#13ReasonsWhy : my take on the series

I just finished watching the last episode of 13 Reasons Why, the controversial Netflix series on teenage suicide.  Apparently I signed up for Netflix just in time….

I want to avoid posting spoilers.  But this series was extremely well done–well-written, well-acted, intelligent, going into all the angles.  You get a wide range of perspectives, from the suicidal girl to her friends, frenemies, enemies, counselor at school, parents.

Now, of course, I haven’t watched much teenage TV since I left high school, and my son only just hit his teenage years, so I don’t know what’s “normal” these days.  But I was surprised at how frank the show is, depicting the teenage love of the f- word, scenes of rape, scenes of violence.

It’s not the usual whitewashed version of teenage life which I used to see.  Sure we had Beverly Hills: 90210 when I was a kid, but you still had FCC guidelines restricting what we saw.  And, of course, concerns about what you’re teaching the children if you make underage bad behaviors seem normal or attractive.  On the other side of the spectrum, there were the happy-joy versions of teenage life on shows such as Head of the Class or Cosby Show or Saved by the Bell.  There were movies as well, not worried about the FCC, but usually either goofy or teen exploitation (Last American Virgin, Porky’s, slasher movies, that sort of thing).

Also, in shows like that, parents were often clueless or nonexistent, just off-screen entities.  Or silly, with weird ideas about fashion or what’s cool.  Or the school administration would just be out to get you.

13 Reasons Why is not restricted by FCC guidelines, since it’s on the Internet, not TV.  And it does not hold back.  On the one hand, it’s startling to see this on a show directed toward teens, but on the other hand, I remember what teenagers were really like when I was a kid.  And yeah, it was like this, except that cassette tapes were not antiques in those days, and we didn’t have the Net or cell phones….You could argue that young teenagers should not watch this, but older ones have heard at least as bad every day in their high schools.

Also, the parents in the series are varied: everything from neglectful to involved, though still clueless because their kids didn’t tell them anything about their struggles.  But they’re trying to get through to their kids, trying to understand them, not letting them get away with “It’s nothing, so leave me alone.”

Parents and school administration are shown as a resource teens can go to for help, though they’re not perfect, as you see the principal and the counselor being clueless or not pushing hard enough.  But once the teens realize they can talk to their parents, a light begins to shine in their darkened lives.  This is just what the producers intended, to encourage them to talk to adults.  I can recall being just like that myself in high school, not opening up to teachers or my parents about bullying at school, even though they could have helped me.

This series has become controversial recently, with adults concerned that it’s glorifying suicide or doesn’t help kids dealing with these issues.

But I see no glorification; I see pain, lots of pain, not just in the suicidal girl but in everyone orbiting her.

I see the kids shifting from denial, to trying to defend themselves, to letting history repeat itself when their friends show signs of suicidal thoughts, to finally beginning to take responsibility for their actions and do what needs to be done.  I see the adults begin to realize what they need to do as well.

I see a strong message that actions have consequences: not just the kids who bullied the girl, but the girl’s actions, and the actions of adults.

I see a frank depiction of what girls deal with in high school, that there are still guys who feel entitled to rank girls according to “hotness” or take whatever they want from them, even now in 2017 after decades of feminism.  I see a vivid depiction of what it’s like to be raped, and then see your rapist cheered and honored.  I see a girl dying in pain rather than drifting off to sleep in some sanitized version of suicide.

I also see notices in the series of how to get help, such as this website.

I don’t think it’s just meant for teenagers.  I think it’s also meant to wake up adults to what kids are going through, especially adults who have forgotten what high school was like.

At the end of the series is a kind of making-of episode explaining what everyone involved in the show wanted to accomplish.  You see what’s on their hearts and why they made such graphic depictions.  They wanted to give teenagers honesty, and help them.  They wanted to take high school struggles seriously instead of dismissing them, because to teens, they are their whole world and are intense.  Also, the writer of the Netflix adaptation explains here that he once wanted to take his own life.  He says,

In 13 Reasons Why, the story of a high-school girl who takes her own life, I saw the opportunity to explore issues of cyberbullying, sexual assault, depression, and what it means to live in a country where women are devalued to the extent that a man who brags about sexually assaulting them can still be elected president. And, beyond all that, I recognized the potential for the show to bravely and unflinchingly explore the realities of suicide for teens and young adults—a topic I felt very strongly about.

