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The following essay is the opinion of the author, the author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous

13 reasons13 Reasons Why (stylized onscreen as Th1rteen R3asons Why) is an American television series based on the 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and adapted by Brian Yorkey for Netflix. 

 

WARNING: content includes descriptions of sexual assault and suicide, minor show spoilers not exceeding what can be seen in trailers and online synopses

I need to write about 13 REASONS WHY.  Never in my life have I seen something that so closely represents my experience as a teenager since MY SO-CALLED LIFE.  And while these shows may not depict your exact high school experience, I believe there is at least one character in the show you can deeply relate to, even if it’s only through one particular event in that character’s arc.  For me and 13 REASONS, it was the central Hannah Baker and her classmate and cheerleader Jessica combined.  They were very much “me”.  In many instances and ways: too many to list.  For years, I have maintained if social media was as big when I was in HS as it is now, I most likely would have ended up like Hannah Baker, and countless other students who have chosen to end their lives. But for me, this goes beyond my connection to this story and its characters because of how much it seeps in to the real-life experience of so many high school students in the U.S., particularly girls.

It is interesting watching this show as an adult and being triggered the way I have.  It has opened up traumas in new ways, but has also actually offered a newish way to help heal.  My dad always advises me to hug the little kid inside me, that she is who I need to love and heal.  Viewing this show as an adult opens up an opportunity to do that through recognizing your compassion for the characters and realizing they are like you, that you deserve that very same compassion. It has also allowed me to watch something both as a teenager and adult, on two personal timelines simultaneously, in a way I have never experienced.

Speaking of adults and kids and experiences, I loved the depiction of this dynamic in 13 REASONS.  Many of the adults are open with their children and are truly there for them, yet as in real life, their kids don’t come to them, or only try briefly before feeling discouraged or scared.  Kids often harbor their peer trauma and try to deal with it within their ranks. I had adults I could go to, and I even knew it then, but I didn’t go to them.  It shows that no matter how hard you try to be there for your kids, often they don’t reach out, even with major things like rape and abuse or suicide.  I do not think this is always necessarily due to an age or generation gap, but often just the way we communicate, miscommunicate, or don’t communicate at all. This is also depicted amongst the kids themselves, and is true to real life, and amongst adults. But sometimes the kid just chooses not to communicate out of shame, and this is key, but shame so deep seeded it is very difficult to recognize and heal.  So much conflict can be resolved if we just ask questions and talk about it before we decide to react.  No matter our age.  I cannot even count how many times I avoided being angry or sad, saved relationships, and even avoided feeling shameful, just by opening a dialogue.  It is astounding how much easier and better my life got once I started practicing this.  13 REASONS covers this beautifully.  …As for the shame in youth in real life thing, I am still trying to figure that out.

The beginning of the show foreshadows the need for communication and threads it all the way through the narrative to the end, providing far more than 13 reasons why it (communication) is so important.  And throughout the show, we see different ways shame can derail communication.  It shows how we can sometimes try to bury our shame by going back to spaces with our rapist or abuser.  People often wonder why someone would do that; hang out with or around someone who assaulted them.  Part of it is trying to regain some semblance and dignity, part of it is not having the proper tools to love yourself, and part of it is because you somehow think it’s your fault.  It’s a strange way of subconsciously, and partly consciously, trying to convince yourself that if you can make it through this, then everything is ok, and you’re also not causing drama because even though you were raped or abused, you feel like it’s your fault, so if you say anything, you think you’ll just sound like you are trying to create drama, and you definitely don’t want to take on more blame.  13 REASONS covers this beautifully.

One of the rapes depicted in this show happens at a party.  A girl is drunk and passed out when a popular jock goes into the room, locks the door, and rapes her while she is still unconscious and can barely move.  She doesn’t have clear memory of the incident, but there were witnesses, and they didn’t stop it from happening or tell adults after. This happened to me when I was 15, drunk at a party, with a popular jock, and I had to learn about the details from a friend who was friends with my rapist. (And just like in the show, one of these three people is no longer alive). My memory wasn’t totally clear either, just bits and pieces, just like with this character.  He (the person who raped me) bragged to my friend that he “had sex” with me.  My side of the story was a little different as I woke up to my body being thrust as I was vomiting and watching the ceiling bounce.  I couldn’t move, and could barely speak. The next thing I knew I was on the bathroom floor in my friend’s sister’s clothes.  I learned later she changed my clothes and washed mine and put me in the bathroom.  That was the only help I got for that at the time.  I did go up to the rapist in the hallway at school and tell him to stop bragging about what happened because it constitutes as rape, but even though I knew better and had the knowledge of how to help myself in a situation like that, approaching him the way I did was the extent of the capacity of me helping myself that time.  That time. 13 REASONS covers this beautifully.

The second time I was raped, was very similar to the rape of another character, except this person was my friend prior to the incident and I was 19yrs old. I was completely conscious and sober. I don’t want to give too many spoilers of my life or the show, but here is that moment where you stop struggling.  You don’t yell, you don’t say no, you don’t even move.  You almost become compliant.  Because you are frozen.  There comes a point when trauma is too much for our brains to bear and they just shut down.  It’s part of what causes that feeling of being dead inside.  Your brain shuts down and you can’t feel, because if you did, you wouldn’t survive. Part of you doesn’t anyway. This person also bragged to his friend who I happened to sometimes be having sex with casually and consensually. I received a phone call from this person a day or so later making fun of and shaming me, not knowing my side of the story.  There is more to this one.  Much more… I never truly got help for this one aside from time and personal attention to myself, not only did mutual friends tell me they thought I was lying even though they said they had previously witnessed this person put pills in girls’ drinks, the actual adults I told didn’t offer much help either (not that I would have taken it at the time anyway). 13 REASONS covers this beautifully.

