Thirteen Reasons Why Review

As the entire internet has been talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, I found myself curious to watch it, despite my reservations based off the fact that I knew the book existed growing up and never really had an interest in reading it. I had always sort of figured that it would read like a teacher’s lecture about why bullying is bad and suicide is never the answer. And while I still haven’t read the book, so I can’t say if that’s the case for Jay Asher’s work, that is not what I found in the Netflix television show.

The television show discusses in close and sometimes graphic detail issues such as suicide, bullying, rape, depression, and women’s issues, and I have to admit, I really admire the show for the directions that it sometimes chose to take. I should say, right off the bat, that I really enjoyed this show and could not stop watching it – but more on that later. First, I’m going to list off the parts of the show that I really enjoyed, and the reasons why I would recommend it to others.

The show represents bullying in a very mature and realistic way. The kids who bully Hannah (for the most part) are not one-dimensional bullies who are completely irredeemable: they are either incredibly hurt people who are too busy dealing with their own problems to notice the pain they are simultaneously causing, or they are realistically dumb kids who just don’t think that this is something that can hurt someone. And the way that the show represented either end impressed me hugely: I liked that I cared about many of the bullies, but at the same time understood why they deserved the retaliation that they received. They were neither good nor evil people, they were just people. To a certain extent, even the show’s hero, Clay, is depicted as an imperfect person, as Clay contributes to some of the bullying that goes on at school, and it’s hard to say how much of the extent to which he blames the bullies for Hannah’s death is rational. And on the other spectrum, I enjoyed the way in which simple dumb kids were depicted. There are several scenes throughout the show where characters (particularly male characters) give Hannah very back-handed compliments and genuinely don’t understand when she gets offended, and this feels very realistic to me. This is something that people (women in particular) experience all the time is a society run on a limited definition of beauty, and it was nice to see this expressed in a very realistic way and to have it explained why, exactly, this isn’t okay.

And although the show has received some criticism about the fact that, while showing characters with symptoms of depression, mental illness is never explicitly discussed, I didn’t really mind the way it was portrayed. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past (and who has a tendency to go back to depressive thoughts from time to time), I found that the symptoms of depression were clear enough that I knew what they were trying to convey. And, more than that, it really reminded me of how it felt to have depression but to not realize that you do, and to not have your mental illness recognized by people around you – which, admittedly, mostly happened to me when I was a teenager. And the majority of the characters are teenagers. Teenagers who, repeatedly, have their emotions and issues belittled unintentionally by the adults around them, and the show does a very realistic job of portraying this as well.

These facts about the show has earned it a very special place in my heart, and when I was watching it, I found that I could not look away – both because I was so engrossed in what was watching and because, at some points, I just couldn’t look away. It was like stumbling upon a car crash – you just want to keep watching until you find out what the body count is and how gory they died. There are three scenes in particular that I found to be incredibly graphic – two rape scenes and a depiction of suicide. Thus far, I’ve been praising the show for how realistic their depictions have been, but these three scenes are where I wonder if a line needs to be drawn. Upon completing the show, I found myself feeling emotionally drained and very low, and these three scenes in particular are responsible for that. They are just so graphic, so intimate, and as much as I can see the benefit of that, I can also see the harm for a specific audience.

And more on that, the way that the show treated Hannah’s decision to kill herself was sometimes questionable. Clay, the show’s protagonist and the perspective through which we see most things, believes that Hannah was justifiably driven to suicide through the actions of those around her. They let her down, they are responsible – not her. We do see other perspectives from time to time, including a school councilor who assures Clay that Hannah’s suicide wasn’t his fault and a fellow student who claims that everyone deals with pain and that “suicide is for the weak,” but Clay’s perspective is the one that is given the most weight, and it’s a perspective that I don’t agree with. When someone kills themselves, it is natural to feel like you could have done something more to avoid that outcome, but it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. Everyone deals with pain, and everyone deals with it differently. If someone makes the choice to end their life, it is because they are dealing with overwhelming mental illness. And more than that, it is a choice that they made. It is not your fault. And the fact that they keep working under the assumption that Hannah’s suicide was the fault of anyone else but Hannah seems a little bit unfair. Yes, those who bullied and assaulted her should be held accountable, but her choice to take her own life is a separate action.