He explains that he was in the process of swallowing pills when he remembered a woman he once knew, and her horrifying story of a suicide attempt.  It was brutal, painful, and I’ll let you read the article to get the details.  He realized what he was doing, and began to throw up the pills.  He says,

So when it came time to discuss the portrayal of the protagonist’s suicide in 13 Reasons Why, I of course immediately flashed on my own experience. It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like—to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse.

It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all—it’s a screaming, agonizing, horror.

The rape scenes were difficult to watch, of course, as a woman, that feeling of powerlessness because a man is typically physically larger and stronger than a girl or woman.  I remember times when an ex forced or tried to force me into doing things I repeatedly refused to do.  How he seemed to feel entitled to expect these things from me.  But just because it’s difficult to watch, does not mean it should not be depicted.

This is hardly a new problem.  In my teens, suicide had become a big issue.  The radio played songs telling kids “don’t say suicide.”

I remember times in my teen years and early 20s when I thought my suffering would never end.  I remember wanting to kill myself.  I’ve been through it again, about 7 years ago when I lost a friendship that was important to me.

7 years ago, I was old enough to know it would eventually pass, and push through.  But when I was a kid, I didn’t know things would ever get better.  But I didn’t have the means, I knew it would hurt my parents, and I believed that I would go to Hell, so I didn’t do it.

Now, I look back at my reasons and know they weren’t worth suicide, that life got better afterward.  I realize all the things I would’ve missed out on.  But a teenager doesn’t know all that.

This series is trying to help stop teenage suicide, not cause it.  Despite all the controversy it has inspired, I think we should applaud and support it, not fight it.

Is it perfect?  Apparently not, considering all the controversy.  People find all sorts of reasons to attack it.  But is any work of art ever truly perfect?  Is that even possible?

 

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Life on TCB–College Memoirs: Life At Roanoke–February 1995, Part 1

Counselor Dude said when he gave me a grade in February that my working on the novel Jerisland since 1988 or 1989 showed persistence.  He said I had a good grasp of the mechanics of writing, and could become an editor if I wanted to.

****

Sometime early fall semester, Sharon saw two freshman guys put up a poster advertising the new Roanoke College BBS.  We were surprised, and checked it out.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones on campus getting connected to the wonderful world of the Internet and BBS‘s.

It wasn’t much, mostly a message board saying what classes were canceled and such, but it was still nice to have one.  It was a voice line, however, hooked up to the freshmen’s dorm room phone, so we could only call up at certain times of the day.

Every other college already seemed to have Internet access for students.  Roanoke didn’t have it until the next school year.  I’d watch the students on Beverly Hills: 90210 use the Internet on a school computer, and feel jealous.  We heard the access was supposed to be available senior year, but had to be pushed off until the next year–after I graduated.

Pearl had friends with e-mail addresses through school accounts, and now she could finally send them e-mail through our AOL accounts.  We got one account for all four of us with separate screen names.

But our favorite was The Crystal Barrier, or TCB, as I described here, because of all the fun we had with people who lived nearby:

The action words in Teleconference, or tele, were a lot of fun.  For example, if I typed, “slap stimpy,” Stimpy saw, “Nyssa Of Traken is slapping you!” but I saw, “…Wap!…Wap!…Wap!”

You could also do them to other people privately, like this: “kiss stimpy secretly.”  I saw, “Pucker up!” and Stimpy saw, “Nyssa Of Traken is kissing you on the cheek.”

More action words: “pave,” which said, “Crystal Dragon is driving a steamroller over everything, chanting, ‘The earth must be paved'”; “pkiss,” or “Nyssa Of Traken is kissing you passionately!”; “look,” or “Stimpy is looking at you,” which the user saw as, “Like what you see?” or “See something you like?”

“Look” was good for giving a funny look to someone who was acting very strange.  You could also just type “look” without directing it at anyone, and that showed up as, “Nyssa Of Traken is looking around the room.”

To direct an action at someone, all you needed were the first three letters of that person’s handle, or more if someone else online had the same first three letters.  You didn’t need to capitalize.

