Like many people living in today’s fucked up world, I have read The Fourth Turning and am looking to the Millennials to “save” us. If they do, they have quite a task on their hands. My experiences with Millennials are limited. I was active in the Occupy movement where I guess most of the people were Millennials. I thought they were beautiful and idealistic. All that. They stood up to police repression as long as they could. I’m sure many are still in the movement doing other things.
I heard about TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY quite recently. People were all in a tither because two teenage girls committed suicide after watching this Netflix series. It sounded interesting so I got the book and joined Netflix to get the full experience. I read the book and saw the episodes. I’m presently going through the episodes a second time. It made me realize that this was a very different generation. The focus is on kids going to Liberty High School. The main character, Hannah, who killed herself and left tapes for thirteen people to listen to and find out how they had failed her and were therefore responsible for her death. How weird is that?
For starters, she doesn’t seem like someone who would kill herself. She seemed to have too much going for her to give up on life. In the beginning, she sets up an elaborate, cute and clever way of getting a date with a boy she liked at a new school. He offers her a ride in a car full of his buddies and she says “Thanks but my chariot awaits” as she jumps on a city bus. He follows her on the bus and she puts her number on his phone and then jumps off the bus. He calls and she makes up a math problem about two buses leaving from different places and what time do they meet to set up a date to meet him at a park. All this doesn’t look like a girl without resources. They kiss and everything should have been wonder except he does this very guy thing. He lets his mates think they did more than kiss, hence her reputation takes a turn south. That’s a common experience for girls and women, not only in high school. Shitty thing to do but is it reason enough to hold him partially responsible for her suicide?
That experience is followed by other experiences, many of which are even more obscure. I got the impression that anything that isn’t perfect in her interpersonal relationships is ground for indictment of the other person. I’m aware of the term highly sensitive personality but come on! From a sassy, resourceful girl, Hannah turns into a fragile, yet bitter injustice collector who blames everyone she knows for disappointing her.
We share her tapes with Clay Jensen who is also sensitive and vulnerable. Clay is all-too-willing to feel guilty for Hannah’s death before he even hears the tape relating to his own failings be what she wanted him to be when she needed him to be it. He is guided through the maze of guilt-inducing tapes by his friend, Tony, a boy who seems a lot more mature and detached than the others. Tony provides a cassette player and keeps Clay on track when he is too overwhelmed to keep listening.
At the time Clay gets the tapes, most of the other kids have already heard them. They seem very defensive about their role and the blame they could incur. It doesn’t help that Hannah’s mother is suing the school. She is looking for evidence of bullying. The school is also defensive. They are trying really hard to show how sensitive and caring they are. They have posters all over telling kids “Suicide isn’t an option.” The kids set up an altar to Hannah, first on her locker and then on a table in a hallway. Are schools really held culpable if they don’t manage to protect a student from unkindness if it leads to suicide? I do know some schools go to ridiculous extremes such as charging a First Grader with sexual harassment for kissing another First Grader. Can a school really be blamed for bullying? Most bullying happens outside the sight and sound of teachers. Few bullied kids disclose their problem to adults. They are too ashamed. I know some schools have programs to boost self-esteem. The kids I know who had such classes didn’t seem very keen on them. Just saying. Hannah’s case doesn’t really seem like a typical case of bullying. She wasn’t taunted, called names, beaten up or any of the usual things. I don’t think her experiences in school really deserve the name of bullying. A boy lies about how far he got with her sexually. A girl and boy she was friends with drop her and become a couple. A boy turns stalker and takes pictures of her from outside her window. Yes. This is more serious than the other problems she had previously had. But it’s just one boy, not a group of mean kids. She plans to trap the boy with the help of another girl. They succeed and find out his identity but not before he gets a picture of the girls kissing each other. Hannah isn’t a lesbian but the other girl is and she dirties up Hannah’s reputation a little more to protect herself from being outed. Sorry. I don’t call any of that bullying. Maybe Millennials do. The law suit doesn’t seem to be doing anyone much good. The mother is perplexed. Her daughter hadn’t given her any information about why she was ending her life. That was reserved only for her peers. In fact, none of the parents really have a clue what is happening with their kids.
Clay’s parents get quite frantic when Clay disappears for long periods of time while he processes Hannah’s tapes. He is seen to be part of a serious drama while the parents are completely excluded. Hannah’s parents cope with their grief and puzzlement by filing a law suit against the school. As sensitive as the kids are to each other, they seem strangely uncaring about their parents. Clay’s mysterious disappearances and his intensity (the reasons for which he keeps to himself) and Hannah’s suicide with not even a suicide note for her parents, just the gory sight of her dead body in the tub full of bloody water. It’s only important to her that her peers know why she did it. One of the boys, Justin, the kid who kissed and told more than there was to tell, had a mother who hooked up with abusive men who beat Justin savagely and threw him out of the house. He depended on his peers for a place to stay. One of the most supportive of his peers is Bryce, the rapist. Obviously, Bryce is more than a monster. Most of the parents seems reasonably good parents but they were all excluded from the truth until the end. The adults at the school were also left out of the loop. A man who was an unofficial counselor had no psychological training but seems to do his job well. But the story seemed to blame him for not being omniscient.