Despite my problems with the show, however, I have to say that I really loved it in the end. I loved how fleshed out and realistic the characters were, I love that they took on such important issues, and I loved that they were willing to take risks and be dark when they needed to be. I don’t know if I would recommend this show to everyone, just because of how dark and how graphic it is, but if you think that you can handle it, I would definitely say that it’s worth the watch.

Free Speech Used to Disguise Hate

I believe in free speech. I really do; as a writer, I think that it is one of the most fundamental and important things that our society should uphold.

I believe that any society that stifles and controls speech is limited.

I believe that the only way for new and better ways of thinking to be formed is if they have the chance to be talked about and explored freely.

And considering all of that, I have a very hard time when it comes to people who openly and blatantly make harmful comments and claim that it should be protected under the idea of ‘free speech’.

“I’m just saying,” one person recently said on my Facebook feed, “I don’t think transgender people actually exist. I think they’re all just extremely mentally ill and gender confused.” When someone pointed out to them that their opinion was a hateful one, that same person replied with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!”

But what about the transgender teenager on your Facebook feed that saw that comment? And sure, you can say that you don’t have any transgender teenagers on your Facebook feed, but how do you know that? How do you know that your niece, nephew, cousin, child to a long-lost friend, whoever it might be didn’t stumble upon that status and feel a sudden sinking feeling in their gut, paired soon afterward with a sense of self-loathing? How do you know that your status won’t come to mind later on in their life, when they’re thinking about the fact that there are people who don’t believe that they exist? When they start to wonder if they do exist? How do you know that your comment won’t someday contribute to the reason why they never express themselves for who they are, or the reason why they develop a life-altering, perhaps crippling depression? How do you know that your opinion isn’t the reason why someone someday kills themselves?

And I know, this is a difficult field to enter into altogether. On the one hand, people can’t live their lives constantly monitoring everything they say to ensure that it isn’t offensive, and even the best of us slip up now and then. And we do happen to live in a society where people can internalize harmful ideas, so it isn’t unheard of for good people to believe in bad things. But that isn’t the issue that I have here. The issue that I have is the use of free speech as an attempt to excuse hate.

Think about if someone were to make a harmful comment that wasn’t targeting a specific group of people, but rather one person in particular. Imagine someone walked right up to another person and said, “you’re a stupid, worthless waste of human life.” How would you react? Well, hopefully, you’d point out that that’s a cruel thing to say, and if the bully in this scenario responded with, “I’m entitled to my opinions, you can’t shame me for them!” you’d roll your eyes just a little bit, wouldn’t you? Because, yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can be harmful and that they do have consequences.

The same thing applies to beliefs that are harmful towards specific groups of people. You can hold onto ideas that are transphobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever, but at the end of the day, you should understand that these are people who deserve rights and respect. They shouldn’t be invalidated, they have just as much of a right to take up space and be themselves as you do, and if you do make an active attempt to undermine their existence, then you should expect a response, just like you should expect a response if you actively walked up to someone and insulted them. In a society where free speech is allowed, you are free to hate as much as you want, but you should also expect to have it pointed out to you that what you are saying is hate, and you should respect their perspective just as much as you want your own to be.

Bi Erasure in Disney’s Live Action Mulan

Growing up, I watched the 1998 Disney classic Mulan a lot. Mostly because it was my sister’s favourite Disney movie, but over time, I began to gain appreciation for it as well. The animation is truly stunning, the songs are incredibly fun, the subject matter is impressively brave, and come on guys, for a cartoon character, Li Shang is pretty hot.

