One of the things I’ve always loved about science fiction is its ability to discuss social and moral issues without seeming heavy-handed about it. Okay, there were some wildly obvious episodes of TOS that ignored this rule (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” springs to mind), but, generally speaking, sci-fi lends itself to abstract storytelling that can still have moral concepts embedded inside.
It’s easy to talk about racism, for example, when there are literally difference species in play. Battlestar Galactica, the modern remake, managed to bring ideas of terrorism quite well, as well as stories about gender, sexuality and religion. The classic movie Blade Runner (and the book it was based on) dealt with humanity and what it means to be human.
But more and more in regular TV — both on networks, cable and streaming services — these various moral ideas have been popping up. The show Person of Interest dealt largely with a surveillance state, a la “Big Brother”, privacy and larger questions of ends justifying the means. Another CBS show, Elementary, actually has similar themes. I’m sure someone could (and has) discussed the moral implications of a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, though since I don’t have Hulu I haven’t watched it; nor have I read the book, though I probably should.
In previous posts (like this or this) I’ve discussed a lot of these issues in terms of science fiction, both TV shows and movies. The recent Captain America MCU films have done an excellent job of bringing in questions of right, wrong, justice, identity, power and all sorts of other things to the forefront.
With all the various outlets addressing moral and social concerns, I’m happy to see Netflix once again leading the way. Whether from the dark, seedy underbelly of politics in House of Cards talking about “a greater good”, or the women of Litchfield prison in Orange Is the New Black dealing with things like prison commodification and #BlackLivesMatter, or even the more personal family drama and murder in Bloodline, quite a few modern TV shows portray moral dilemmas in an entertaining, realistic light.
I’m of the opinion that discussing things is the best way to bring them to light and, perhaps, effect change. The idea that by ignoring something it will go away is naive and dangerous. Which is why I think everyone should watch 13 Reasons Why.
Based on the Jay Asher YA novel of the same name the show delves into the often uncomfortable topics of depression, bullying, rape and suicide. Whether you like the show or not, and there are plenty of people who don’t, it doesn’t shy away from showing the impact these issues have upon people.
What I found most striking about the show is that it actually SHOWS these things, in all their harsh reality. Though a program like Law & Order: SVU has been going strong for almost 20 years, and has led to people better understanding sexual abuse and assault, it very rarely actually focuses the camera on those acts. But 13 Reasons Why made it a point to do so. They are not comfortable topics to discuss, and even less so to watch.
I’ve read that schools are warning parents not to let their kids watch the show, and that Netflix has added even more parental advisory warnings (which were already pretty prevalent) because it somehow glorifies suicide, making it seem like a viable option for people suffering from depression or as victims of abuse. But I would argue the show does the exact opposite. It leaves everyone, from schoolmates to teachers to parents, baffled by Hannah Baker’s suicide, leaving them to deal with the aftermath. As the show rightfully points out, you don’t and can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head. They may seem “perfectly normal”, even “happy” on the outside, yet still be struggling with a myriad of issues. Only after the deaths of Robin Williams and Chris Cornell, for example, has the public come to understand their personal demons (to some extent).
But by opening up a public forum for these things, the show has, hopefully, also made the public more aware of the resources for dealing with them. Things like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or the Trevor Project, or even just talking to friends or family. There are resources available, and it’s okay to ask for help.
These types of strong, ambitious shows are what I’d like to write about in my screenwriting. Life isn’t as cut-and-dried as many would like us to think, or that we want it to be. So I’ll try explaining, to the best of my ability, how to deal with things that may challenge us.