Opinion: Condemning Art Like ’13 Reasons Why’ For “Romanticizing Suicide” Is Wrong

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Just over a year ago, I was in tears arguing over a movie with my sister. I’d been in the living room, watching what I’d call a classic: Dead Poets Society. As the credits begin to roll, I already feel myself a bit weepy and on edge. It’s the heart-wrenching tale of a boy trapped by his passion, parents who didn’t understand and a teacher who cared too much. It stings especially knowing Robin Williams is gone. But my dramatic why-God-why mope fest had been quickly interrupted by my sister’s roll of the eyes.

“That movie is trash. It just romanticizes suicide.”

This is where you lose me.

I am going to go out on a limb here and presume most people agree with that thought. In the wake of 13 Reasons Why this seems to be public norm: talking about suicide, writing a book about it, making a film or a TV show…? Bad, bad, bad; it does nothing but glorify and encourage revenge suicide. Fair enough, but let me apply some more reality if I may.

It is rational to say that men or women who’ve suffered an eating disorder shouldn’t read Wasted by Marya Hornbacher. It’s what some may call triggering, as she describes in great detail the horrific reality of having several eating disorders that left her hospitalized and nearly dead. For years, her words circulated on the Internet and yes, eventually found their way to thinspo Tumblr pages. I get it: it sucks that a book originally written as a warning was used as ammo. But to claim the book should have never been written in the first place is not only denying reality, but also denying education at its core.

I used that very book to add the humanity to a Psychology paper once on eating disorders. Give me all the studies, but without a face to the numbers, without a story to share, it’s just numbers. I remember a few students asking for the name of the book again, as their friend had anorexia, or their sister bulimia. They wanted to understand why; they hadn’t experienced it themselves.

We as humans can understand things, without needed to partake ourselves. We can understand why people hurt themselves, lie, cheat, the list goes on, without needing to become those things ourselves. When we read our history books, the majority of humans do not make it a point to copy past behavior. We learn from it. When you consider that concept, especially regarding history, the reality of “keeping things quiet” and banning material on uncomfortable topics is terrifying.

If they don’t talk about sex, they won’t have it.

If they don’t know about drugs, they won’t do them.

Right?

Well. Yeah, for some people, that’s true. There are always exceptions to every rule. However, in a general sense, no. With the internet alone, we have more access to whatever it is we want to find. If you tell someone they can’t have something, can’t do something, can’t watch something? More or less the “can’t” is being encouraged.

The appeal of having what you can’t have, what you’re not supposed to do, what you aren’t allowed to see?
That is more dangerous than a TV show.

Louis CK’s latest stand-up special 2017 actually brought up suicide with particularly good timing as no one wants to discuss it. “You’re not supposed to talk about suicide, even to your shrink,” Louis laughs, teasing that they’ll hold him down with needles if he says yes to occasional suicidal thoughts. That, and we should be able to talk about it because well, simply: “The whole world is just full of people who didn’t kill themselves today.”

I understand that is making light of something serious, something that is personal and painful. But this is life: personal, painful and sometimes it’s light and sometimes it’s serious. And talking about how you feel is the absolute stepping-stone to finding the will to live again.

Throughout my halls in high school, we’d see banners or signs for suicide prevention encouraging us to tell someone. But I’d go right back to Louis CK’s point: the moment you mention you’ve had suicidal thoughts, people look at you like you’ve killed someone already. They’re horrified, confused, scared.
And maybe I can’t say this because I’m not a comedian but here I go: life is hard and is by no means easy. There are moments of absolute darkness, but we are humans and that happens.

To shame people for how they feel…
That is entirely more dangerous than any TV show.

To belittle real feelings and human emotions…
That is more damning than any book.

To pretend suicide isn’t an option, then call people selfish when they do…
That is more messed up than any film.

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We can collect only a handful of works that have touched on the subject and made their way to mainstream media, so perhaps we have a limited scope. And if I had the time, I’d love to dive deeper into the history of the act and why people do it and when thoughts shift to actions. But I want to be able to talk about that without the fear of being deemed unnatural or ungodly.

I’ll end this opinion piece with a crummy metaphor. Life is a roller coaster; it is full of ups and downs, it’s fun and scary and ultimately, far too short. Sometimes people may want to get off the ride, but we should make it our point to keep everyone on. Okay, this is where the metaphor gets tricky because talking on a roller coaster is pretty damn hard, but the goal is: do your best to look out for each other and understand this: we are all humans and we cannot be perfect and that, my friends, is the beauty in life.

I guess the point is this: I’ve been there. And if people could be a bit more understanding than damning, I think we’d be doing more good than we’d realize. Thanks for listening. Leave your angry comments below, I guess.

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