not hear how the teen
Paces through the halls
Among the students around you?

I hear the righteous echoes
And the lurid, incomprehensible beats;
And I comprehend, too,
That the teen is culpable
In what we know.

When the teen sank into oblivion
She tainted the rim
Of youth's innocence.

At the sight of teens
Soaring in substance-induced stupors,
Even the shrills of cacophony
Could hum calmly on the screen.

She spoke from Sony
Over a magnetic strip.
Once, loneliness taunted her,
In this we viewers comprehended
The trace of her desire
For revenge.

The grave is sinking.
The teen must find rest.

It was oblivion each daybreak.
It was haunting
And it was 
The teen who spoke
Through the limits of time.

Stories about multitudes of people never offer one story arc, one plot thread, one point of view. They deserve and demand a multi-dimensional treatment absent from Netflix's adaptation. Perhaps this is why Asher tells readers, "You don't know what goes on in anyone's life but your own." Even then, I question each of our ability to be fully self-aware.
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  1. Such an emotional topic. Life looks and feels so differently to many.
    This stanza caught me:

    I was on the couch
    Like a mother
    With three frames of mind.

    It had me chuckle a bit and that good humor softened what came next

  2. Oh those moments "before"... love how you approached the show and your review. I was just talking with a reader who is reading 13 Reasons Why today. She started the book after watching the show. It's made for conversation, but I have not yet watched it.

  3. We've just got it on Netflix, here in the UK, so I started watching it yesterday after reading your post. I'm up to No. 4 All I can say is I am so happy I'm not a High School teacher!!
    Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

  4. I haven't watched this. I heard from administrators that parents wanted us to address this series. I was thinking, "Why aren't they?" Or maybe they are, but feel it's bigger than just their child. I don't know. I really liked your poem!