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.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

seraph_unsung 11 months ago
To the people arguing in the comments below: Please find a way to reconcile, for the glory and good name of the cause of Jesus Christ, that outsiders will not have reason to merely conclude that Christians have nothing more uniting them than anyone else.  And if someone wishes to say, "But we have the Holy Spirit," then let us show that.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Thank you, seraph unsung. You speak the wisest words of everyone here in the comments.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Posted by Lionsong
(I'm the "anonymous" user arguing with bobed; can't figure out how to get a username to show up here. Hm.)

I don't have any ill will towards bobed. I have my opinions, he has his. I'm sorry we couldn't work things out, in fact. Guess that's really all there is to it. No need to keep arguing, since it's clear neither of us will change the other's opinion, until the posts get stretched into spaghetti from the length. :)
...for that matter, I *was* trying to reply last night, but the button to respond didn't seem to show up? I'm still working out this posting system, haha.
Inkfeather1 . 10 months ago
When a thread gets too long it stops letting you reply :) And if you find a way to get your name to show up let me know, I stopped using my other account because it switched me to "anonymous" too :(
seraph_unsung 10 months ago
Quick question, do you usually use a username (from an account you created) to log into the commenting system?  Though in fairness I think I initially had trouble with getting my username to actually show up..
Anonymous 10 months ago
I used a username to create my account here, but it only lets me log in with an e-mail address and password. (There are options, apparently, to log in with a Google/Twitter/Facebook account, but I don't have an account on any of those platforms.) How did you get your username to show up? Did you use one of the aforementioned accounts to log in...?

- Lionsong
seraph_unsung 10 months ago
My gratitude.  Thank you very much for your kind words, and may God and you be praised for them.
bobed 11 months ago
It might be nice to have some science behind these allegations, but truthfully, anyone with a drop of common sense can see the truth. 13 Reasons Why is suicide bait that impressionable teenagers will lap up, and eventually, some of them WILL copy it. That is just the truth. It is already beginning to happen. If even one precious life is lost because of this series, the series is already worthless and evil. Never mind if two or three or four lives are lost. God forbid the number rise into the double digits.
Inkfeather1 . 11 months ago
As I said below, take responsibility for your own actions. This is just like those idiots who blame Disney for all the fish that got flushed down toilets after Finding Nemo came out. Anyone with a drop of common sense knows not to do something just because you saw it on TV. A person who commits suicide after watching this show is a person who was going to commit suicide no matter what. 
bobed 11 months ago
This is not fish being flushed down toilets. This is THE LIVES OF CHILDREN. Please stop responding to my posts. I have no time for your strange and callous opinions.
Inkfeather1 . 11 months ago
If you really care about the lives of children, find out why they want to commit suicide and then find a way to stop it. Blaming a TV show is the lazy way out. The problem here is depression, bullying, and a sense of hopelessness. The problem is NOT people being mind controlled by TV shows. You are too busy making arguments from emotion to even bother trying to find out what the real issue is here.
Anonymous 11 months ago
The only one who's being "strange and callous" is you, sir. You refuse to even acknowledge or consider a viewpoint different than your own - a viewpoint that, by the way, is perfectly logical.

The teenagers who are killing themselves, contemplating killing themselves, or fantasizing about it, are the ones who have bought into the current culture of "victimhood." Just be a victim, popular society says, and people will give you all the attention you could possibly want! You poor baby, you poor sweet fragile snowflake you, it's not your fault, you can't help it, it's just the way you're made...! erodes any sense of dignity and replaces it with a sense of "I can't help it; my actions are not my own. Everything else is influencing me to do what I do." Watching a TV show that stems from a (fictional) girl's suicide, that "influences" impressionable teenagers to commit suicide, is NOT the root cause of the problem. As Inkfeather1 said - depression, bullying, a sense of hopelessness...yes, those are major factors. But it's also this disgusting phenomenon in our culture that idolizes being a victim - being "helpless" to control what we do - and romanticizes the idea of being so "delicate" and "fragile" that spur-of-the-moment decisions ("I'm being told that I'm a loser and I have no friends! I'LL KILL MYSELF!") are the high point of one's life. The "tragedy" here isn't a questionable TV show. It's that our culture has gotten to the point where people are no longer taking responsibility for their actions. And THAT is the root of the problem.
Anonymous 11 months ago
...well, that's odd - I meant to reply to bobed, not Inkfeather1. My post showed up in the right place originally... My apologies; hope there wasn't any confusion!
[removed] 11 months ago
This comment has been deleted
bobed 11 months ago
Honestly.... how callous, thoughtless, cold, calculating and horrible a person must you be to think this way about CHILDREN? You are simply a horrible person. Simply just not a decent person whatsoever, not with a single bit of decency in your heart. PI, is there a way to block people? I am not interested in seeing the opinions of people like Anonymous or Inkfeather. How horrible and inhuman. If there is no way to block you, then I would ask that you please stay away from me. I have asked Inkfeather multiple times to stop responding to me and he does not listen, for some reason. I am asking you now for a final time to stop responding to me with this horrible nonsense. This is not Christlike. 

