Major spoilers for 13 Reasons Why season two ahead.
13 Reasons Why is no stranger to inciting moral outrage over its sensitive content. In its first season, the graphic depiction of Hannah Baker’s suicide sparked a wave of backlash. The second season now begins with a full PSA that the show might not be appropriate for certain viewers at risk of being triggered by its “tough, real-world issues.” The darkest issue in season two is sexual assault — after Hannah’s parents sue her high school for negligence, their case focuses on the student who assaulted her — and it reaches perhaps its darkest moment in the final episode, during a rarely seen depiction of a man sexually assaulting another man.
In the season finale, “Bye,” school photographer Tyler Down is brutally raped when three student-athletes attack him in a bathroom, shove his head in a toilet, then sodomize him with a broken mop handle. Tyler is left bleeding from the rear, bruised, and so badly traumatized that he later shows up at his school with the intention of carrying out a mass shooting. The scene has reignited controversy over the show, with some viewers saying they were “disgusted” by the scene and calling for the show to be canceled. The Parents Television Council has also issued an “urgent warning” over the scene.
On Monday, Vulture spoke with 13 Reasons Why creator Brian Yorkey, who defended the scene’s inclusion, claiming that it developed from research on real-life cases of sexual violence against men in high school and that the decision to depict its graphic nature was not done gratuitously. To those offended or triggered by the scene, Yorkey shared this statement:
“We’re committed on this show to telling truthful stories about things that young people go through in as unflinching a way as we can. We fully understand that that means some of the scenes in the show will be difficult to watch. I think Netflix has helped provide viewers with lots of resources for understanding that this may not be the show for everybody, and also resources for people who do watch it and are troubled and need help.
But the fact is that, as intense as that scene is, and as strong as are or reactions to it may be, it doesn’t even come close to the pain experienced by the people who actually go through these things. When we talk about something being “disgusting” or hard to watch, often that means we are attaching shame to the experience. We would rather not be confronted with it. We would rather it stay out of our consciousness. This is why these kinds of assaults are underreported. This is why victims have a hard time seeking help. We believe that talking about it is so much better than silence.”
Yorkey added that the research they found about male-on-male sexual violence suggested an “epidemic,” and that both Netflix and Paramount, which produces 13 Reasons Why, supported the decision to include the scene after extensive discussions. “When we dug into that research, I think we were all astounded to find how many times this happened, this disturbingly similar story of a male high school athlete violating a weaker boy with some sort of instrument like a mop handle or a pool cue,” he said.
Yorkey also noted that the first season depicted graphic scenes of sexual assaults, and he questioned whether those scenes didn’t elicit the same kind of backlash because the victims were women. “The very, very intense scene of Hannah’s suicide seemed to overshadow the fact that Hannah and one other girl were violently raped in season one,” he said. “If there’s a greater sense of backlash about this scene, especially it being hard to watch, ‘disgusting,’ or inappropriate, that goes to the point that we need to be talking about the fact that things like this happen. The fact that this would be somehow more disgusting than what happened to Hannah and Jessica, I’m shocked but not surprised.”