Literature and art should be moralizing because fictional narratives impact society
Writers should be obligated to write ethical narratives because literature and art can have profound impacts on the actual lives of the people who consume it.
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The popular young adult novel, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, was adapted into a Netflix series of the same title and premiered in March of 2017. It’s a fictional story of a teenage girl who takes her own life after being relentlessly bullied by her high-school classmates and leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes explaining the thirteen reasons why she decided to commit suicide. In the months following the show’s release, teen suicide rates increased, and there were several reported cases of teenagers or young adults attempting to take their own lives in a similar fashion to the protagonist of Thirteen Reasons Why, with some explicitly citing the show as their inspiration. In addition, “Google queries about suicide rose by almost 20 percent in 19 days after the show came out, representing between 900,000 and 1.5 million more searches than usual regarding the subject.” Thirteen Reasons Why was accused of sensationalizing and promoting “simplistic explanations of suicidal behavior,” and constructing a narrative that falsely portrayed the circumstances in which teen suicide often occurs. For example, John Ackerman, a coordinator at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, explained that “when a suicide occurs, it is almost always in the midst of an intense emotional crisis, and it is unrealistic for a teenager in such a state to construct an elaborate series of recordings,” and went on to criticize the “show's portrayal of the common adolescent fantasy ‘you'll be sorry when I'm gone!’ explaining that teens should not be led to believe that something shocking and permanent is the only way to help others understand their pain.” The creators of the show were also criticized for “intentionally portraying the suicide of the main character,” on screen, despite being warned by suicide prevention experts beforehand that doing so could inspire suicidal ideation in certain viewers. “It was a very graphic depiction of the suicide death,” said Jeff Bridge, a suicide researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.” Thirteen Reasons Why is an example of an unethical form of art and literature because it failed to handle a delicate topic in a way that was sensitive and tactful, resulting in real-world negative consequences. The negative consequences are proof that artists should always attempt to create narratives that are moral and ethical.