tv series

TV shows ‘Riverdale’ and ‘13 Reasons Why’ prove that it takes a village to kill a child

Dark themes of murder, abuse and drug addiction course through the shows, both of which are set in American high schools.

Being a teenager is terrifying. Not only is your body and mind going through all sorts of changes, but often, it looks like everyone around you is doing a better job of handling what you are struggling with.

This is a tale as old as time, and one that television has told time and again. The high school show takes different shapes: comedy (Freaks and Geeks being great examples), drama (Friday Night Lights), a delightful blend of the two (Gossip Girl and The OC), even supernatural and paranormal (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries). Newer entrants Riverdale, based on the characters from the classic Archie comics, and Netflix’s sobering 13 Reasons Why are more serious-minded than some of their forebears, falling along the thin line between drama and angst. What unites these otherwise disparate shows about teenage girl gangs and outsiders looking to fit in are the narratives of loss, confusion and the manner in which the community is paradoxically, simultaneously weakened and strengthened.

Both Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why are set in small towns, with the majority of their characters being in high school. Both open with death: in Riverdale, Jason Blossom’s staged death ends up being an actual one, while 13 Reasons Why opens with the suicide of Hannah Baker, who has left behind cassettes telling stories of the 13 people she believes have driven her to take this step. The show opens with the tapes coming to Clay Jensen, number 11 on the list.

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13 Reasons Why.

The deaths of Jason and Hannah leave the characters of their respective shows reeling. In the case of Riverdale, the safe, decent and innocent facade of the small town is blown off spectacularly. The show’s narrator, Jughead Jones, constantly reminds viewers that “things changed forever” with the discovery of Jason’s body. Factions come to light along with old feuds between picture-perfect families. Friends fight and turn their backs on one another, but at the same time, new alliances are formed, with characters like Betty Cooper and Jughead, the good girl next door and the mopey hipster, coming together to solve the various mysteries that suddenly pepper their existence.

13 Reasons Why is more explicit in its denouncement of community as killer. Hannah Baker arrives at a new high school in sophomore year, and her tragedy begins almost immediately. She hangs out with the popular jock, Justin Foley, who slaps on her the reputation of being easy. Interactions and friendships each come to a depressing halt, usually because of one misplaced word or action. Hannah’s tapes make their way through the chain of people, mostly fellow students who have had some impact on her life and decision. In her absence, they bind those same students together, each watching the other to make sure no one spills the truth of Hannah’s life.

13 Reasons Why is based on a bestselling young adult novel of the same name. Its tone couldn’t be more unlike the Archie comics, falling more in line with cult classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It is dark and deals with some of the dark realities of high school – the more sinister side of bullying and its fallout, slut shaming, suicide and finally and perhaps most horrifyingly, rape and sexual assault. Riverdale also attempts to shoehorn these issues into its storyline, but perhaps because of the writing, they come across as preachy extraneous and something done to check things off a list.

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Riverdale.

The examination of the ramifications of sexual and substance abuse in 13 Reasons Why makes it clear that these are not only integral to its characters’ motivations; indeed, other, more adult-oriented shows could take a page out of its book when it comes to similar portrayals.

There’s a popular adage that it takes a village to raise a child. If we are to believe the lessons of Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why, it also takes a village to kill one.

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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.