In both of these instances, there were witnesses of some degree, friends knew, and said or did nothing, some even added to the trauma, and I didn’t communicate what I needed to heal to anyone. In the grand scheme of my life depicted from the outside, these things never happened. They were isolated to that moment, and even though it was like everyone knew, it was like no one knew. It went mostly unacknowledged. No one was punished, no one spoke up, and I wasn’t helped.  What/who do I blame? No one and nothing but shame and lack of communication, and only partly the rapists themselves, who in some fashion are products of their environments in one way or another.  All of this, 13 REASONS WHY covers beautifully.

You may be wondering how someone could be a victim multiple times, as I am sure people wonder about the character Hannah Baker. Or why the police weren’t contacted.  I asked my therapist once, even adding how can it happen to someone who is a fighter, and I learned that someone who has been assaulted once, is more likely to be assaulted a second time than someone who has never been assaulted, and so on.  The latter has to do with trauma shutting down the brain as I mentioned earlier.  And in the high school world, kids can smell trauma like bloodhounds and so very often take advantage of it.  Today it is enhanced today by social media.  These traumas are now documented, serving as a reminder for the victim that the whole world can now see and share.  Reliving something in your brain is bad enough, but when you can visually see it over and over again on a screen, and everyone else can too, it has to do a number on the brain in ways I can’t imagine, especially for a teenager or kid. It was unbearable for me without this factor.  13 REASONS WHY covers this beautifully, however, a tiny bit more attention (though done fairly well) could have helped with the why kids and rape victims don’t choose police contact, but they do cover how the cruel documentation on our phones and online can later help.

Though growing up in a world of social media can add more pressure and a new level of bullying for students, including pushing them as far as suicide, it also brings us things like this show, and people being able to connect and share things that let others know they are not alone with topics rarely discussed in other generations, as I am doing now. It is interesting living on both sides of life with and without social media, similar to being engrossed in Hannah Baker’s story as both a teen and adult. Our current knowledge and regular use of technology helps us and hurts us in our real-life communication, as it depicted in this series…  Communication: from kids to adults, and across and throughout nations.  One of the most important things in our lives, and a crucial central character 13 REASONS WHY covers beautifully.

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The HBO series Project Greenlight is the most difficult show to watch. It is filled with white men who feel more than entitled; they act as if they are taking part in a prophetic art by creating a movie, about rich white men, called The Leisure Class.

Does anything look strange about this photo?

Does anything look strange about this photo?

In the last two episodes of Project Greenlight, producer Effie Brown explained that since there are no ‘people of color’ cast in the movie as primary or secondary and that there have since been no casting of a person of color as an extra in the movie, that they be sure to keep in mind not casting a person of color for ‘servant’ roles in the film. Of course a black man ends up being cast as a chauffeur, Effie stops everything, and everyone else acts like she’s wasting time. This episode was originally called ‘Hot Ghetto Mess.’

“The issue that I’m having,” Effie says while on set, “and it’s becoming an issue, is the lack of representation of people of color in this movie. I’m uncomfortable with the chauffer being a black person.”

Afterwards in her one on one interview she had this to say, “I have said on more than one occasion that I wasn’t going to have a person of color being in a subservient position… a butler, a chauffeur, these are tropes that we have seen time and time again and I think those images are done. It’s time for us to tell a different narrative.”

Marc Joubert, in his one on one interview after Effie speaks to him about finding a new actor to play the chauffeur, has this to say, “I get it, I understand it, I just don’t want to spend a lot of time on unneeded drama here.”

There are so many dynamics at work here. What I thought so fascinating about Effie’s statements over the past two episodes, of not wanting people of color in service roles, is that nearly every person of color on the show is in some kind of subservient role. Effie is not supposed to be in so much of a service role as a collaborative role, but she is constantly trying to keep a budget, is constantly being overridden by white men, and is frequently relegated to the role of ‘mad woman’. The Farrelly brothers quit the show because they cannot seem to work with Effie, and this only because the director, Jason Mann, acts like a child, going from parent to parent asking for permission, never accepting a no, until he runs everyone in circles to get what he wants. Whether that be the format on which he records the film, he presses for film over the less expensive digital option, or accepting that the grandiose car accident scene he has written is far too dangerous.

And Mann acts as if The Leisure Class, a dark comedy about upper class white twenty somethings behaving badly, is a story that needs to be told. While it is easy to understand that this is an amazing opportunity for the director, it is difficult to understand the importance and pressing nature of his staunch positions for his ‘vision.’

Why is this cringe-worthy series worth watching? Because it is the epitome of white men acting entitled and manipulating the world around them, only to get what they want. Without consideration to almost anything else and rejecting any idea of modification when confronted with valid criticism. It is worth it to see these things in action, I am sure each rich white man on the show believes they are the furthest thing from discriminatory. I am sure they believe they are equal in their treatment of the sexes and races. They are not, and I am glad that we have these tremendous struggles brought to light. I also do not want Effie to go through the rest of this season alone.

The name of the latest episode was changed from Hot Ghetto Mess to The Pivot, and HBO explained there was a ‘production mistake’ with the title. There is a trailer for The Leisure Class online, it debuts November 2 on HBO. I watched the trailer. I did not laugh once. Maybe that is only because I do not find anything funny about rich white men acting like jerks.