Culture Clips: Is 13 Reasons Why Really Dangerous? Science Says …

13 Reasons Why

Oh, Netflix. How did we manage to fill this blog without thee? Last week, we wrote about your newest controversial show, To the Bone. This week, you’re back in the news again for 13 Reasons Why—and for a rather unfortunate reason.

When 13 Reasons Why was released earlier this spring, many viewers and health experts were concerned with the series’ depiction of suicide. (Focus on the Family offer plenty of resources related to this difficult subject, by the way, some of which can be found here and here.) Some grieving parents even blamed the show for their own children’s suicides. But 13 Reasons had plenty of defenders, too, and the question still lingered: Was the show a verifiable net-bad influence?

Well, science has weighed in, and it says yes: The influence here is more negative than positive. John W. Ayers, a computational epidemiologist at San Diego State University, crunched some numbers, and he found that suicide queries on Google went up nearly 20% in the three weeks after the show was released. And these weren’t, for the most part, folks looking for help in dealing with suicidal thoughts: The biggest uptick was in searches such as “quick suicide” and “painless suicide.”

“If it was truly raising awareness, we’d see a very different outcome,” Ayers told Wired. “Even with the best of intentions, it’s clear this show has real world consequences.”

Courting controversy may be one reason why Netflix has grown into the programming powerhouse that it is. Many of its original programs have become the 21st-century version of must-see TV, with the streaming service collecting 91 Emmy noms this year. And according to the Los Angeles Times, Netflix now boasts 104 million subscribers—up 25% from last year. But the Times also notes that the network has racked up $20.5 billion dollars in debt, and it continues to spend cash like a Bond villain. Success, it seems, comes with a hefty price tag.

The only network to earn more Emmy noms than Netflix was HBO, by the way. But the premium cable powerhouse has its own set of issues. First, hackers apparently stole 1.5 terabytes from it, including a script for Game of Thrones. The network may also need to hold some extra bake sales, considering it’s shelling out record paychecks to Game of Thrones’ biggest stars—$2.5 million per episode to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones’ showrunners have already run into a bit of a buzzsaw with their next project.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss plan on creating a show called Confederate for the network, a drama that speculates what the United States would look like if the Confederacy would’ve succeeded in separating from the Union in the Civil War. But an online protest, anchored by the hashtag #NoConfederate, has roared across Twitter, forcing HBO to respond. “The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see,” it said in a statement.

‘Course, most of America might’ve missed all that, given that they were likely watching Discovery’s wildly popular annual Shark Week. A race between Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and a CGI shark set a ratings record (despite some controversy over the shark not being, y’know, real). But one media professor, Suzannah Evans Comfort of Indiana University, used the week as a reminder of media’s pervasive influence on us.

“Since most of us never experience any [in real life] interaction with sharks, and everything we learn is from Shark Week, the presentation of sharks on Shark Week becomes our ‘reality’ of sharks,” she writes for Fortune magazine. “When sharks are depicted exclusively as violent, that’s how we understand them. This phenomenon is not exclusive to sharks, of course. People who watch lots of violent television feel less safe than those who don’t. The mediated world becomes our real world.”

To back Comfort’s point, there are far more dangerous elements in the media than sharks. Take iPads, for instance. Child development expert Sue Palmer believes that the introduction of these devices as “coincided with further deterioration in the physical and mental health of children of all ages.” Or the fact that some tech aficionados  in Hong Kong are slapping on virtual reality headsets to go on virtual dates. Or that Facebook’s artificial intelligence chatbots suddenly started impromptu conversations with each other in garbled, unintelligible English … at least unintelligible to us. (Cue ominous music.) Oh, and speaking of Facebook, the social networking giant is also pressing the government to not limit facial recognition software.

Still, there is hope out there. Girl Scouts can now earn badges in robotics and coding, for instance, and I’m hopeful that they’ll find a way to stop chatbots from creating their own secret language. And while Millennials may not check out as many books as their grandparents did back in the day, they’ve been instrumental in keeping libraries alive. Meanwhile, lots of kids are actually learning how to bake, thanks to bubbly YouTube Star Rosanna Pansino.

Finally, let’s leave you with the reason why Oscar winner (and Dark Tower star) Matthew McConaughey named his oldest son Levi. The boy was born at 6:22, McConaughey says on Good Morning America. Turns out, Matthew 6:22 just happens to be McConaughey’s favorite Bible verse: “If thy eye be single, thy whole body will be full of light,” he quoted. He remembered that Levi was another name for Matthew, and so the name was set. Kinda cool, I’d say.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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