So when I heard that Disney was going to make a live action adaption of Mulan, I was really excited. I felt that the Chinese setting would lend itself to some truly stunning visuals and Disney always takes advantage of that, and the story is a very important one that should be told again. Along the way, a few things sprung up to try and deter my excitement: there was speculation that the film would be whitewashed, but I had faith in Disney to prove that speculation wrong, and fortunately enough, they did. There was the announcement that the amazing songs, the songs that I grew up with and loved, would not be in the film, but you know what, I understood that choice. It was a different adaption, and it does need to be taken in a different direction to be a successful film.

But the third time’s the charm, because it only just now came to my attention that Li Shang will not be included in the live action adaption. Instead, he will be replaced by another character named Chen Honghui.

Now why would this bother me so much? After all, from everything we can tell so far, Chen Honghui will play a very similar role to Shang, being Mulan’s love interest, and it’s not really like Shang was all that integral to the plot of the original that he absolutely needs to be repeated. And, yes, I have fond memories of singing along to I’ll Make a Man Out of You and realizing that Shang is actually kind of hot, but since there’s not going to be any songs in the film, I already know that that experience won’t be repeated anyway. So why get upset? Why does it matter?

Well, it matters because of the speculated reason that Disney has for replacing Shang.

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: Disney has not officially released an explanation for replacing Shang, but there has been speculation, and from where I am, it does look bad. Because, you see, since the original movie’s release in 1998, Shang has somewhat gained a reputation (especially amongst the LGBT+ crowd) for being Disney’s first bisexual character, mostly because he may or may not have started developing feelings for Mulan when he thought she was a man. Whether or not Shang is intended to be interpreted as bisexual by the writers is difficult to say, as no actual statement has been made by Disney at any point, but does that really matter? So long as the audience keeps believing that it’s true, and there is evidence in the film to support it, then for all intents and purposes, Shang is Disney’s first bisexual character. Which is awesome.

And I know what you’re thinking: that’s an awfully big leap to make, implying that Shang is being replaced because he was interpreted as bisexual. There could have been a million reasons for the choice, because his character was much more than just a speculated sexual orientation. Except Disney has said very little about this Chen Honghui fellow besides the fact that he will serve as Mulan’s adversary up until the point where he realizes that she’s a woman.

Okay, first off, correct me if I’m wrong (I don’t understand you weird people attracted to a single gender), but isn’t disliking someone up until you realize you can fuck them kind of skeezy? And secondly, that makes the replacement of Shang look really bad. Because as far as we know at this point, Chen Honghui will be the exact same character as Shang, with two alterations: his name (unimportant) and the question of whether or not he developed feelings for Mulan when he thought that she was a man (hugely important). It takes away the possible interpretation that Shang could be bisexual. It reassures the biphobic audience that, don’t worry, there’s no gay stuff going on here. Just heterosexual dude-bros doing their heterosexual dude-bro thing right up until, oh look, a woman! Better drop all that aggressive testosterone and turn it into lady-pleasing testosterone.

And as I have implied earlier in this article, I want to have the most faith in Disney possible. Their most recent film, the live action adaption of Beauty and the Beast, featured their first openly gay character, and I was all gung-ho about supporting them for it. But Shang is a bigger and more important character than Lefou. It is more significant for little boys growing up bisexual to watch a film where there is a man who is represented as masculine and desirable, and yet he is still bisexual, and that doesn’t take away from his ability to find love and help save China. Lefou was a tiny step forward for Disney, but replacing Shang with a character who we are assured is 100%, totally heterosexual is a giant leap back.

And maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. At this point, production for the live action adaption of Mulan is still in its early stages, and most of what I’m going off of here is speculation. But let’s just hope that Disney proves me wrong and gives me a film with both a badass female warrior and her openly bisexual boyfriend.

Psycho 2 Review

Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho is a horror classic. It features images that have become ingrained in popular culture, such as the famous shower scene, the image of the corpse sitting on its chair in the fruit cellar, and Norman Bates’s evil smile to close off the film. It offers many brilliant performances, many subtle notes, and many reasons to come back to the film again and again. Really, it’s a story that doesn’t need to be continued – a story that you almost don’t want to see continued, because the narrative gaps that are left into the film are all ones that you enjoy filling in for yourself. And yet they made a sequel. Yay?

