Thirteen Reasons Why, Has Me Asking WHY?

 

There has been lots of hype and controversy surrounding Netflix’s original series Thirteen Reasons Why. Produced by Selena Gomez, the original series exists now as Netflix’s most-watched series ever and most tweeted about series for 2017. Crazy!!! Given it was released just a month ago (3/31/17) worldwide on Netflix streaming. Even crazier was the decision to release ALL 13 episodes at once thus providing viewers the choice to either slowly watch or binge. Clay Jensen narrates Hannah Baker’s last hours and plays the leading role throughout the series.  Jenson took his time to listen to the tapes, unlike his peers who quickly listened and passed it on to the next person. WHY is this series so hugely popular?

The series is rated MA for Mature Audiences ONLY which means the series is designed to be viewed by adults, and therefore may be unsuitable for children younger than 17. It contains all of the following: graphic violence (V), explicit sexual activity (S), and crude indecent language (L).  WHY is a show targeted at teenagers depicting sexual abuse and suicide in such graphic detail?

This series will be shaping kids both positively and negatively. What will your response be? Hannah Baker said, “ there’s so much wrong in the world, there is so much hurt.  I couldn’t take knowing I’d make it worse nor could I take knowing it would never get any better.”  Do you want your child believing this lie?  WHY such hopelessness?  It helps to remember that our attitudes impact our children. May we actively be empowering our children to be world changers, to know their life can make a difference, and remind them life after high school usually gets better as their brain fully develops around 25.  Age matures you. More importantly, God’s plans are to prosper you, not to harm you. He has plans to give you hope and a future.

Personally, I found Thirteen Reasons Why, toward the end of the series, to be disturbing and several episodes were too graphic for me to watch entirely without turning my head.  Netflix warns about the disturbing content in episodes (9, 12, & 13) with the following statement, “the following episode contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing and/or may not be suitable for younger audiences, including a graphic depiction of rape and sexual assault or suicide. Viewer discretion is advised.”  Is this warning enough? Many schools are now also warning parents about the show. While experts urge caution in letting teens watch it.  New Zealand last week banned teenagers from watching it alone.  As parents, we should be asking WHY?

Curiosity got the best of me and I sort of binged watched the series during my mid-April flights to and from Vancouver, BC. I was totally sucked in as I’m fascinated with youth culture.  In a nutshell, the series is about a teenage girl (Hannah Baker)  who commits suicide and leaves behind audio cassettes detailing the 13 reasons why she ultimately decided to end her life. The series begins with Clay Jensen finding a mysterious box with his name on it and inside are cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker,  his classmate, friend, and crush. Who two weeks earlier tragically ended her life. My biggest frustration is with the show’s premise that the main character is basically blaming others for her ultimate decision and seeks revenge through the tapes she has left behind. She begins by saying, ‘I hope you’re ready because I’m about to tell you the story of my life.  More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.” This is so messed up and wrong! When is revenge ever an option? God is the ultimate judge.

If you have a middle schooler wanting to watch the series as, “everyone is…”  I’d encourage you to be the parent.  It’s ok to say no if you feel the content would be triggering or mature for your child.  Thirteen Reasons Why is wildly popular among middle school kids (ages 11-14) who are watching it without the knowledge of their parents and often in one sitting. I think many parents are afraid. They really are unaware of what their kids are doing or what goes on with their kids at school.  WHY not ask your tween if they have watched it and if it’s being discussed among their friends or at school?

If your teen wants to watch it, I would suggest to view it together with caution. Consider watching beforehand to know when or if to fast forward through troubling parts.  Use this opportunity to discuss the hard but real topics teens are likely encountering themselves or those around them. Don’t minimize their experiences.

I feel the series did a great job of realistically conveying some of the difficulties teens face during high school. I can’t pretend to fully understand what today’s youth are experiencing. However, I believe cyber bullying and social media have added to the complexity of teen issues by providing an ease with which peers can rip apart one another.

I was extremely frustrated by the parental and adult authority portrayal. All of the characters other than Clays’ are seen as independent of their parents. The parents were “depicted” as absent, uninvolved, and clueless to their teens’ struggles. WHY dismiss the importance of parents in a teen’s life? Then there’s Mr. Porter, the school guidance counselor, who did not adequately address Hannah’s plea for help.  Mr. Porter provided Hannah with no help and even insinuated she might have contributed to her sexual assault and should move on thereby adding to her isolation, shame, and hurt.  He shut her down by minimizing her complaints which were the last straw for Hannah. I hope teachers and counselors are not all viewed as untrustworthy and incapable of helping when needs are expressed.

