The “13 Reasons Why” Controversy

I read the book 13 Reasons Why in high school before this Netflix series came out and it’s always stuck with me. From what I’ve read on social media, it would seem that the TV show has had the same effect and it’s become a hit amongst teens and adults alike.

However, like any good show, it would seem that it’s not without controversy.

Many have watched this and are concerned that it “glamorizes” suicide and that it’s “dangerous” and “harmful” to teenagers. To a point, I can see where they are coming from. Hannah is most definitely trying to get back at those who wronged her so there is an element of revenge-porn to this. Not to mention there’s this overarching theme that each of the students she sent a tape to are “responsible for her death.”

To me this is a problem as I am a major supporter of the concept of free will. I believe that everyone is responsible for his or her own actions and blaming one person for another person’s life choices is a slippery slope.

On the other hand, I am careful to draw the conclusion that this show is harmful and needs to be stopped. For one thing, many people seem to be arguing for the hypothetical. Someone somewhere might do something, therefore, we must stop that someone who may or may not exist from killing themselves because of what they saw on Netflix by cancelling this show! Here’s the thing: If someone kills themselves because of a show they saw on Netflix, it’s doubtful that they weren’t already considering suicide as an option. It’s not the show’s fault.

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Secondly, I like that this show has many realistic situations and feelings that come with being a teenager. It has the potential to open up a lot of dialogue about suicide, and allowing teens to relate to a character that has the same thought-process as them can have a positive impact.

Thirdly, while I don’t believe any one person is “responsible” for another’s suicide, it demonstrates how someone’s actions can greatly impact another’s life. Each time someone let her down by being selfish, or cruel, or a bully, it drove Hannah closer to the edge. None of the actions alone were enough to make her take her own life, but they all piled up which caused her to reach her breaking point. It shows that you should be kind to everyone because you have no idea what’s going on inside their head. Even if you think you’re just looking out for yourself, you can seriously hurt someone without realizing it.

Then there’s the argument that this show “glamorizes” suicide and, therefore, must be removed from Netflix. As I mentioned earlier, I will concede that there are unhealthy behaviors being exhibited in this show. But to argue that it “glamorizes” suicide? I don’t see it. Hannah is dead. She doesn’t watch the events unfolding gleefully like a vengeful wraith. She only appears in flashbacks.

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However, even if it did “glamorize” it, don’t we already expose teenagers to works that make suicide look attractive?

Like….Shakespeare?

In the schools I attended, both Romeo and Juliet as well as Hamlet were required reading. As I’m sure everyone knows, the climax of the former ends with both lovers killing themselves in a desperate attempt to be with one another after having known each other a whopping three days. That’s not exactly setting a healthy precedent.

My senior year we devoted hours analyzing Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Speech which is a monologue entirely devoted to Hamlet contemplating whether or not he should off himself.

That is the most beautiful way to describe suicide and it’s complexities that I’ve ever heard.

“To die, to sleep, perchance to dream.” 

I’m not sure you can describe death more poetically than that.

Regardless of how you may feel about 13 Reasons Why, not talking about suicide isn’t going to make it go away. If parents are genuinely concerned about the effect this show might have on their child, then they should have a conversation with them, not just insist that this show be removed.

While I recognize this story, in book form and TV form, has issues, I also believes it is a predominately good story and deserves to be told. It puts a spotlight on a delicate subject and encourages discussion about depression in teenagers; a subject that is normally ignored or poorly handled by adults.

I recommend you read/watch it for yourself. It really is worth your time.

Why Do People Write Mary Sues?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what a Mary Sue is, it’s essentially a female character that is too perfect. A character that is always morally correct no matter what, has all the male protagonists drooling themselves over her even though she would describe herself as plain, and is special without having to try.

In other words, she’s boring.

So why do so many writers write Mary Sues? Even ones that claim they hate them?

I have a few theories:

The writer is trying to live vicariously through their character. Most of us want to be special. Unfortunately, a lot of us lack the bravery or skill required to become a compelling protagonist. In order for us to be unique, something supernatural in nature would have to occur like a radioactive spider biting us. Many of us have problems with ourselves so we’re tempted to fix them when we create an ink-and-paper twin. However, flaws are essentially what makes a person a person so by removing them writers create a character that is as flat as cardboard.

They want readers to like their character. If the reader despises the main protagonist, it is likely they will stop reading the story. Sadly, many writers think that the best way of avoiding this is by creating a character that has zero flaws other than superficial ones like clumsiness or being “too nice.” Truth is, a person’s foibles can make them more endearing and relatable.

It’s easier than coming up with a real person. Creating a person from scratch is hard. Especially if that person doesn’t share the same background, race, or religion that you do. It’s easy to become intimidated at the prospect of being inside the head of such a person and dictating all that they do and say. It’s even more daunting granted how delicate some peoples’ sensibilities are these days and how eager they are to take offense by any perceived misrepresentation. The writer doesn’t want to step on people’s toes and so they stick to what they know, with a few choice alterations, of course.

Or, in some cases, it’s just laziness. They don’t want to have to go through the pains of creating someone more three-dimensional because it’s time consuming and requires a lot of planning.

So how does a writer avoid writing Mary Sues?

Fear not, fledgling writers.

I have a few suggestions.

Find out in the next blog post.

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Social Media Killed My Curiosity About Authors

When I was a child I daydreamed all the time about talking to my favorite writers.

While I was toiling for hours over my own horrible manuscripts, I would wonder to myself what wisdom they would impart onto me if I ever mustered up the courage to write to them.