Sharon and I often spoke to each other and others offline as if we were in tele and using action words.  For example, I’d say to Sharon, “Nyssa is slapping you,” and we would laugh.

South Bend and S– BBS’s had different commands.  South Bend used dot commands.

Unlike with the South Bend area dot commands, which dealt with other functions on the BBS’s, on TCB you could use dot commands to send an action to someone who was logged into the BBS, but not in Teleconference or Farwest Trivia with you.  Example: “.kiss krafter.”

To look at someone’s registry, or a list of answers to personal questions, you typed “/r Krafter,” or went into the registry menu.  This registry asked for computer phone number, the name of your own BBS if you had one, your favorite food and movie and music and TV show, your least favorite show and music and movie, physical description, eye color, hair color, a short summary, etc.

You could answer each question however you wished: Some people typed “n/a,” or not applicable, to every question.  Speaker typed “.” after every question.  Some people gave answers that revealed them to be scary people, such as one guy who I believe called himself Nightstalker.

I either ignored the phone number questions or made up fake BBS names or spelled out fake numbers (“1800FUNWITHZARA,” for example).  My summary was often, “I long for the days when men were men, alternative was alternative, and mice were little furballs that squeak.”

Krafter liked this one.  I knew it was an adaptation of something I’d heard once (and I don’t mean the standard, “When men were men and women were women”), but I didn’t remember where.  Some time later, I discovered it came from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  My variation was my own, but the Hitchhiker’s version went:

In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were REAL men, women were REAL women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were REAL small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. —http://www.davekimble.org.au/humour/hitchhiker.quote.htm

We could also type taglines, which showed up next to a user’s handle whenever someone typed “/#” to call up a list of who was online at the time.  There was a default tagline, I forget exactly what; I generally had various taglines, depending on what I felt like putting there.

When someone was still logging in, the screen showed “login” in place of the handle, and “I couldn’t stay away!” as the tagline.  These were similar to the taglines on Pan-Optic Net.

I was Nyssa Of Traken, Sharon was Ziggy, and Pearl was Pearl.  My name, of course, came from my favorite handle from Indiana BBS’s, as I explain here.  Sharon loved Ziggy, and Pearl’s handle came from her nickname, so none of these names was a surprise.

Even Astrid went on TCB a few times, and called herself Tigger, fitting with her nickname, Boing Boing.

There, as in Internet chat rooms, normal punctuation and spelling rules went out the window.  In forums, people wrote normally (except for the occasional “4” for “for,” “u” for “you,” “c” for “see,” and other abbreviations).

But when chatting or playing in tele, you saw lots of ellipses and emoticons, and a lack of capitalization or punctuation.  Even I, whom Stubby once called the TCB spelling cop (I got better), was guilty of this.  It’s just quicker to write if you don’t have to worry about what your English teacher would think.

Sharon loved going online and being bombarded with “so and so is hugging you” from people all over the system.  I would go online, get such greetings, and type “.kiss Krafter” (which kissed him on the cheek) to greet him each time I saw him online.  Pearl was also popular.

The people online were so sociable and Sharon was so popular, in fact, that sometimes she went online and hoped no one would notice her so she wouldn’t have to answer their pages or return their hugs.  She tried to sneak on, check her e-mail and get back off again.

The problem, however, was that the system announced to everyone whenever someone came online, along with an entrance message, if one was set.  So it was hard to sneak on without being noticed, unless you figured out how to work the “invisible” function.

In my teens, the “cool” kids had never even heard of BBS’s.  (No, I was not one of the cool kids.)  Now, even the “cool” people joined the “geeks” online.

Other people liked to sign their names in various ways–all capitals, shortened handles, funny symbols–so I decided to use my own signature.  This is what I came up with:

}] Nyssa of Traken [{

For a short time, I changed my online summary nearly every day so that a different line of the first twelve lines to the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales–in Middle English–showed up.

When one of us was online, the other two often sat around the computer and watched.  Most often, we went into tele or Farwest Trivia (a multi-player trivia game).  There, the watchers would tell the one typing, “Page so-and-so and say this,” “Say this,” “Tell him Pearl says such-and-such,” etc.

When one of us was online, all three of us were generally online, even though only one of our screen names was logged in.  It was quite a party every night by the computer.

