The following was written and submitted by BU's Dr William Proctor:
To whom it may concern,
We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the way in which journalists, mental health campaigners and psychologists are whipping up a moral panic about the Netflix TV series, 13 Reasons Why. Many UK presses are giving prime space to certain kinds of voices, many of which are scapegoating the series as ‘dangerous,’ ‘harmful’, ‘romanticized’ and ‘sensationalist’. Oddly, many critics accuse Netflix of operating outside of Ofcom’s broadcasting code and the journalist code of ethics, but these are extant guidelines for reporting and broadcasting, not for fictional representations (or, at least, the current guidelines remain vague).
We have witnessed mental health campaigners and psychologists claim to have research on their side, research that ‘unequivocally’ proves that fictional representations can impact a vulnerable young person in such a way that they may be encouraged to take their own life. We can call this the ‘media harm theory’. However, in academic disciplines such as Film, Television, Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, this approach has been deemed too reductive, simplistic and lacking robust methodologies. We believe that this is extremely worrying as we have yet to hear voices from alternative disciplines that could provide balance and due impartiality against the tide of anxieties and personal fears stemming from various communities.
If one turns to the field of psychology and cognate disciplines, the research actually proves nothing of the kind, especially in relation to fictional representations of suicide. In fact, this is contested within the field of psychology itself, with multiple studies finding the opposite to be true: that there is little empirical evidence that demonstrates that fictional representations directly lead to copy-cat behaviour. Readers will no doubt be aware that these kinds of arguments have considerable vintage, going back at least to the 1800s.
13 Reasons Why has opened up a channel of communication about sensitive and difficult topics. We do need to talk about suicide, and mental health more generally, but the grounds on which this is currently unfolding is the most irresponsible and ‘sensationalized’ of all. We plead with journalists, mental health campaigners, practitioners, psychologists and so forth, to cease scapegoating 13 Reasons Why and begin discussing these important issues in a careful and reasonable manner.
Dr. William Proctor (Bournemouth University)
Dr. Richard McCulloch (University of Huddersfield)
Dr. Ann Luce (Bournemouth University)
Dr. Lesley-Anne Dickson (Queen Margaret’s University)
Professor Christopher J. Ferguson (Stetson University)
Professor Martin Barker (Aberystwyth University)
Professor Julian Petley (Brunel University, London)
Dr. Billur Aslan (Royal Holloway University, London)
Dr. Victor Casallo (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú)
Dr. Helena Dare-Edwards (University of East Anglia)
Dr. Vincent Gaine (Independent Scholar)
Dr. Bex Lewis (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Dr. Fabrice Lyczba (Université Dauphine, Paris)
Dr. Aris Mousoutzanis (University of Brighton)
Dr. Tom Watson (Teesside University)
Victoria Grace Walden (University of Sussex)
Jessica Ruth Austin (Anglia Ruskin University)
Anaïs Duong-Pedica (University of York)
Nektaria McWilliams (Oxford Brooks University)
Juan Solari (TV Azteca Mexico, Correspondent to the UK).
Ilios Willimar (The Lisbon Consortium, Portugal)