Writers back then were these mystical figures I imagined as silhouettes, tapping away at a typewriter in a clocktower alone all day everyday.

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Their lives were a mystery to me and the only connection I had to them was their work. I could only speculate as to what they did all day, what their hobbies were, what their childhood was like.

Now that I’m adult we have social media, and authors can communicate directly with their readers (and vice versa) at the push of a button…….

I wish they could go back to being silhouettes in clocktowers.

Perhaps it’s because I’m an adult now (technically), but I’ve lost that desire to know more about the people that create the works I read. In fact, I seldom follow well-known authors on any social media platform.

When it comes to famous authors, their social media platforms are usually divided into one of two categories: generic/bland or annoying/repetitive.

The authors in the first camp usually post motivational platitudes about determination and never giving up on your dreams. This on, the surface, isn’t a bad thing, but when that’s all they ever post it’s like “are you a real person, or are you an AI that’s been programed to monitor human behavior?”

The authors in the other camp are the ones that believe that because they are the creators of a universe that doesn’t exist, they know absolutely everything about everything and must, therefore, inform the poor plebeians about what to think. In addition, it would seem they have to tell their readers absolutely everything that is going on with their lives.

EVERYTHING.

“Getting my nails done!”

“Some guy at the mall said something rude to me.”

“Obsessing over (insert popular show here)!”

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I miss being able to imagine what my favorite authors were like because the authors themselves became part of the fantasy. They were just as metaphysical as the characters they wrote. They were untapped pools of mystery and wisdom.

Now that you can learn just about anything there is to know about a person with a quick Google search, the desire for knowledge is gone.

Nobody is interesting anymore.

They’ve become too accessible.

Perhaps I’m just longing for the days when I was more young and naive to the ways of the world. Back when I thought writers were these heroes of myth that brushed hands with the gods and had their lives together. Now that I’m older and social media has pulled back the curtain, I’ve been exposed to the naked truth. Or at least the naked, slightly airbrushed truth.

Writers are mortal.

They’re people with flaws and stupid opinions.

And those stupid opinions might discourage me from reading their books.Books I might need those in my life without realizing it.

As such, I choose not to peek behind the curtain.

I think I’ll stick to my clocktower.

When a Writer You Admire is a Jerk

A few years ago, my novel writing class had a high-profile guest speaker talk to us: the award-winning author of a YA book we had been assigned to read about a week prior.

I was pretty jazzed about it considering how much I’d enjoyed the story. I’ve had predominately good experiences with meeting published authors in the past and have always learned quite a bit from talking with them, so I thought this would be a positive encounter.

My first impression of her was not a bad one. She glided into the room on a cloud of confidence, cool oozing from every pore. She made us laugh, told us a bit about her writing process, and then she opened the floor for questions.

I was the first to raise my hand. She called on me and I asked her how much of the book was based on her own life.

I knew she was an army brat from the bio on the back cover of her novel, but I was curious as to how much of her MC’s life mirrored hers. I had a hunch there were quite a few parallels since most authors derive minute details from their own experiences, but I didn’t want to assume that everything was a perfect representation of her youth.

“Oh,” she replied, “that’s a tourist question. That’s not a good question at all.”

Me:

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Her:

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It’s always disappointing when you discover someone you admire is a jerk.

However, it can be a beneficial lesson to learn. It’s a reminder that, in spite of all that someone may have accomplished, they are still a human being, capable of fallibility. Some foibles are more significant than others, but we all have them. Even the most gifted of us. Especially the most gifted of us.

I’m happy this woman could teach me this lesson. So… very… happy.

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In fact, I’m so happy that I’ve been inspired to write the ultimate novel that will earn me critical praise as well as sacks and sacks of money. I will then use those sacks of money to create a giant pyre and burn all her books in a ceremonial fire.

Beware, jerk writer, I will be avenged through the power of literature!

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Are Fairytale Reimaginings Becoming Unimaginative?

If you have perused a YA section of a bookstore in the last three years, then you’ve likely come across the cover of a fairytale reimagining.

Perhaps one book tells the story of Cinderella, a valiant warrior, who loses her magical boot in the middle of a battle and an infatuated warlord must return it to her. Or maybe another centers around a wolf-hunter named Red who falls in love with a werewolf that killed her father, the huntsman.

Regardless, I once thought reimagining fairytales was a creative thing to do.

I loved Wicked in my tween and teen years and all the interesting questions it posed about how history can be biased towards the victor.

But it seems like there’s been an overload of “new” fairy tales in the last few years and it’s made me question if most of them are even truly necessary.

Are most of these books actually trying to improve upon or modernize great stories, or are they just using fairytale references as a crutch to make a quick buck because they don’t think these novels could stand on their own?

In truth, it depends on the book.

If there are nods to the classics here and there, it’s tolerable. However, if it follows the exact same path as it’s predecessor, just with more feminism and modern sensibilities, then it becomes predictable and a drudgery to get through.

Because we already know what’s going to happen. 

I think the creative drought in pop culture also feeds into this crisis. The publishing and film industry are so paranoid about losing money that they are just rehashing stories that they know work. Fairytales have been around for centuries so, in theory, stories that feature classic characters should turn a profit.

I’m not saying we should completely do away with reimaginings. Maybe we could just take a break from them for a decade or so and come back to them later.

Perhaps writers could create their own warrior princesses that have absolutely nothing to do with any previous fairytale.The princess could have a sentient sword or a best friend that was turned into a battle stallion or something. Maybe she could fight her wicked stepfather for a change.

That’d be cool, right?

Could someone get on that?