’13 Reasons Why’ and ‘S-Town’ have deeper meanings



Katherine Langford, left, and Alisha Boe play frenemies in the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”.

By Courtney Boyer, Opinions Editor

The last week of March saw the release of two high-profile entertainment series that were compelling because they were different, and also highly personal.

I first feverishly binge-listened to the podcast “S-Town,” which was released in full on March 28.  

“S-Town” changed the podcasting world by successfully releasing all episodes at once of what is an almost novelistic but true story about a deeply troubled man living in Alabama.

Listening to the podcast successfully placed me into that small Alabama town, a sign of a good podcast. But it’s a place I initially felt I should never have been, and a story of a man’s life I should not have encroached on. The immersive experience seemed too personal and deeply unsettling.

“S-Town” follows in Netflix’s format of allowing listeners to consume the entire story at their own speed; however, it wasn’t until watching Netflix’s new show “13 Reasons Why” that I began to have a deeper appreciation for stories on personal and unsettling issues.

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I was attracted to the show because I had read Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, the show’s inspiration, when I was 13 — and shamelessly because star Dylan Minnette had briefly attended my rival middle school in Champaign.

Once I began watching, I couldn’t stop.

For those who don’t know — there might be some spoilers in this column— both “S-Town” and “13 Reasons Why” deal with the difficult subject of suicide.

Suicide is not entertainment. Both “S-Town” and “13 Reasons Why” received criticism for “glorifying” the subject and telling stories that maybe should not have been told.

However, both shows are succeeding. “S-Town” broke podcast records after being downloaded more than 10 million times within the first four days of release. Likewise, “13 Reasons Why” dominated my Twitter feed and even my classroom conversations.

But there’s a deeper meaning behind why these stories have attracted so much attention.

They capture audiences with an abrasive, compelling tone. But that’s not how they leave viewers. Both finales showcase what actually matters in life.

There is something beautiful about making art out of a tragedy, such as the way Brian Reed, the reporter and host behind “S-Town,” so effortlessly did. There is also value in telling the backstory to depression and suicide, which is what “13 Reasons Why” highlights.

These topics should not be swept under the rug, and not talking about them is not going to make them go away.

The two programs make us see their subjects as people, not just as statistics or examples to be made out of.

While unconventional, personal and even at times a little uncomfortable, these forms of “entertainment” remind us to be loving toward the people around us.

So let’s showcase this in our daily lives. College is hard, so take care of your friends. Make sure that a friend going through a hard time is cherished and loved.

Smile at people on the street; it can make a difference in your day and theirs.

Give out random compliments. See your peers as people, not just as the random guy who always sits next to you in Stats 100.  

And always remember to take care of yourself, too: Eat that ice cream and spend time with people who have your best interests at heart.

Finals are coming up and everyone on campus is about to become a lot more stressed. It can be hard to ignore the problems right in front of us, but it will only be worse if we take our frustrations out on the people around us, or even on ourselves.

Most importantly, if you ever do see warning signs in your friends, or even in yourself, please take action and seek help.

Whether or not these two stories “should have been told” is not up to me, but I am sure glad they were.

Thank you “S-Town” and “13 Reasons Why” for giving people a reminder of what matters most in life: those around us.

Courtney is a junior in LAS. 

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