The kids seemed to fear they would be blamed and lose their acceptance in colleges for their roles. Most of them banded together to keep the contents of the tapes strictly secret. They feared Clay would prove the weak link. In order to keep him quiet, one night, some of the boys way-laid him, grabbed his bike which they put in the trunk of their car and forced him to ride with them. The driver, Alex, drove really fast, got stopped by a cop who turned out to his father. Alex’s dad lets him get away with anything as long as Alex is obsequious to him, always addressing him as “Sir.” Clay doesn’t cry out when the car is stopped telling the officer he’s there against his will. He apologizes for the fast driving as if he were guilty. After the ride, the boys keep Clay’s bike. I would have told them I would tell everything if I didn’t get the bike back immediately. I would have reported it stolen. Clay did none of those things. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone can be so passive. Justin goes so far as to suggest murdering Clay and making it look like a suicide.
One of the boys is a rapist. He is also a top jock so he is protected by the others although they don’t seem to really like him. Justin, however, is a close friend to the rapist, Bryce. Bryce takes him in whenever he has to leave his abusive home. He is grateful and feels he owes Bryce a great deal. So one night, at a party, when Justin’s girlfriend is passed out drunk, he lets Bryce have his way with her. When she sobers up, Justin tells her she had sex with him. She “believes” him but has memories that belie the story which she represses. Hannah knows the truth and is upset that Justin won’t tell the truth. Another “trauma” Hannah experienced was riding in a car with another girl driving. The girl accidentally knocks down a stop sign and refuses to report the accident. Later that night, another two cars have an accident due to the stop sign being down. Hannah is deeply disturbed by her friend’s failure to take responsibility and somehow this also contributes to her suicide.
Yes, a long, sad story about imperfect people acting imperfectly. What’s a snowflake like Hannah to do? One experience stands out as really nasty. She has a first date with a boy named Marcus. He keeps her waiting for an hour and shows up finally with a bunch of his mates who sit at another table. One of them explains that he keeps girls waiting for an hour because he knows if they are still waiting, they will put out. But Hannah doesn’t agree to his mauling and knocks him off the seat of the restaurant booth. He says, “I only asked you out because I thought you were easy.” That’s rank.
Hannah stays in the booth, feeling sad. Another boy, one of Marcus’ friends, sits down at the booth and is really nice to her. He calls Marcus an “asshole” and is trying to make her feel better. But she remains hostile and seems to blame him for being more socially successful than she is. Clay, upon hearing the tape, keys Zach’s car. I find Clay incomprehensible. He is so guilt-ridden! We finally find out what his “crime” was. He and Hannah finally make out but she suddenly starts crying and says she’s not worthy of him and runs away. Clay’s crime was not stopping her and telling her he loved her.
She is eventually “raped” by Bryce. There is a discrepancy between the story in the book and in the TV series. The former has her getting into a hot tub with him and passively allowing him to have his way. She thought he should have seen by her facial expression that she didn’t want it. The latter shows him actually raping her, that is, forcing her against her will despite attempts to get out of the tub.
After all her trials and tribulations, Hannah decides to give life one last chance. She sees the counselor. But she rejects the chance to report Bryce. The counselor suggests that, the only option left is to get on with her life. That was his “crime.” I don’t know what he could have said or done other than that. Maybe a Millennial can explain it to me.
If Hannah really believed her death were the fault of all these other people, why did she kill herself? You would think not thinking it was her own fault would allow her the courage to go on.
Throughout this story, the kids are in their own world. They live their high drama while adults are left wondering what is happening with them. Strauss and Howe (The Fourth Turning) depict Millennials as very polite and respectful. They are here too. Only they keep their problems to themselves and their peers.
There has been a lot of kerfuffle over the fact that two teens have committed suicide since watching the series. Teenagers have been suicide-prone for centuries and media has always been blamed. When Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther, there were a flurry of suicides for which Goethe was blamed. He responded,
“I had saved myself from a tempestuous element with this composition, from a situation into which I had been driven through my own fault and the fault of others, through a chance and a chosen way of life, through intent and haste, through stubbornness and compliancy. I felt like a man after absolute confession — happy and free again, with the right to a new life. This time an old household remedy had done me a lot of good. But just as I felt relieved and lighthearted because I had succeeded in transforming reality into poetry, my friends were confusing themselves by believing that they had to turn poetry into reality, enact the novel and shoot themselves! What actually took place now among a few, happened later en masse, and this little book that had done me so much good acquired the reputation of being extremely harmful!”
Ozzy Osbourne was also blamed for driving his fans to suicide. His song, Suicide Solution, was actually about the destructiveness of alcoholism. A blues song, Gloomy Sunday, has also been blamed. Fortunately, Netflix hasn’t bowed to the pressure to make creative story telling as bland and harmless as Velveeta Cheese.