Oftentimes, people, such as Krafter or Speaker, sat in the menuing system (main menu), and just waited there for pages while doing something else.  Just like nowadays we do with, say, IRC, Facebook, or other instant messaging systems.

For me, the computer gave stiff competition to the TV.  Even though I wanted to see a new show named Sliders, Star Trek: DS9, and this new Star Trek show called Voyager, it was hard to pay attention because I was usually online while they were on.

I loved Sliders anyway, as did Charles, and we loved the various things that were different in each dimension the four sliders slid into.  One of my favorites had a dimension in which America had never broken from England.

(When Sci-Fi Channel picked up the show three seasons later, they ruined it, turning it into some action thing where favorite characters got killed off.)

As for the Star Trek shows, I couldn’t get into them.  After that year, I didn’t even try keeping up with them.  My love affair with the continuing Star Trek series had ended: There were just too many of them now.

For a short time, a guy called Atlantis sent me messages on TCB.  He played a game with me, a guessing game, with hints on who he was.  Then he disappeared before I could find out, upsetting me.

I heard somewhere that he was kicked off, maybe for a misunderstanding, but I don’t know if this was true.  Then Mike’s friend Brent finally admitted to being Atlantis.

Sometime during this period, Pearl’s sister came to visit and stay in the apartment for a day or two.  She saw my tapes and CD’s and went wild, because I had a lot of alternative, and the kids were really starting to get into alternative in those days.

She also went on TCB a few times as Squisha.  This name came from an inside joke between her and Pearl, a name one of them gave to a squirrel squished on the highway, Squisha Squirrel.  She had a lot of fun, and the other TCB users loved playing with her in Teleconference.

One day, I checked a user directory for one of the BBS’s.  The new user setup, or a series of questions each user needed to answer–what kind of computer and graphics you had, what password you wanted, your real name, address and phone number–included, of course, the question, “What handle would you like to use?”  The user directory listed all the users of the BBS by handle.  One person showed up as:

What do you mean “HANDLE

(No, no closing quote or question mark for “handle”; there wasn’t room; the handle could only be so long.)

Many teenagers hung out on TCB, and most of these seemed to love talking to Sharon, Pearl and me.  We felt popular.  Sharon said, “I think they think we’re cool because we’re three women living together.”

Though TCB wasn’t free, it wasn’t expensive, either: $5 a month got you five hours a day.

****

Sharon’s Sharon-isms included various expressions of disgust or dismay: “eww,” “ergh,” possibly “erckle” and “icky.”  We both used these online as well.  Another popular term among us roommies was, “Owie!  Owie!”  Sharon also sometimes said “cry” during a fake argument.

During second semester, it became common for my roommates to steal my seat whenever I got up from the couch.  I often ended up sitting in the armchair instead.

It was comfy, of course, so this wasn’t a problem, though sometimes I’d be in the chair while my roommies acted weird on the couch, joking and making weird noises and such.  I felt a bit left out.  But at least I had fun playing the straight woman.

Just as she did last semester, my old roommie Clarissa often came over to walk to dinner with me.  This, of course, was on nights when I didn’t end up eating mac and cheese or Spaghetti-os in front of the computer, while playing on TCB.  Now that we had our own kitchen and food, I could do this.

Tara and Pearl, having just seen Bugs Bunny’s A Hare Grows in Manhattan, began saying, “It’s a GY-raffe!  a GY-raffe!” instead, of course, of the usual “giraffe.”

My friends now watched Sesame Street every once in a while.  They thought there was nothing weird about this, that they had every right to if they wanted to no matter what their age, and that the show was cute.

Pearl’s sister liked Elmo.  (This was before the “Tickle-Me-Elmo” craze, which was in the fall of 1996.)

We noted that the same little African-American boy with an afro (probably John-John) had been on Sesame Street since we watched in the 70s, yet he was still there.

The show kept playing the same old clips even in the newer shows.  It was good, though, that the little kids wouldn’t miss out on some of the things we saw as kids, but wouldn’t they wonder why the kid’s hair looked so weird?

I never wondered about it as a kid, but that was in the 70s, and lots of people had hair like that.  (Of course, if Sesame Street still plays those clips of the afro boy, today’s kids probably think he looks normal.  Fashion is weird like that.)

Index 
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:

 

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