I’m slowly but surely trying to cross items off my television streaming to-do list. There are enough new shows on Netflix alone to keep me locked in the house for a couple of weekends. After catching up on The Get Down recently, I decided to dive into another Netflix Original series about complicated adolescents, 13 Reasons Why. Or at least I tried to dive into it.
Almost a week later, I have only watched four episodes and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to go any further. Feeling the same way I probably would if I worked in an actual high school, I find myself frustrated beyond belief. The social dynamics among these teenagers baffles me. I don't understand all the convoluted interactions surrounding those fateful tapes. And Clay, the main character, is perhaps the most annoying of all.
From what I've gathered so far, 13 Reasons Why is about school bullying gone way too far, and what feels like an elaborate plan to cover it up. To be fully transparent, I don’t get the version of peer pressure that is presented in this show, so I may be a bit tone-deaf. Obviously, no one wants or deserves to be bullied. But I grew up in a social and educational environment where the response to bullying wasn’t “Ha ha! What just happened to you is hilarious and pathetic.” Instead, it was “You’re not going to let them get away with that, are you?” Growing up, the greatest peer pressure I faced was to stand up to the people I felt threatened by. I understand that not everyone is, or is able to be, as confrontational, nor am I condoning violence. But when, for example, Clay buys a beer because Bryce tells him to and then chugs it down, I was literally speechless with confusion. If you don't want beer, just don't buy beer! But clearly the interpersonal politics at their high school are different than they were at mine.
And then there is Clay’s response to the tapes themselves. Every day, Clay listens to maybe five words of audio from his friend who died and then treks out across the town to uncover more information. Sometimes he finds what he’s looking for, and sometimes he doesn’t. His quests are urgent, as they should be — he lost a friend to suicide, after all. But they are also unnecessary. When he gets additional clues, he finds them with the people who have listened to the tapes all the way through…the same tapes he has in his possession…the same tapes that he broke out his father’s boombox for and stole from a friend to listen to. He’s nearly died in bike accidents at least twice trying to talk to people who are mentioned in the tapes. But he could just listen to the tapes all the way through and save himself the trouble.
I have a lot of questions that may be answered if I dare to keep watching: Who is the local tattoo artist providing so much masterful ink to the other students at Clay’s high school? How can they afford so much ink? How did Hannah kill herself? But if there isn’t a rational explanation for why Clay won’t just listen to those tapes all they way through at a normal human pace, none of those answers will be worth it.