In the S.E. Apocalypse Krew's song, “Kid Eternity”, we sing, “pull Dad's gun from the drawer/and aim it at my head/they'll sue Ozzy and be happy to have someone to blame”.
Obviously, it's locked into the zeitgeist of its times----the 80s, the Satanic Panic and all that happy horseshit. Even back then, no one was going to mistake us for politically correct. The protagonist of the song practices suicidal ideation and self-mutilation, literally cutting his nose (or ears) off to spite his face....or anyone else that irks him. Yeah, we know....maybe we're coarse, maybe we're insensitive....but that's how we roll. And at the end of the day, hopefully you learn it's okay to laugh at everything. Or at least think long and hard about what you're laughing at.
We knew right from the outset we were on a collision course with certain easily-offended types and we were fine with that. Gimme a knee-jerk, pro-censorship person, I'm probably going to offend them. It always works out that way.....I'm there.
ON THE OTHER HAND, it's always an eye-opener when the pro-censorship knee-jerker goes after artists who DO handle things sensitively!
Care 2 is a Social Networking Website that brings together activists and enables them to create petitions and organize campaigns leaning toward human rights, animal rights, social justice, environmental issues and a variety of worthwhile rallying points. So it was a surprise to see some activists utilize Care2 to advocate censorship.
One phrase that Mike and I have thrown around together since the 80s was “The Hot New Fear”, or “this week's hot fear” or other such variations on the subject.....and the hot new fear is always something that's literally sold like a bottle of mouthwash, and the media will usually jump on it and harp on it, exploiting it with little to no rational discourse or serious examination....it's usually some superficial scapegoat in the arts or entertainment, used to serve as a cultural “band-aid” to a larger problem people regard as too big to address (or too big to fail?).
Obviously, around the time we wrote “Kid Eternity” the Satanic Panic was in full bloom and the big fear was that if your kids listen to Ozzy Osbourne or Judas Priest they're going to commit suicide (and to hell with any deeper examination of issues like home life, mental health, chemical dependency or whatever---you're a terrible person if you even ask such questions!)
There have been lots of other handy fears, though....does your kid play Dungeons and Dragons? It'll turn the introverted little lamb into a babbling, Occult-practicing psychotic! Anybody remember the West Memphis 3? Three kids who were basically railroaded for a child murder due to the fact that they wore black and listened to Metallica----shit----one or two turns of circumstance and I coulda been Damien Echols! Natural Born Killers? Everyone from Bob Dole to John Grisham said it was gonna spawn a generation of homicidal maniacs. Marilyn Manson? Caused Columbine---y'know....if you disregard the fact that those two kids didn't even listen to him....
Today's fresh new fear is apparently this 13-episode Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why”. Since this show will apparently be responsible for all your childrens' deaths, let's bust it out of its virtual box and get a look at it.
I sat down and binge-watched “13 Reasons Why” (I keep wanting to call it “13 Ways to Die”) a few weeks ago pretty much based on the fact that I found the premise interesting. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, “13 Reasons Why” is the story of this high school kid, Hannah Baker, who kills herself and leaves a series of cassette tapes detailing the events that led to her suicide to be distributed among the various parties she considers “responsible”, and as the tapes (and her narrative) unravel, the lives of those around her, the “accused”, unravel. Some (most notably the protagonist) are angry, some are dismayed and others are trying to fight to keep a lid on the whole thing for fear that it will “destroy the school” ( tenuous defense of a construct that makes little sense to anyone standing outside such an asinine bubble world).
Personally, I fucking LOVED this show.....no ifs, ands or buts. I don't think I was ready for how smart it was going to be. On one level, yes, it unflinchingly takes on a lot of the hard issues teens deal with, from harassment to bullying to rape to gossip to stalking to slut-shaming—on other levels, while the show, per se, definitely takes Hannah's “side”, it turns around and shows you that she doesn't necessarily see the whole picture---some of the events don't necessarily follow her side of the story and some of the kids in the story aren't necessarily as bad as she makes them out to be. When there's a scene where she asks Clay, the main protagonist of the story, if he thinks she could ever be as pretty as this one other character, homeboy shits in his wheaties by being like, huh? She walks away and says, “never mind----you just answered the question,” and we the viewers see that it's just one more nail in her coffin....but it's a mistake anyone could make. I could make that mistake. You could make that mistake.