Below are a few issues covered in the series that parents could discuss with their child even if you or they haven’t seen the series.  I think the best practice is to be proactive versus reactive.  Let’s be honest many of these are sin issues. We all have the propensity towards sin, however because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice we have no condemnation in our shortcomings and inclinations.

  • Deceit and lying
  • Body Shaming
  • Choices (good and bad)
  • Depression
  • Death
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Gossiping
  • Cyber bullying
  • Rape
  • Alcoholism and drug use and abuse
  • The consequences of driving while under the influence
  • Being responsible for your actions
  • Being willing to face the consequences of our actions
  • Disrespect of parents
  • Reputation
  • Worship of athletes
  • Social Pressures
  • Sex before marriage
  • Same-sex attraction
  • Homosexuality
  • Voyeurism
  • Stalking
  • Etc.

 

Suicide is sadly nothing new.  The tragedy of a young person dying because of overwhelming hopelessness or frustration remains devastating.  Parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, and neighbors are often left wondering if they could have prevented such terrible actions taken in a  young person turning to suicide. This was true of fictional character Hannah Baker, in the series Thirteen Reasons Why which shows Hannah’s suicide in great detail. I was stunned and horrified at what I did see and sadly, I can never erase those images. WHY did the producers choose to not follow the book where the character ends her life by taking pills?  Remember, that no one thing leads to suicide, and many people who experience bullying or the array of issues Hannah experienced do not go on to attempt suicide. I felt like the series implied that there was no other option. However, there are resources for our young people to connect and be guided by in their times of need.

It was reported that Netflix did seek professional insight from psychologist Dan Reidenberg who is the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education regarding the series and Netflix’s was advised to NOT go ahead with the project.  Reporting on suicide indicated that research studies have found that news coverage of suicide can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals.  So, WHY not heed the expert’s opinion?  Was this series made responsibly?

Below are other helpful resources.

I struggled with how to end this post. Watching this series has haunted me as it triggered a few personal issues from my past prompting me to want to speak out. During my Sophomore year of high school, the homecoming queen tragically ended her life.  She was beautiful, liked by everyone but I was left with the question WHY?  Sadly, there are several others I know who have ended their life leaving behind loved ones with guilt, shame, hurt and questioning WHY?

Let’s each do our part by connecting, being available, knowing the signs of depression, being kind, basically, do whatever you can do to make this world a better place.

 

Is it really better to go to a funeral than a party?

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OK, let’s be honest, attending a funeral is usually not high on our list of things to do as no one enjoys saying goodbye especially when death is unexpected.  However, we are told in the Bible that it’s better to go to a funeral than a party. Why?

Attending a funeral has a way of refocusing our attention on what is really important in life. A funeral allows one to contemplate their own death and whether they are prepared to meet God (Romans 2:6-1114:10). Also, when we hear the testimony of a life well lived we tend to reexamine our own life as we each have a dash between our birth date and death date.  This dash symbolizes our entire lives—the time we have to create meaning for God, our families, our communities, and ourselves.

At funerals I tend to examine my life as I’m responsible for what I’m doing with it.  We’re told our days are fleeting, life is temporary, and our length of time is not promised. Death is certain for each of us and only God knows the number of our days.

Job 14:5 You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.

This year I’ve attended four funerals or, more accurately, “life celebrations.”  Honestly, I can say that these four men all profoundly touched the lives of so many and each left behind a beautiful legacy.

Back in March we received the incredibly sad news that our friend’s son was killed in an auto accident.  On December 13th he would have been 25, the same age as our eldest daughter which made his death harder.  Josh had recently graduated from Wheaton, had a promising career, and was newly married. The death of someone so young is so perplexing.   When I think of Josh I will always remember his smile and zest for life.  I left the memorial service realizing that death can happen at any moment to anyone of us and at any age.   A recording of Josh singing I Can Only Imagine that was played at the service providing peace, hope, and encouragement for those of us left behind, as Josh was in awe by the presence of Jesus.

