I once heard it said that every piece of literature, every movie, every song, every show is preaching a sermon. The underlying message of every piece of media is sometimes close to the surface, while others are a little harder to see. Yet from the moment we scroll through our Facebook newsfeed or flip on Netflix or pick up the newspaper, a specific message is being conveyed. The questions become: what message am I hearing?
Do I believe it? How does this affect me and the world around me? A good student of culture will start to dissect these bombarding messages and will start to consider whether these sermons are ones that are helpful to their personal growth or harmful.
These questions and so many more continue to flood my mind as I watch Season 2 of the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why”. Season two picks up a few months after the end of season one, where the audience watched the life and death of Hannah Baker, a high school girl who found herself in the midst of many horrible situations that inevitably caused her to lose faith in humanity and hope for herself, culminating the first season in her own suicide. Season two continues the aftermath of such horror as it reveals more details of her life through the court room trial of her parents verses her school. Although the show has been described as an exaggerated version of high schools around the country, the compound nature of such a drama includes frequent profanity, extremely lude comments and situations, nudity and explicit sexuality, violence and gore, and much more that gives the show an extreme warning for its watchers.
There has been much controversy about whether or not the show is appropriate, especially as a means of opening dialogue with young people about difficult situations they face. And while these topics are very important to be discussed, I think the first inquiry to be made needs to be about the sermons the show is preaching. The underlying messages of this show are too numerous to be narrowed down to a single writing, but the following list is what I took to be some of the more significant be it implicit, sermons from 13 Reasons Why:
- Cursing does not add anything to your credibility. Cuss words are for lazy people who can’t think of anything better; be precise in what you want to communicate.
- Nothing worth lying about is actually worth doing.
- Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it a good choice.
- There is no such thing as coincidence. There is a reason everything that happens, even when it is difficult to see or understand why.
- Problems are not solved nor pain erased by blaming other people.
- If you see something wrong happen, don’t hide it or cover it, but expose it. Compounded lies, shame and further hurt could be avoided if more people would speak up.
- The wrong you do will inevitably be revealed. Things done in secret do not remain a secret forever.
- The success or failures of the past do not need to define you, but they will certainly impact your future. Be mindful of what you do today as it certainly will have repercussions for tomorrow.
- Your friends matter. Who you hang out with affects your vocabulary, your outlook on life, even your actions. Choose wisely who you are with as you are also choosing who you will be.
- People change people, for better or for worse. The wrong you do affects those around you and visa versa.
- Those who care about you can’t help if they don’t know that something is wrong. Suffering in silence accomplishes nothing and hurts everyone. Say something if you need help and keep saying it until someone listens and helps.
- Everyone is connected to everyone; we are relational beings. Nothing is done in isolation but has inevitable repercussions and will continue to echo through the corridor of time.
- Death is only the beginning. YOLO (you only live once) may seem to make life exciting, but it’s simply not true. Your soul lives on just as the legacy you create for yourself while you are alive will continue long after you are six feet under.
In the end, my conclusion is that 13 Reasons Why is not a series worth investing 13 hours of your time (26 hours if you watch both seasons). Think about that. Both seasons are the equivalent of three full work days. It’s like watching about nine NFL games. It’s like listening to over 500 songs. It’s like driving non-stop from New York City to Colorado. That’s a lot of time.
Now consider the contents of the show: vulgarity, promiscuity, bullying, rape, violence, suicide. Is that really something you’d like to spend 26 hours allowing your mind to swim in? That doesn’t even bring into question the kinds of habits you may inadvertently pick up, the desensitization that may occur, the images that may linger in your mind. Is that kind of toxicity worth exposure for 26 hours? I don’t really think so.
HOWEVER, these topics do need discussing. These uncomfortable conversations still need to be had. Parents, can you image what 26 hours of talking with your children would do for your relationships? Teenagers, can you even consider the amount of relief you would feel knowing that your parents care enough to spend 26 hours listening? Can you begin to understand what 26 hours of considering together these tough topics would do to your faith?
I started off saying that everything preaches a sermon, including this very article, so let me be as explicit as I can about the application points: 13 Reasons Why is a popular show that hits too close to home for many young people, but that doesn’t mean watching the show is the only way to communicate about these difficult subjects. Parents, ask your kids uncomfortable questions, talk about uncomfortable topics, be uncomfortably present in their lives. Teens, include your parents in the painful areas of your life, seek sound wisdom in difficulty and use the trustworthy adults in your life to help guide you in that direction, don’t suffer in silence. Ultimately, watch closely to the sermons you are hearing every day and know what you believe so well that you can quickly see where they align (or don’t align) with what really matters in life. For that, I could certainly give you 13 Reasons Why.