In mid-May, I was talking with a few student-athletes at a regional track meet about their a quarterly assignment that was due the night before for my class. The assignment always seems to get done at the last minute with the group of students I was talking with, so I was sympathizing with them the best I could about their procrastination.
All of a sudden, one of the student-athletes bragged and exclaimed, “I got it done last weekend because I knew Season 2 of ’13 Reasons Why’ was coming out.” Our conversation switched to the newest installment in the Netflix series based on Jay Asher’s 2007 book under the same name.
The new season depicts the aftermath of a high school girl’s suicide, which ended the first season. The girl’s parents have filed a lawsuit against the school she attended. Those featured on the tapes from Season 1 are intricately involved and their stories develop with each episode. Apparently the last episode of Season 2 left several of my students “shook“.
At the track meet, I asked the student-athletes if they rewatched Season 1 of the series. Many did not. One took a quiz to see if they needed to. Another said she rewatched Season 1 because they, like me, do not want to miss out on important details or forget what happened previously. At that time I was unsure if I was going to rewatch the first season or jump right into the second.
Last week, I was still unsure, so I shared my dilemma on Instagram and included a poll to see what others thought. The majority said “skip it” and watch Season 2.
In addition to the poll, I received direct messages from colleagues and former students with their thoughts about “13 Reasons Why”:
- “Ugh that shows [sic] was rough to watch lol”
- “You forget so much of season 1. I really wished I would’ve rewatched it. I forgot half the characters on the tapes.”
- “I’m not going to watch it. Season one traumatized me.”
- “Don’t watch either season 👀”
The entire series has become a hot button issue in many circles, including education, so I was not surprised when I received the mixed responses about the series.
According to Nielsen, 75% of the viewers of “13 Reasons Why” are 34 or younger; therefore, a majority of students all over the U.S. are aware of the series either through watching it themselves and/or it being the topic of discussions and posts among peers.
When Season 1 came out, my Facebook feed was filled with articles and opinions about whether or not the series was good for adolescents to watch and be exposed to the topics and themes in it, such as suicide, sex, rape, one’s reputation, violence, and betrayal. Season 2 did not bring up as many articles, but the discussion reappeared.
It is interesting that the topics and themes listed above are being scrutinized. Those topics are discussed frequently by students on a regular basis in English classrooms when discussing class novels and plays, such as Romeo and Juliet, The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies, and Native Son, among other widely known titles.
We, as English teachers, try our best to be sensitive of the topics when they come up in literature, but we should not be shying away from them. Our students experience and discuss them on their own every day.
If we are to be aware of the sensitive topics in literature, I believe it is important for us to be aware of the same topics in popular culture and media that is consumed by our students. With that being said, I’ve decided to rewatch Season 1 of “13 Reasons Why” before watching Season 2 to be aware of the content and to refresh my memory about what happened.
Stay tuned for updates on my viewing progress.