Netflix Censors 13 Reasons Why

Even Albert Camus couldn’t get the word out (On Suicide, Ways of Thinking, and psychological Censorship in Art)

7/22/19. 4:39 pm EDT

By John Corry, photos from Netflix and Vox

NOTE: Suicide is a terrible thing, but one which goes back to the dawn of consciousness (an interest in Death). The opinions expressed in this article are from the point of view of someone who has dealt with it in some way, as everyone has (either themselves, or through knowing someone), yet who is by no means an academic expert on the subject. if you are having thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

NOTE 2: This article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of the popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

Suicide sucks (because: life sucks (ironic?)).

Art doesn’t suck (because: life doesn’t suck?) (this paradox comes back).

Amid rumors that its third season will see a late summer release date, Netflix has deleted a crucial scene in the final episode of the first season of its controversial series 13 Reasons Why. The move has been touted by suicide prevention activists and other players as a win.

Unlike most controversies which stem from one or two specific scenes or lines, the reasons for those surrounding 13 Reasons–numerous as they may be (joke-on-top-of-a-joke: some of that dialogue)–extend directly from the show’s fundamental premise– Switching between flashbacks and modern-day, it follows the aftermath of the suicide of a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, and the ‘reasons why’ she did it through flashbacks, hence the show’s title. It is based on a novel of the same name by Jay Asher, though the second season stretches quite far from that. As if that primary subject matter weren’t bad enough, the story also deals extensively with rape, conspiracy to commit rape, bullying, and teen gun violence.

The scene in question was the near the end of the final episode of season 1. In graphic detail, it shows Hannah’s suicide, from the buying of the razor, to the slitting of her wrists in the tub, to the shot of her lifeless as her mom walks in wondering why Hannah would let the water run so long. It’s a powerful scene, and it is graphic. I would show it to you, but Netflix thinks it’s better to have you imagine it for yourself–

Irony is not always a joke…

13 Reasons showrunner Brian Yorkey said in a statement,:

“Our creative intent in portraying the ugly, painful reality of suicide in such graphic detail in Season 1 was to tell the truth about the horror of such an act, and make sure no one would ever wish to emulate it. But as we ready to launch Season 3, we have heard concerns about the scene from Dr. Christine Moutier at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and others, and have agreed with Netflix to re-edit it. No one scene is more important than the life of the show, and its message that we must take better care of each other. We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers.”

Against:

One of the show’s writers, Nic Scheff, no stranger to mental health, said in an op-ed in 2017 that “the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. In AA, they call it “playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all—it’s a screaming, agonizing, horror.”

Despite warnings from psychologists, a handful of others have also expressed disdain at the decision.

Against/For:

This is not the first time 13 Reasons is in the news. At the end of season two, following another graphic scene involving male rape and a broomstick, a student goes to a school dance with a gun and a lot of subtext, and he’s only stopped by another student walking out and convincing the shooter not to do it (which experts insist (including some in a table discussion following that episode) people never do). That second season (SPOILER ALERT!!) also involves a entire football team essentially committing serial rape. These topics render the show obviously not for the faint of heart, and it’s up to the viewer to decide if the show’s handling of them is respectful and honest, though the more educated viewer (like the psychologist mentioned in Yorkey’s statement) will of course have a bit more to say, and will deserve to be heard out for their expertise (or: please check out all these links). We can disagree, but there’s no sense in getting upset, especially regarding such a heavy context as teen suicide or rape.

For:

Perhaps more relevant was a study which concluded that teen suicide rates went up 13.3% in the months following the show’s premiere. While that study is not exactly foolproof (as there’s no way to know whether those in the study watched the show before committing suicide /> not to mention a lack of information regarding social media and its possible effect on that number), it is still of interest to psychologists and child psychiatrists, who recognize the fact that any raising of the concept suicide in mainstream culture is sure to cause extra stress in those suffering with anxiety or depression, and that any depiction–anywhere–of suicide may trigger a newfound desire to ‘copy’, a serious psychological concept which deserves attention by any measure, but, as with everything, not the entire narrative, as narratives involve moving parts, because being representations of real, individual, life, narratives are complex, yet more easily malleable (because narratives, however close they may get, will never be real-life).

