“13 Reasons Why” We Should Be Learning, Living and Sharing John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

When I first heard about Netflix’s controversial new show 13 Reasons Why, the charge that it glorified suicide and encouraged copycat behavior was enough for me not to want to watch it. Then my brother, whose judgment I trust, urged me to watch it because of how insightfully it portrayed the lives of most modern teenagers. After watching the first few episodes, I agree with him: but for some slight exaggerations, it’s the story of the pain I saw everyday in public high school.

If you or someone you love has struggled with suicidal thoughts, please, do not watch this show. But if you find it difficult to understand the ways that modern teenagers act and would like some insight, you might benefit from watching the first few episodes (warning: some scenes are graphic).

13 Reasons Why is primarily the story of Hannah and Clay. Hannah, a former friend of Clay’s, has just committed suicide. But before she died she recorded a series of tapes which explain the thirteen reasons why she took her own life, while also lashing out at the people she blames for her depression. The story follows Clay as he listens to her tapes. This decision to record her story on an old-fashioned tape recorder is key to understanding the show. Hannah wants to distance herself from modern technology which she claims “ruins everything.”

Now, of course, modern technology is a tool and like all tools it can be used for good and evil. However, as Hannah experiences, modern technology makes certain evil acts possible that were never possible before. In a key scene of the first episode Clay’s friend asks if he can play a tape of music, commenting that the old forms of media are “so much better.” Clay grimly replies, “Everything was better before.” This sense of loss pervades the show as the evils made possible by modern technology become evident. Nude pictures, invasion of privacy, internet voyeurism, revenge porn, and online gossip all show their ugly face as the story unfolds.

But none of this answers the question at the heart of the show: why did Hannah kill herself? Though the show spends 13 episodes answering this question, I can sum it all up in two words: sexual confusion. None of the kids in this show know what to do with their sexual desires and none of the parents are able to help. The attempts of the parents and the school administration to prevent more suicides are almost laughably incompetent because they completely miss the real issues.

Sexual desire, when properly ordered, points us toward the fullness of life, toward the Infinite, toward God, our ultimate satisfaction. But when no one explains how to direct our desires properly, we are left to destructive pleasures and the haunting sense of life’s meaninglessness. Hannah’s pain is inextricable from the sexual chaos and darkness in which she’s immersed. As her story unfolds, she gets publicly objectified and “slut-shamed”; is stalked by a sexually confused teenager; gets entangled in the sexual drama of her friends; is passionately kissed by a sexually confused teenage girl while drunk; suffers a variety of lustful looks and touches; and has several sexual and romantic misadventures of her own choosing before eventually being raped. These events gradually tear at her heart over the course of two years until she concludes that life is not worth living.

This story, as dark as it is, is worth telling because it’s the hell that many, many teenagers are immersed in right now. It’s the hell that I saw in my friend’s eyes every day that I went to public school. That hell needs to be exposed. It needs to come into the light. And it needs to be redeemed. For such a time as this, as my father is fond of saying, have we been given Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. “It is an illusion,” said John Paul II, “to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and their close interconnection…  Only a true love is able to protect life.”

In the show, several of Hannah’s abusers passionately claim that they “loved” her. It is clear that they believe what they are saying and are desperately looking for true love. It is equally clear that they have no idea what true love is. In a bold, compelling, liberating way, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teaches us what our sexuality means. It shows us the clear path towards the true satisfaction of our desires for true love and belonging. If we want to prevent suicide, this is what we must learn ourselves and teach young people: “Only a true love is able to protect life.”

Original Article Post:  http://corproject.com/209-13-reasons-why-we-should-be-learning-living-and-sharing-john-paul-iis-theology-of-the-body/
Image:  Netflix