Friday, May 19, 2017
Reasons why not
Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to have said on the subject: 'If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide', which, as with most of what he said, seems to cut to the heart of things.
When, during my darkest days of researching and writing on violence against women, a period when my mother told me I had lost my sense of humour, I was asked by a counsellor if I had suicidal thoughts. I hesitated for quite a while before replying, through torrential tears, in the negative.
I did want to run away though, which I confessed to the counsellor at the time, even though I had a young family I loved and was loved by (most of the time). I'm glad I stayed -- not sure about them.
That was in my thirties. My teenage tears over frustrated dancing dreams seemed even worse -- as they will. Because at that age you are so new to adult feelings and pressures that you are almost living in a state of perpetual shock at the unexpected bigness of life and your own frustrating powerlessness to make things go the way you want them to and to figure out where you fit in.
Writing about those tears and years as I am now in the second volume of my memoir I am almost amazed and even proud of the funny letters I wrote home from London (which Mum kept) that belie the deep despair and confusion I was feeling at the time, letters that seem to speak to Ghandi's idea that our sense of humour saves us, if anything can, from being fatally cowed by the big bad world and its attempts to destroy and diminish us, real or perceived.
So, it is in this light that we move to consider the big bad present day and its show of the moment Netflix's 13 Reasons Why that tackles teen suicide head on and in much greater detail and depth than has ever been done before on screen.
We (Moose and I) hesitated before spending thirteen hours watching this YA show, but I'm glad we, the parents of three teens at one time and one teen now, finally did. That said, it was too drawn out and not quite believable that a girl like Hannah: smart, an only child from a more or less happy family, and not exactly unpopular, would kill herself at 17 and leave her parents, whom she loved, to find her bloodless body.
Then again, emerging adults are so much in their own traumatic world and with the volume turned up so high that it does seem to shut out all else, so it might be believable from this perspective that is so hard to fathom once you've moved, as I have, so far beyond that world.
But beyond suicide the gender battles are particularly well portrayed, with the rape scene, or scenes, done simply and realistically, rather than sensationally, to make it all too believable that the perpetrator, a classic privileged male narcissist, could do what he did and get away with it - but for the tapes Hannah left, which is the crux of the matter. She gets to explain what happened to her and why she did what she did, with the rape as the culminating cause but not the only reason for her to end her life. For this aspect alone I'd recommend the show, if these scenes do make for rather unsettling viewing.
And I hope the show can be educational and reformative for the young people watching it, as well as for those people -- all of us, really -- responsible for helping our young people begin to find their own way in the world without hurting themselves and or others. Humour would have helped these teens do this better and viewers to watch it as well, but then the outcome would have had to be entirely different.
So in its way, this serious and unflinching portrayal of troubled teen life ending (and starting) in suicide, confirms Gandhi's view on the vital, life-saving importance of humour. And on that note, I will sign off and get back to rewriting my very own teen comic tragedy under the working title: 'A woman of strange substance'.