So, yeah, let’s get that out of the way first: this is a sequel that doesn’t really need to exist. The first Psycho was complete unto itself, no one was really clamouring to see how Norman Bates’s story continued, and although the book that Psycho is based on does have a sequel, this film is not based on it. And considering the fact that the first film was a classic, there’s absolutely no chance whatsoever that this film can compare. But that being said, a lot of horror sequels aren’t really necessary, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed for what they are.

And there are quite a few things that this film has working in its favour. Anthony Perkins returns to play Norman Bates, and his performance was a highlight of the first film. He was the awkwardly charismatic man with a secret, someone who you knew wasn’t quite right but you weren’t quite sure how not right until the movie’s end. Well, in this film, all pretense is dropped and we know how not right Norman Bates is. Sort of. I mean, we know the crimes that he is responsible for in the past, but interestingly enough, the film’s conflict comes from the fact that Norman Bates has been released into the public, considered legally sane, and yet murders have begun springing up again, and Norman has begun receiving messages from his mother again. Is he losing his mind again, or is someone working against him?

On the one hand, I like this conflict. I feel like, at some point, it was the makings for a very strong script. I like the idea of humanizing a person who is extremely mentally ill and responsible for terrible crimes. But, at the same time, there is a fine line between humanizing someone and ignoring the fact that they are a serial murderer, and this film crosses that line sometimes. There are multiple points throughout the film where other characters are accused of being “just as crazy as Norman,” and unless they’ve also hacked up women in the shower because they dared to be attractive, I’m going to say that isn’t true. There are simply too many times in this film where it feels like the writers forget the things that Norman is responsible for, and more than that, they forget just how mentally ill he was. They forget about the internalized misogyny that made him want to punish women he found attractive. They forget that his alter-ego “Mother” was not solely responsible for the things he did, and that getting rid of that alter-ego would not completely cure him and make him an average, neurotypical man. And, yes, I know that time has passed since the first film and that Norman has been in mental institutions ever since, but a) the first film established that Norman had been in psychiatric care before and it hadn’t cured him completely, and b) I can only buy that Norman has changed a certain amount, and being replaced with an entirely different character is not enough.

And, not to mention, there are a lot of plots in this film, to a point where I felt somewhat confused about what was going on. Without spoiling anything, there are multiple villains throughout the film and not all of them are working with one another. Norman just seems to attract crazy. A subplot is introduced regarding the possibility that Norman may or may not have adopted, and I’m not really sure what this subplot adds to the universe of the Psycho films. It just feels really ridiculous and unnecessary.

But that being said, I went into a film called Psycho 2. I was prepared for ridiculous and unnecessary, and that is exactly what I received in abundance. I do not feel let down by the film that I saw, not in the least, and as much as I’m aware that it was a bad film, it still held my interest all the way through. I got the impression that the writer behind this film watched the first Psycho and thought: “This is good, but what if it was more sympathetic toward Norman, and what if the women were all the villains instead?” and that choice was simply so befuddling to me that I wanted to keep watching. And by the time the film ended, I felt like I had thoroughly enjoyed myself.

So the way I see it, when you come across a film called Psycho 2, you know what you’re getting into. You know that it’s probably going to be a little over-the-top, a little ridiculous, and considering it was a sequel to a horror film made in the 1980’s, a little gory. And as long as you expect that, rather than the brilliance of the first film, you will not be disappointed. You might even have a lot of fun with it.

Why I Don’t Drink: Having Fun and Personal Choice

Typically, the fact that I don’t drink doesn’t intercept much on my life. I just go about my day, same as anyone, only difference being that I do it completely sober. Pretty much the only time that I start to feel awkward about not drinking is when there’s something to celebrate, and as I and most of my peers are winding down the school year and preparing to graduate now, I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to going over the same exchange lately.

