CONTENT WARNING: The following post discusses the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why. Topics will include sexual assault, victim blaming, and suicide. The series has been known to be triggering for those who have experienced trauma, and if that is the case it is recommended you DO NOT proceed to the rest of this post
Netflix’s high school drama has been hailed as both the best show on the streaming service and suicide porn. See, not everybody agrees with the way the show glorified Hannah Baker’s suicide and the town’s reaction to it. Psychologists have gone so far as to recommend that teens watch the show with a parent, or avoid it completely. They aren’t overreacting either. Since the show aired, there’s been a confirmed case of an individual who killed himself and left tapes for those he left behind. And that’s before we even get into the way sexual assault is addressed by the show. Now I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should watch the show, that’s completely up to you. What I’d like to discuss is the actions of some of the characters, specifically those who are far worse human beings than the others. We already know these characters screwed up, but let’s talk about what makes them so bad. Needless to say, there will be SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you haven’t seen the show and plan on watching it, you’ve been warned.
Let’s just get this one out of the way early…
He sexually assaulted not one, but two of his classmates and bragged about it, all while living it up as the stereotypical rich boy in an average, suburban town. BRYCE WALKER, this is your tape.
For me, the eye opening moment for Bryce wasn’t when they showed what happened with Jessica or Hannah. If you watch how the other characters interacted with/around him, you already knew he committed a heinous act. For me, it’s the scene where he beats the hell out of Clay. In that scene he talks about how every girl wants him, even if they don’t know it. And that’s what makes his character so real: he doesn’t believe what he did is wrong, he thinks he’s entitled to it. Bryce is the living embodiment of an entire generation of entitled men thinking women are there for their use and that’s it. I tend to avoid making generalizations on gender, but Bryce is the exception to the rule. Everybody knows a guy like Bryce and that’s what makes his character so frightening. So, does he get a pass for being blindly entitled? For not really knowing what he did was wrong? ABSOLUTELY F***ING NOT. At the end of the day he knew what he was doing, and he was just fine with it. Lock him up.
Moving right along…
The next scumbag on our list committed several different offenses. He captured and shared lewd photographs without the subject’s consent, and then let his best friend sexually assault his girlfriend. JUSTIN FOLEY, it’s your turn.
Justin’s character was complex. He clearly had a rough upbringing with his mom not exactly being the front runner for Mother of the Year, and he also had some redeeming moments towards the end of the season. But that’s not what brought him to this list. Right off the bat he’s taking some pictures of Hannah that were far from flattering (and kind of creepy TBH) and showing them to his buddies bragging about what he says they did. So our first look at Justin is he’s kind of a slime ball. It’s high school, there’s plenty of slime balls so we found the main bad guy in our story right? Nope. Justin then let’s his best friend sexually assault his girlfriend. Sure he gives a half assed attempt at trying to stop it, but at the end of the day he let it happen. To make matters even worse, he lied right to her face about it, convincing her that it didn’t happen. Justin screwed up bad. He tried to fix it later on, but some sins can’t easily be forgiven. However, Justin’s spot on our list isn’t all his fault. Recently there has been an influx in Twitter/Tumblr content calling Justin and Jessica ‘#RelationshipGoals”. Let me just throw this out there: SOMEONE WHO LETS THEIR SIGNIFICANT OTHER GET SEXUALLY ASSAULTED IS NOT A RELATIONSHIP GOAL! I didn’t think we needed to tell people that, but apparently it needs to be said.
Our last contestant is the subject of the tape that shocked most people… MR. PORTER.
I say most people because the plot device of removing the extremely caring Guidance Counselor was a bit of a giveaway that this guy was going to be different than her and the way he acted gave me a feeling he screwed up somewhere. But Mr. Porter didn’t make this list because of the cheesy plot device, or even for what he said directly to Hannah. Mr. Porter’s character is dangerous for reasons different than our other entries.
See, Mr. Porter’s fictional character may have contributed to Hannah’s suicide, but his fictional actions have real world implications. He brushed off Hannah’s assault claim as regret, saying she probably consented and just changed her mind afterwards. This is something that actual victims face every day, and not being believed is a major reason as to why so many assaults go unreported. This interaction between the two isn’t what’s dangerous, it is a realistic depiction of what actually happens to some people. However by depicting it in this way, you’re swaying those considering reaching out for help. By watching this scene, people will think “Well if the counselor won’t believe me, nobody will” and while this is a work of fiction, it’s not the message that this production should be sending. As a counselor, Mr. Porter is supposed to report these types of allegations, not pass judgement on them and brush them off. This scene alone could prevent people from reaching out for help when they need it, because they fear they’ll be ignored. I’m no expert but here’s a pro tip: if somebody confides in you about a sexual assault, you probably shouldn’t tell them to “forget about it and move on.”
So, was Bryce a horrible human being? Yes. Was Justin a scumbag for three quarters of the season? Yes. But they’re fictional characters in a fictional universe. Mr. Porter can have the biggest impact on people in the real world, and that is why he is the worst character in 13 Reasons Why. I guess the moral of my story is this: don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t think you only have one option. Don’t be Hannah, don’t give up. Somebody out there WILL listen to you, you just have to find the right person.