It is that fear of relative malleability which spurred much of the controversy surrounding the first season of 13 Reasons Why in general, but also, specifically: that scene in its final episode in which Hannah is shown taking her own life. For more information about teen suicide and what we know about it on an academic level, please see some of those links above (here are some more). Academia is important; though certainly not everything, there is of course reason to respect the norm.

(Thumbs up emoji dsfg=subscript=:fgd//)

Not being an academic, however, here is my take:

In his 1942 book The Myth of Sisyphus, philosopher Albert Camus said that '“there is only one really serious problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy.” He goes on to argue that thoughts of suicide is a natural reaction to the ‘absurdity’ of life, which he defines in The Rebel as “an experience that must be lived through, a point of departure, the equivalent, in existence, of Descartes’s methodical doubt,” (italics mine). Essentially, he’s saying that suicide is a conceptual paradox existing-or-not-existing somewhere between Hegel’s action and Plato’s land beyond the shadows, or his world of Forms, which transcend all action and exist in themselves, separate from time. Camus’ thinking therefore renders suicide not only emotionally complex (as is obvious), but intellectually as well. You can’t know the concept suicide (including in the Platonian sense) unless you’ve first felt it yourself for an extended period of time–as ‘suicidal’ as a mindset extends into perception only over time (so: not at once, though ‘at once’ in the act itself which is entirely separated from its thoughtful aspect and which is a big player in Camus’ paradox)–and after you’ve passed through it to recognize the absurdity of life, the absurdity in every aspect of life, and the dense infinity contained within both that knowledge itself and that act which is the recognition and subsequent application of it, rendering that infinity focused for perception (or, for that matter, in the case of suicide: non-perception (as far as we know, time-perception may not extend for consciousness after death, though certainly isn’t the only kind of perception possible for a consciousness anyway)).

It’s an artful way of thinking–among utilitarian, work-based, relationship-based, etc.–or: it is artful to the extent that art (as opposed to utility, work, or balance, for the examples listed above) cannot be created if not in the direct presence of the absurd, because that ‘dense infinity’ has more to do with the acts derived from an artful way of thinking than do other ways of thinking (this is what I’m getting from Camus, at the moment, by the way) (for example: the other three examples given above all have more to do (directly with a communal aspect, or a more easily/less abstract focused-for-perception (though the relationship-focused differentiated from the other two through balance, and work through a dichotomy with labor, separated by individualized-value); that aforementioned ‘dense infinity’ that just-mentioned focused-for-perception though less focused for time, which may be also commonly referred to as the ‘ether’ or an artist’s ‘muse’ (though more accurately where the muse resides)). Through that art, man transcends her thinking, and so her physical survival, the dichotomy between thought and action mimicking that transcendental factor without which life becomes bland and boring, and through which Camus’ philosophical paradox of suicide originates.

Because that paradox comes from a misbalance between thought and action in that artful thinking, it makes the portrayal of it through creative art–creativity being another way of thinking, though of course not as widely applicable as art in the same way that utilitarian is more widely applicable than work-based or labor-based, and which involves a focused ‘product’ where the artful way of thinking indeed provides the primary aspect of the path to its ‘completion’ in time (represented-narrative in consciousness)–much more difficult to approach responsibly (with no ignorance), and much less easily understood after it’s been made.

For example: those aforementioned ‘flashbacks’ in the first season of 13 Reasons Why surround a set of cassette tapes. As Hannah goes through each side of each tape, each directed at a person she deems responsible for her death, this idea potentially (though not primarily) looms over every moment until at least halfway through the season when its real themes kick in: Hannah thinks others responsible for what she did, and takes no known blame for herself. Up close, they handled it as responsibly as they could have–the real meat is the story here (in full), and it is a very difficult story just to write, let alone put on screen–but from a glance it can come off as unsympathetic at best, and at worst clumsy and presupposing of a very mature ability to contemplate these issues.

