DISCUSSIONS: 1 – (MAY 12) Is the media being too sensational in its content?

Netflix recently broadcast a teen drama, “13 Reasons Why” a series about teenage suicide. The show has proven to be very popular with teenaged viewers. The subject matter is very difficult but it is the reality.

Arguably, “13 Reasons Why” may be sensationalizing a very sensitive and difficult topic. There can be no disagreement with the topic being addressed, discussed and brought to the fore as teenage suicide is a very serious issue and problem today.

“13 Reasons Why” is a polished high-school mystery. The show is narrated by Hannah Baker (played by Australian actress Katherine Langford), a seventeen-year-old who dies by suicide and leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes describing the year before her death. On the surface, the show is a big budget teen drama embracing high school’s harshest realities. Teenage viewers are meant to identify with Hannah, who is quickly isolated, slut-shamed, and harassed in her new school. Hannah describes the classmates who stalked, violated, and raped her. Every adult in the show is portrayed as overwhelmed and incompetent. Every classmate is too self-interested or heartless to hear out Hannah’s concerns.

Experts have come to condemn “13 Reasons Why” while educators struggle to grasp the place it might have in the classroom. Producers of the show ignored established research that warns against depicting suicide and framed every element of Hannah’s last day, including her death, like a terminal how-to. There have been problems  with individuals attempting suicide twice in two days, repeating the method used by Hannah in “13 Reasons Why.”

Is it incumbent on the media to thoroughly vet such productions assessing their potential impact on viewers of all ages?

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