Matthew 18:6: ""If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Anonymous 11 months ago
You're right - I don't have children.

I'm a teenager. Actually, I'm the type of teenager shows like 13 Reasons Why are targeting. (And right now, I'm struggling a bit to *not* respond by calling you names in return. Oh wait - that Bible verse you quoted....)

Telling me I'm "callous, thoughtless, cold, calculating, and horrible" and that I don't have a shred of decency in my heart because I believe people should take responsibility for their own actions is...illogical, to say the least. If you truly believe that, then - honestly - I rather pity you. Evidently you can't accept that others have differing opinions than you, nor are you interested in civilly debating it with others: "Oh, okay, I disagree with what you say, but I can see why you think that way. Thank you for explaining. I can see your point, but I disagree." Is that so difficult?

I stand by my point, sir: people are ultimately responsible for their actions. Such as you, for example. You chose to respond to me by calling me callous and horrible and that I don't have a shred of decency in my heart. I'm fairly certain I didn't activate a mind-control ray to force you to do so - you *chose* to do it. Just as I choose now to wish *you* a good day, and may God soften your heart.
bobed 11 months ago
You say such things as you said above, showing such a callous and careless attitude towards the suicides of mere children, and you dare to tell ME to soften MY heart? Your heart has been darkened by the lie of the enemy. 
Inkfeather1 . 11 months ago
So, one dude "crunches some numbers" and that equals "science says it's bad"? Nope. You need a peer reviewed study (preferably multiple ones) before science says anything. This guy's work provides evidence for a correlation between the show and suicide searches, but it does not prove that the show forced people to make those searches. When are people going to learn to stop blaming things for our own actions? Take some responsibility for once.
seraph_unsung 11 months ago
I'd say your criticism is reasonable.  "Correlation does not necessarily equal causation," and Sean D. Young, in that very Wired article, states as such.  Still, though, other than that, I thought this was a good blog post.
Inkfeather1 . 11 months ago
Oh I'm sure he understands it, I'm just getting tired of media outlets not making the same disclaimer in their articles. And to be fair, it's not just PluggedIn's problem, I've seen it everywhere. Conservative, Liberal, it doesn't matter, if a correlation seems to prove their point they'll conveniently forget to remind you that it doesn't prove a causation, or use misleading language like "science says...". It's dishonest and I kind of expected better from PluggedIn.

And yeah, the rest was good. It's nice to see the Girl Scouts encouraging girls to do more science things, though I hope they don't get rid of the home ec stuff to make room for it. Knowing how to cook and clean are still essential skills for anyone to know.
Julienne Dy 11 months ago
Not to disregard your concerns, but I took a stats and research methods course, and my professors said that correlations are more suggestive of a cause-and-effect relationship if there is a temporal factor involved like if one event follows another event.  That's not to say that the preceding event definitely cause the following event, but it does seem more likely than the other way around.  There could be other unaccounted for factors, but that doesn't necessarily make the results of the number crunching invalid.
Inkfeather1 . 11 months ago
I never said it was invalid because of the correlation. It's less valid (but not necessarily wrong, just suspect) due to the fact that it isn't peer reviewed nor repeated. My point still stands though. Those numbers do not prove that the TV show employs mind control waves that force people to perform certain actions after watching it. They are still in control, and it's on them if they want to find painless solutions rather than get help. 
Anonymous 11 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I heard HBO is working on a TV series for the Watchmen comic book. I wonder how that will turn out.
seraph_unsung 11 months ago
That's a good question since the movie had a divisive but mostly positive reception ( ) .

Also Paul, that bit at the end about Matthew McConaughey was interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Another good question: will it cross over into the DC Extended Universe? The comics are doing a crossover with the DC universe and the Watchmen universe; will the movies follow?
Airship Prodigy 11 months ago
I find it highly unlikely, considering the number of DC tv shows that exist already and aren't crossing over to the movies, but you never can tell. Still, I would put my money on it remaining separate.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Yeah, you're right. It probably won't happen.

On the other hand, DC could make a Crisis on Infinite Earths movie. THAT I would pay big money to see.