This will obviously send parents into PANIC! mode as they rightfully think about what their kids might be thinking if they get the impression that something as horrible as suicide is culturally no longer taboo. The show does have a hard time getting over this, but ultimately does the right thing /> and ignores it. That’s the right thing to do because by focusing on character rather than controversy (in its story; graphic violence and disturbing visuals are part of the medium through which the story is presented) it gives no credence to the idea suicide, but shows it for what it really is: ugly, but ultimately real, constant for many, and psychologically complicated.

Which was of course the whole point of having the suicide scene in the first place, for academia has never understood art, it has no room for art, no time for patience. Moreover: it has to watch its every move or else risk destruction from those who–irony is not always a joke–must blame something or throw responsibility whenever emotions get too high, or further knowledge too difficult to attain. Art does have that room, it is dependent upon that patience without which it sacrifices its authenticity for sake of addiction-in-escapism. The plight of Hannah Baker is a plight everyone goes through in some way or other–thinking that we know, and that we’re the only ones who know, that the hero is actually the antihero–and showing the intricacies of that specific plight (so: involving the details), and especially given Hannah’s extreme circumstances, make that Absolute connection between us all that much more visible to someone in a darker place /> and it’s something academia necessarily cannot understand, for to do so will force it to lose its focus on objectivity in the same way that fully understanding the concept suicide only comes with going through its own particular way of thinking, and down through past artful, or utilitarian, through to specific narratives, and finally individuals themselves.

Aside from Hannah, the show’s protagonist is a guy named Clay. Clay works with Hannah, is one of her first friends when she first moves to the area shortly before the start of the show, and is heavily implied from the first episode to be Hannah’s love interest (I will not be getting into that thing is season two /> only thing I didn’t like in that season). Although they never technically dated, Clay clearly had a crush on Hannah, even before it’s revealed that they hooked up at a party not look before Hannah’s death, and before a later cassette tape on which Hannah reveals Clay as one of her ‘reasons why’ (she liked him as well, and–SPOILER ALERT!! (because no guys ever do this, as everyone knows)–Clay never makes a move (sober at least)).

Much of the narrative, when it’s not concentrated on Hannah (which is, smartly, probably about only sixty percent of the thing) is concentrated on Clay and his reaction to Hannah’s suicide, specifically how he deals not only with the guilt from the fact that he made have contributed to it, but–also very smartly on the part of the writing–what may have happened had she not passed. This is a major storyline, arguably as big as Hannah’s, which sees a teen character contemplating the meaning of death both in itself and in relation to suicide in the only way he knows how at that young age: through confusion, anger, and forced support from those who know his involvement.

When the show gets going, it turns this conundrum into a counterbalance for the more immediate statement on suicide provided by Hannah’s development (both on the tapes and in the flashbacks). By placing them side-by-side (switching between flashbacks and modern-day), it shows inherently (and, so: subconsciously) how the absurdity that is ‘suicide’ is only countered by the absurdity that is ‘love’, and that, because of the involvement of many both objective and subjective points of security and avenues towards knowledge, love beats suicide’s simplistic view of itself. Suicide only ‘wins’ when its artful side–its loving side–is overtaken by its nihilistic side, its assertion that life is all objective and subjectivity nothing more than number on a chart or a point some clinician’s diary, inherently ignorant of the ‘reasons why’ because they are beyond the grasp of a ‘person’, and only possibly understood by a scholar, or a guy with a tie on (IT CHOKES THE NECK (second quote)!!; IRONY IS NOT A JOKE!!). It is ignorant of all other ways of thinking, and only goes deeper the more one tries to get out of it through any other way not willing to directly confront what it is (strictly conceptually (and so not in action, or time)):

Closed-mindedness (which again is not to suggest that suicide as an act isn’t more complicated (see: last sentence, and: further), only the absurdity of someone trying to study it conceptually as though it were nothing more than a mathematical equation (robot)).