Person: “Aren’t you getting a drink?”

Me: “No, I’ll just have a water.”

Person: (Looks at me like I suddenly sprouted a new head)

Me: “I don’t drink.”

Person: “Ahhhhhh.”

Sometimes they’ll leave it at that and move on. Sometimes I’ll get the typical “you’re already high on life” comment, and I’ll laugh and agree with that. And then sometimes there will be this lingering awkwardness that follows, and I’ll feel the need to explain myself.

Me: “I just don’t find it fun.”

And that’s true. Every time that I’ve taken a drink in the past, it was only because the people around me were drinking and I felt expected to join in, or that it would be rude to turn it down. After all, alcohol was just supposed to be fun, right? They were just trying to have fun, and I felt like saying no to alcohol was taking this abstract concept called ‘fun’, tearing it down, ripping it up, and stomping on it for all to see. If I didn’t drink, then I was a prude, or stuck-up, or a buzz kill, something along those lines, and nobody wants to be that. So I’d drink this beverage that I never really acquired a taste for (I’m the sort of person who would prefer my alcohol to taste as little of alcohol as possible, please and thank you), and I’d get drunk very quickly because I’m a lightweight, and then I’d very quickly come to regret it. I hated the feeling of being drunk, because I hated having no control over my actions like that, and I hated the feeling of waking up the next morning wondering why the fuck I said that, why the fuck I did that, how do people actually enjoy doing this regularly?

And I know, I know, the solution to that problem is simply to not get so drunk that you have no control. Moderate your drinking, make sure that you’re just reaching a place where you’re goofy and having fun and then take it no further. And all of that would be well and good if I simply had the interest, but I don’t. Like I said, I don’t like alcoholic beverages, and the amount of fun that I get out of being tipsy is not worth the price of the sort of drink that I actually would like.

But more important than any of that, deciding not to drink was a symbol for me. It was a mark that I was going to change my life and become a new person. And, yeah, that sounds dramatic, and I know what you’re thinking: nothing that I’ve said up to this point has at all indicated that I had a drinking problem, so how could that decision have been so life-altering? Well, here’s the thing: no, I didn’t have a drinking problem, but I did have a problem with doing things because other people expected me to. If I was in a group of people and they were all going to have a drink, then I was going to have a drink, not because I wanted to (because, really, I didn’t), but because I felt like they expected me to. And that issue permeated more than just drinking for me; I made my decisions based off of what other people wanted me to do, I was fully prepared to hand over complete control of my life to another person, and there came a point where I simply decided that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted control of my life, I wanted to make decisions because that was what I wanted to do. And when I came to that conclusion, I figured that I would start with one small symbol, one tiny, insignificant thing to prove to myself that I was making a change in my life: I would only ever drink when I wanted to drink. And, as it turns out, I don’t want to drink all that often.

And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I feel the weight of this societal expectation to drink. You see it in movies, in music, in media in general: this association between alcohol and good times. People who drink alcohol have fun, and sometimes I feel like I can’t have as much fun as other people because I’m not getting drunk all the time. Except I know that I’ve tried it before, and in my experience, alcohol never led up to lounging in a hot tub surrounded by attractive people. Typically, it led up to me crying about how I’m single, throwing up all over the place, and then waking up with a hangover. And not to mention, in the case of far too many of my friends, alcohol led up to a dependancy that completely altered the course of their lives and that some of them are still living with.

And of course, I’m not trying to say that anyone who drinks is wrong or stupid or even dependant; I’m not that dismissive of other perspectives. I would never tell someone that they shouldn’t drink, and if I’m out with a group of friends, I am totally happy sipping on my lemon water while commenting on how pretty their cocktails are or giving them pointers on how to properly pour from a pitcher of beer. All that I’m saying is that society gives us this image of alcohol as being a vehicle to good times, but that is only one perspective. There are millions of perspectives, each of them just as valid, and from my perspective, alcohol just isn’t important enough for me to make myself uncomfortable for the sake of other people.