• The Pasig Review

The Reasons Why? - Series Review

Bhenjar Toor

“You learned to run from what you feel, and that’s why you have nightmares. To deny is to invite madness. To accept is to control.” – Megan Chance, the Spiritualist.

All of us are broken in some way. We go through these cycles not admitting to ourselves that we are always vulnerable. Our responses differ. Our mind refuses to believe that we are not whole, because it knows the moment it does we begin to fall into the depths of our emotions not knowing how we could have not stopped what happened and why it is that those we expected to be there not to let things happen where not there.

Often, our cry for help were never heard.

13 Reasons Why is a very timely Netflix series that talks about mental health and so much more. It deals with various teenage issues that everyone appears to have dealt with either as the protagonist or the villain.

Timely as it is, it seems a lot of issues where not clearly presented, characters look as if they were somewhat underwritten, and commercialization is once again at center stage, thus preventing the viewers to fully grasp the pain of each experience as it turns out to be exploitive on certain occasions. The shifts between seasons also removes the connection from one season to another as in the case of the first two seasons where we are made to deal with a self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing recent transfer to Liberty High, Ani. She apparently have no connection to most of the characters in the previous season, which make viewers try to build a bridge if only to make sense of how this new character suddenly tells the story in her perspective.

Though not the most seamless way of doing it, the inconsistency from being one trying to find her way and waxing hot to turn into a philosophical nerd and later on becoming a wanton sex pervert just fail to provide some sort of consistency not to mention that the series, in trying to make Bryce Walker, a serial rapist and sadist suddenly present semblance of kindness and total control in such a short time after the trials and the conviction, though he manages to walk free and be on probation, simply does not jive with realities we may encounter in whichever society we try to depict it.

The series is not totally disappointing though as key issues such as bullying, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, assault, and sexual violence were tackled, it somewhat awakens deeply seethed pains on many of the viewers who seem to be triggered with all the trauma and violence shown vividly in many of the scenes.

Although many of the plot twists were not perfectly executed as some episodes become dragging to the point some become deathly boring, the enigma that some of the characters portray just keep on carrying the day as in the case of master photographer and loner, Tyler, whose fascination with guns offer why many gun shooting incidents have not been prevented before it started to even unfold.

Despite shortcomings in character development and in ensuring clear identity and relationship in these stories albeit it is fair to say that the many storylines being put together to present everything traumatic in a teenager’s experience, it does offer everyone – victim, parent, school administrators, and even government officials – good insights that can put into place better policies as well as support systems that could prevent teenagers from turning from bad to worse.

The setting was in the United States, but the whole point affects even those in the Philippines given the many situations we had to deal with in Philippine schools, and unlike American students, it is quite clear that given a completely different culture, much of the statistics we know may very well be below the actual numbers.

Republic Act (RA) 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act is supposed to protect children from abuses and exploitation.

In a recent situation report from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Funds (UNICEF) in the Philippines, it cited that “despite rapid economic growth and overall declining rates of poverty in recent years, the situation has continued to be extremely challenging for children.” The report says that a staggering 31.4 % of children continue to live below poverty line and most of them are in the Autonomous Region of Moslem Mindanao (ARMM). This situation has great impact on children socially, politically, economically, and psychologically.

Further, the National Baseline on Violence against Children (NBS-VAC), the first ever study to measure prevalence of all forms of violence against children across the country, does not offer any inspiring new figures as it became clear that children aged 13-24 years’ experience high levels of physical, psychological, sexual and peer violence among a few list of abuses at 64.2%, 61.5%, 22. 4%, and 65%, respectively. This does not include unreported cases.

More stunning than these figures was the fact that the Philippines has become a source, transit, and destination country for commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, and one of the top ten producers globally of sexual content involving children. With these in mind, parents and schools are hard-pressed to keep their children safe. It becomes more challenging especially when most of these abuses were committed involving those at home or in school.

One can only imagine the dire straits these incidents have taken despite a lot of exposure many already has with these teen issues. Considering numerous factors coming off several data available, the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, failed to give an honest picture of what really happens in the mind of a would be violent outrage from someone who has taken all forms of abuse as if it could be averted by some sort of small talk to show kindness and friendship when such a situation more often than not result to tragic outcomes because for a person to even consider harming others aside from himself when he himself has no history of violence but may have been subjected to and has often been at the receiving end, it would have reached the maximum level that it is always almost hard to reverse.

Even more disturbing are the inconsistencies on so many of the sets such as when the story tends to moralize and yet presents so many amoral scenes. The writers should make up their mind because it does not help that much that while scenes are so graphic that it may actually provoke long hidden emotions of victims who actually get to watch all the episodes, the direction that they are to take are not clearly depicted that viewers are left to consider other resources, which is readily being advised by the characters themselves from time to time during the introduction of certain episodes.

Nevertheless, it is clear that abusive situations are so prevalent both at home and at school making growing up so much of a challenge for most of the time.

In a consolidated report released in 2019, at least 6 out of 10 Filipino students are bullied in school according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 survey published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

This figure, apparently, is so much higher at 65% of the 7, 233 15-year old respondents indicating that bullying is more prevalent in the Philippines by 23% compared to those in the United States, Japan, China, and European countries.

In the same report, 95% of the students said they sometimes or always feel lonely while 84% of the respondents think that it is a “good thing to defend those who cannot defend themselves,” which only make matters worse.

Equally alarming is the 66.7% increase in women who were raped, sexually abused, trafficked, and exploited based on data culled by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as of February 2020.

These developments have prompted Non-government Organization (NGO) Save the Children to make calls on schools and universities across the country to “effectively adopt and implement their respective child protection policies to protect children and youth in school from all forms of abuse, violence, exploitation, discrimination, and bullying.”

This came to light as a litany of abuses have been exposed based on complaints in schools such as the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), Miriam College, and St. Theresa’s College.

There is no doubt that these unwarranted teenage experiences contribute to challenges brought about by a troubled childhood whose trauma can last for a lifetime. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), an organization created to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for children and families who experience or witness traumatic events, rightfully explains that “Children who have experienced complex trauma often have difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions, and may have limited language for feeling states. They often internalize and/or externalize stress reactions and as a result may experience significant depression, anxiety, or anger.”

13 Reasons Why, despite lacking in character complexity in any meaningful way has managed to awaken sensibilities and probably triggered well-kept emotions. The series can do so much better though if viewers are able to see that problems are treated with genuine compassion and not so much with the morbid fascination of sexual innuendos or abuses as well as the exaggerated depiction of the LGBTQ+ and at some point seems to point that almost everyone is undecided. It is one thing to show the way on how we are supposed to treat them with respect and it is another to over sell the idea that almost everyone are having some difficulty knowing their sexual orientation that at some points it tends to bend towards perversion.

It would have been so much better if the Netflix series have focused more on the issues rather than on the perversities so it would have been much easier for teenagers to watch it with their guardians or parents without the need to skip over sexual scenes that is so much into morbid fascination instead of tackling teen issues as they are.

It is an eye-opener though. Teenage years are probably the most awkward stage in our lives, and it would be good if, knowing this, we empower the young to actually grow and change to reach their optimum and achieve their dreams.

It’s all about growing up and overcoming the pain as we feel them. It’s knowing we are not alone.

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