A couple of weeks have passed since Netflix dropped Thirteen Reasons Why and honestly it is hard to remember what life was like before this show became available for streaming. The popular show is based on the novel written by Jay Asher and after a movie adaptation starring Selena Gomez fell through Gomez became involved in turning the novel into a tv-series. While the web is filled with opinions on the show I do not wish to focus on the content of the series. I would rather talk to you about the way people are responding to the series. This post may contain spoilers.
While a lot of questionable things happen on this show, one person seems to receive the most backlash: Courtney. Courtney and Hannah kiss at one point in the series. This moment is captured and soon spread through the entire school. Rather than facing this head on Courtney shoves all the blame on Hannah and twists the story in a way that negatively affects Hannah. A lot of people do not seem to understand why Courtney, who has two gay fathers, does not own up to the fact that she was experimenting. Because of the way she lets Hannah take the fall, her storyline does not sit well with most people. As a result (as usual) the internet responds with memes directed at Courtney and while these same people are mostly very supportive of the show, their reaction does seem rather odd.
Why do I think their memes are odd you ask? Because they praise the series for being honest, for showing high school without romanticizing it. The show captures the struggles of students, the bullying and the problems of our society. Yet their reply to Courtney could be seen as bullying. I have not been able to find all the memes relating to Courtney but this post does show a small collection and to me examplifies what is wrong with this response. The aim of the show is to prevent bullying, to create awareness yet these memes would or could be considered bullying. But is Courtney not a fictional character? Yes, she surely is but could you imagine how she would have responded were that not the case? How these things would make her feel?
This response also reminds me of the German movie Die Welle (the English version is The Wave) in which a group of high school students take part in a social experiment which eventually shows them how the human psych can be tricked into discrimination. They were faced with how they altered their behaviour almost in a way comparable to what Hitler’s propaganda set out to do. My point is that the people who love the show for creating awareness are now spreading messages of hate towards a fictional character because it has become a funny thing to do, not seeing the irony of their behaviour in comparison to the behaviour of the bullies in Thirteen Reasons Why.
Another reason why these memes are problematic has to do with the fact that Bryce (another character) turns out to have raped two girls yet Courtney is seen as the worst character or considered equally as bad. In what world do we live where we condemn a girl who is struggling with her identity and makes poor choices to a world of hate and do we leave the guy who has violated two teenage girls pretty much untouched. Maybe my feeds are selective in showing memes or posts regarding Bryce and that is why Courtney seems more hated but I am afraid that is just not true. Now I do not mean for people to start spewing hate to Bryce. They are still fictional characters but what I do want to point out is that if you are so quick to (cyber)bully fictional characters be careful that you do not turn that behaviour onto real life people who actually have the ability to take their own lives.
Finally I want to talk about the famous ‘Welcome to your tape’ phrase. Once again these memes seem ironic coming from people who support the show. You are mocking the way a girl decided to tell her story of what made her decide to take her life. While I do not want to make people feel as though they are responsible for the choices others make, I do think it is important to point out that the pain and hurt of a fictional character who commits suicide have been turned into a meme to generate likes and laughs. I do not think that suicide is a laughing matter, I do not think these phrases should be turned into punchlines. Call me sensitive but once again there is a thin line between right and wrong and actually hurting others. Just be careful with what you post and the things you say because if there is one thing we can learn from Thirteen Reasons Why it is that words do hurt and your actions do matter.