In our third Pop Culture Spotlight this week, we are continuing our analysis of themes presented in the hit Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. Already covering representations of rape culture and millennial use of smart devices, we conclude this series by examining how the show succeeded in depicting and advocating for multiple perspectives or ‘truths.’
Truth is an interesting and controversial concept that weaves through the story arcs and narratives. Hannah has produced 13 tapes in which she accuses friends, classmates, and educators of contributing to her fragile mental state. Although Hannah also takes responsibility for her decisions, actions, and behaviors, she certainly believes that others are also responsible for her experiences of bullying, abuse, and assault.
Yet, early into the show, characters are defending their actions by claiming that what’s on the tapes amounts to ‘Hannah’s truth’ (see above image). As we watch these characters grapple with both Hannah’s truth and their own role in her death, they portray complex and imperfect characters, who are all dealing with their own emotional and physical traumas. The show gives voice to the truth of every character, even when that truth may cast doubt on Hannah’s story.
In this way, the show breaks from the stereotypical depictions of good versus evil when it comes to sexual violence – Hannah is not the pure, innocent victim. She makes bad decisions, as all the characters do, and even Bryce (who rapes both Jessica and Hannah) is portrayed in shades of gray. (I should be noted that at no point does the show blame Hannah or excuse Bryce) By depicting how a range of people can interpret and react to the same sequence of events, the writers and producers have shown how multiple perspectives or ‘truths’ are a part of all our everyday, lived experiences.
The show (and novel) 13 Reasons Why has sparked endless think-pieces and critiques, but it also serves as a prime example of how conversations which appear in popular culture can have real and lasting impacts in the ‘real world.’ As a form of cultural expression, it aims to represent the truth of human experience. In showcasing these multiple ‘truths’ the show reminds us that it is important to recognize the perspectives of others and the impact that we can have on the life of another. Accepting responsibility for our words and actions, whether in personal or professional spheres, requires leadership, strength, and compassion, and are qualities to which we should all aspire.