Whether that all has anything to do with what Camus was trying to say, I’m not sure, but it certainly says something about the way the show 13 Reasons Why was set up, and the impact it was supposed to have: it knows what it is. It might not come right out and say it, but it knows how to say what it wants to say on a subconscious level (which is what real art does). Combined with its somewhat avant-garde nature and its unique story in that it has a focus on character rather than plot (unique, anymore…), it can’t do anything but concentrate on intricacies, and it can’t help but be honest in the writing without again losing artful authenticity, which means taking a chance that not everyone is going to connect with it in the same way–

How can you expect your audience to trust you when you’re a show about suicide and you’re too afraid to show suicide for what it is (in action):

Violent.

One of the reasons why (no pun intended) Dead Poet’s Society with Robin Williams was so powerful was because it didn’t sugarcode–SPOILER ALERT!–the suicide scene. It may not have been as graphic as the one in 13 Reasons, but neither was the story that directly about suicide as an individualized concept, and its effects on the people outside of the subject (the person committing suicide). Any person contemplating suicide is more apt to hear something negative out of anything–and, yes, a scene that graphically depicting suicide may obviously exacerbate that negativity more than, say, a song by Arianna Grande–but is she really any less apt to feel something negative when she’s being lied to?

Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why (quote may be an example of Camus’ paradox) (the show’s marketing campaign certainly did it no favors (see, also: next image, below))

Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why (quote may be an example of Camus’ paradox) (the show’s marketing campaign certainly did it no favors (see, also: next image, below))

For the record: this is a heavy show. All the more for it that it’s actually entertaining on an aesthetic level (again: at least writing-wise), a more susceptible kid may have a harder time getting over that aforementioned issue regarding the first half of the season and the way it treats blame and responsibility under this context, let alone the paradox of the ‘copycat’ (loss of authenticity?). It is absolutely a show that you should at least know something about if your kids ask you about it, if you can’t stomach the gall to actually sit and watch the whole thing yourself. I’m personally conflicted, because I think it’s important for kids to see these subjects for what they are, but I can understand how it could fuck somebody up (ish). Most of all, I think art needs to be honest, and that dishonesty in art fucks anybody up far more than what some statistician is going to try to tell me what the point of it all is (it takes a wont for the innocent to understand art). 13 Reasons Why is a work of art before anything, and it shows. It’s meant to make you think, whatever that means for you; not to make an argument, or to force you to sympathize /> it’s there to show you what it knows, because that’s the only way to ethically recognize the absurdity in any objective/subjective context (not fully either/or (objective or subjective)), so necessary to move past, or to accept, the paradox that is life, or thought, or feeling, or death, or suicide, or success, or love, or happiness.

Dylan Minnette as Clay Jenson in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

Dylan Minnette as Clay Jenson in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

There’s a scene in the second season (another SPOILER: it’s also a flashback) where Hannah and Clay do molly and talk about ‘infinity’ (I do NOT condone… the dialogue at every moment in this series). “I have so many thoughts,” Clay says, to which Hannah responds: “Tell me one.” Clay goes on to question the nature of an infinite reality and man’s seeming incapacity to grasp it, but Hannah disagrees…

“Maybe love is how you understand infinity. When your love has no limits, when it goes on forever. Maybe that feels like infinity.”

But everyone knows: to attempt to contemplate the infinite is absurd, it can not be lived through, it is the sole point of departure! If Descartes’ doubt is the thinking mind’s ontologically necessary uncertainty of its own existence in-time, love, being the in-time relation (???) (questions=necessary) between existence and infinity, can either have no relationship to anything outside of itself, or must be related to everything, or else human perception would have no way of detecting it. The choice must be made either by me, or by everyone else outside of me, depending on where that choice originates, where the opportunity for it first comes up…

Brandon Flynn as Justin Foley in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

Brandon Flynn as Justin Foley in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

Irony is not always a joke.

(Laugh emoji XD)