In July, my friend Stacy lost her in-laws in a tragic car accident.  Jon and I felt lead to attend her father in-laws funeral to show our support and love for her.  While we had never met Ron Buck we both left the service saying we wish we had known him as others shared about this wonderful Godly man.

On December 5th, Ronnie Smith was gunned down during his morning jog near the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. He and his wife moved overseas about two years ago to teach high school chemistry and to be a blessing to the Libyan people.

I first met Ronnie about five years ago as he was a teaching leader at our church. He was passionate about teaching and equipping those who took his classes.  What I will remember him for is the passion for which he had for memorizing God’s word.  The most impactful sermon I ever heard was given by Ronnie incorporating scripture from Genesis to Revelation reminding me of God’s History of Redemption.  A beautiful table book was complied and completed in 2010 to accompany the second time Ronnie preached The History of Redemption, before heading overseas to teach and love others.  This book is a beautiful keepsake and the perfect gift to give to others plus a tangible way to support Ronnie’s family.  I am thankful that our lives intersected and for the wonderful legacy that Ronnie leaves behind.  My prayers are with Ronnie’s wife Anita and his son.  A special fund has been set up to support his family in the untimely death of their husband and father.

On December 10th, Michael Adams succumbed to his two year battle with cancer.  He lived in our neighborhood and lived life fully with more optimism and hope than many people I know.   Michael always made time to talk and was interested in what you had to say as well as interesting to listen to.  I, like most people, will miss seeing him ride his bike in the neighborhood with his huge grin.  It broke my heart when I saw his wife and four children (15, 12, 7, 7) at the funeral as they will greatly miss him.  He requested that family and friends ride their bikes to the church plus wear his favorite color green or a bike jersey.

Last month I read When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story. This is an incredibly inspirational and heartrending memoir about the life of Ben Breedlove who died on Christmas day of a heart attack at the young age of 18.  I’ve known Ben and his family for years and his story is amazing. The week before his death he posted a remarkable video, This is my Story describing the peace and bright lights he’d found the other times his heart stopped. Ben makes it clear that death is not something to be feared. This book offers peace and hope in knowing that someday we will see those who have preceded us in death.

Psalm 39:4 “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah

So indeed more wisdom and insight is gleaned when attending a funeral verses a party. Since we all must die, one is usually faced with their own mortally when attending the funeral for family or friends.  Are you living with no regrets? Will you be proud to stand before your Maker? Christmas is only a week away so remember Jesus Christ came to earth so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. He also came to die and shed His blood as a substitute in our place.

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In Loving Memory of George Wilson “Will” Fortenberry (1949-2012)

Jon’s “big brother”, friend, uncle, and hero  (1971 at Tulane Stadium)

Click this link to view other Miscellaneous Photos of Will Fortenberry

Last Thursday we received the sad and unexpected news that Jon’s uncle, Will Fortenberry, died suddenly of a heart attack. Needless to say it shocked many of us as Will was only 62 and the youngest of his siblings with Jon’s mom being in the middle of the five children.

One views death as a natural order of progression where usually the eldest passes first and the youngest last.   However, who are we to know the exact time that we shall meet our Maker?

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 

Thankfully Will knew Jesus and lived a full life.

Jon is twelve years younger than Will, which is the same age spread between our eldest Caryn and her younger sister Cayley.  So I understand the sadness Jon feels as Will was like an older brother to Jon. Jon looked up to Will and viewed him as a hero.   When we got married it was only natural that Will would be a groomsman. After all, Jon was a groomsman in Will’s wedding.

We have shared several anniversary celebrations together with the first being our rehearsal dinner and their 10th. Then I recall our 5th and their 15th in New Orleans at Antoine’s and Pat O Brien’s.  Lastly,  for our 20th and their 30th we were in Hawaii with my in-laws who celebrated their 45th.  Such great times together.  An event I fondly recall was Will’s company Christmas party in 1983 where we had to dress up like punk rockers.  It was such a crazy fun time. I found a photo to prove it (be sure to click on misc. photo link above).

Thankfully, I have many sweet memories of Will that I will treasure all my life.  I will miss his smile and humor.  Will, like all his siblings, added life, laughter and loudness to the Fortenberry family gatherings.  I thank God for the gift that his life was to those privileged to know him – myself included.  Rest in peace.

My condolences and prayers to Will’s wife Catherine, and children Kristen and Timothy.  He loved you dearly.