So, yeah---incredibly smart show....not only does it nail everything kids are facing in school from peer pressure to bullying to suicide, to unresponsive authority figures to an entire culture that bolsters and reinforces the pecking order, it shows you the bottom line of suicide---the grief of the parents and friends—the damage left in its wake. The acting is uniformly great, especially from the two young leads----they'll rip your heart out.
Does it have the potential to resonate with young audiences in ways that might make authority figures uncomfortable? Yeah----it does. After I got done it took me several days to get “13 Reasons” and its haunted teens the hell out of my head. But that also begs the question, if authority figures are uncomfortable with that, what does it say about them? Seriously, guys----too scary? Too big an issue to deal with?
Sorry, I know----I'm being a dick about this. But you know what? Having actually lost friends to suicide, I can be a dick about this.
One thing I was unaware of was that “13 Reasons Why” is also a popular, best-selling Young Adult novel that has been revered among young audiences for a decade, now. I'm not very conversant in the topic of contemporary YA Lit, which is strange, I guess, as my first novel qualifies, technically, as “YA”----(and I'm still looking for a publisher----hint, hint!) (It covers many of the same topics----hint! HINT!)(You can read excerpts right here on this blog----HINT!!!! HINT!!!!) (Naw----I'm not self-serving in the least, am I?)-----but it's something I genuinely have not followed. Apparently it's a sufficiently beloved book to where, when the TV adaptation was announced, young fans confronted the producers and told them, in no uncertain terms, “don't fuck this up!” So obviously, much to the chagrin of some knee-jerk types, this material hits very close to home. Between the book and the show, why does this story resonate with kids?
Well, don't believe for a second it's because the story and themes were generated in a vacuum. This shit happens all the time----it was going on when I was a kid way back in the Mesozoic Era, and precious little seems to change. “13 Reasons” doesn't come by its attacks in a one-dimensional manner---the parents in the show are not cutout characters. They genuinely care for and are worried for their kids and frequently find themselves closed off from genuine communication----and there's no dressing that up---that's very often on the kids. But I think that one part of the story that gets under the skin of all the concerned adults (SPOILERS!!!!) is the last “Reason Why”----the well-intentioned-but-ineffectual student counselor whose answer to rape is basically “try to forget about it”.
Does the “culture” of a school cover up and engage in apologetics for its favored students? Betcha I can say “yes” faster than you can choke out the word “Steubenville”....like I said, no one, not the producers of the show nor the author of the book, pulled this concept out of a vacuum. Think these notions of hopeless reaching out to an adult authority figure never happen? Think the authorities are all-knowing sages who can solve all the problems of youth? Then you have to answer to this:
So where were the concerned and able adults when this kid was being knocked unconscious in full view of the security cameras?
Eight years old. EIGHT. Yeah----good job, authorities.
And ultimately that's the problem I have with these reactionary activists....rather than actually reach out and help end the abuses and negligence that helps motivate kids toward despair, they'd prefer this easier “band-aid” route-----because taking on the hallowed pecking order is too hard...and deep down, we all love the blessed, besotted, motherfucking pecking order down to its apple-pie-and-stick-shift-drivin' Jesus core, so let's micromanage and/or ban a TV show, instead.
To quote comedian and political commentator Jimmy Dore, "we're a nation of adult children of alcoholics....we don't get mad at the guy who screwed you over----we get mad at the guy who pointed it out and let you know about the guy screwing you over."
Agreed, Jimmy. Well said.
Go, Hot New Fear, Go! Except you're never that new, are you? It's the same old shit, over and over.
Except that maybe, for a change, things are a little better. Some counselors and psychiatrists have taken a new approach...they've seen the “provocative” potential of “13 Reasons” as the opportunity for a “teaching moment”----parents, watch this with your kids and take this as an entryway to a dialogue. Listen to your kids. Find out what's happening in their lives. If what you're seeing on this show rings true with them, find out why.
SMART. FOR A CHANGE. So, hey, as grumpy as I get about these things----maybe we can evolve past the bad old days of the Satanic Panic.
Be nice if someone made sure the gang at CARE 2 (or at least some of their petitioners) got the memo.