Suicide in art: what Goethe can tell us about Netflix series 13 Reasons Why

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Suicide in art: what Goethe can tell us about Netflix series 13 Reasons Why
Alexander Fehling in the role of Goethe in a 2009 film. Photo: DPA
A number of tragic deaths linked to a German novel sparked discussion about the effects of depicting suicide in the media. 250 years later, the topic is more relevant than ever.

‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ could be considered the world’s first best-seller, and its author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is the most celebrated German author in history.

Goethe is on par with Shakespeare for the quality and number of poems and texts he produced in his lifetime, but it was this novel, published in 1774, that catapulted him to international fame at the tender age of 24.

Goethe’s novel is loosely autobiographical, written in the form of letters penned by the doomed romantic hero, Werther.

It delves into the psyche of the sensitive and troubled young man as he falls in love and soon becomes obsessed with a woman who can never be his.

Werther descends into despair at the world, his mental state becoming increasingly self-centred and toxic before he eventually shoots himself with a pistol borrowed from the woman’s fiance.

The novel soon gained a cult following as the intense emotions of the protagonist struck a chord with young men and women across Europe.

Young men began to dress like him in blue suits with yellow vests and women even wore a perfume called ‘Eau de Werther’.

But the fanatical behaviour had a darker side and was linked to an increase in suicide rates in several European countries, according to a report commissioned by Mindframe.

A number of these suicides were undoubtedly influenced by the novel. One such case was the death of a young courtier named Christiane von Lassberg who was found dead with a copy of ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ in her pocket, after throwing herself into the river Ilm.

In response, the book and Werther’s signature clothing style were soon banned in Leipzig, Italy and Copenhagen and widespread debate about the possible effects of depicting suicide in the media was sparked.

But it was not until 1974, exactly 200 years after the novel was published, that the term the ‘Werther Effect’ emerged.

It was coined by sociologist David P. Phillips to mean a copycat suicide influenced by a real or fictional suicide presented in the media, also known as suicide contagion.

According to a report conducted by the Mindframe National Media initiative, “until the 1960s, debate about the Werther effect was based on anecdotal reports and impressions”, but since then there have been a huge number of scientific studies into the topic, many of which have found evidence linking depictions of suicide in the media with suicidal actions.

One such study was carried out in Germany in 1988 which centered around a television series which depicted the suicide of a male student.

The series had been broadcast twice – once in 1981 and again in 1982 – and the results showed that “after each series there was a significant increase in German suicides involving the same method as that used by the student in the series.”

What’s more the group most affected were of the same sex and roughly the same age as the character.

This effect is not limited to fictional suicides. Another study was carried out in Baden-Württemberg between 1968 and 1980 which showed a correlation between the publication of stories on prominent suicides in major newspapers and an increase in suicides in the following days.

The Werther Effect was cause for concern last year after the release of the hugely popular Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’, known in Germany as ‘Tote Mädchen lügen nicht’, or ‘dead girls don’t lie’.

Based on a book of the same name, ‘13 Reasons Why’ tells the story of a high school girl, Hannah, who commits suicide but leaves behind 13 tapes accusing a number of people in her life of “causing” her suicide.

Several mental health organizations, including the Jed Foundation and Everymind, voiced concerns about the series for a number of reasons.

These included its potential for heroicizing Hannah’s suicide as a catalyst for social change, the fact that it places the blame on specific events and people, rather than mental health issues and its graphic depiction of suicide.

Despite these concerns, the show gained a great deal of popularity, becoming the most tweeted about series of 2017, and production is well underway for a second season which is likely to air in just a few months.

The creators of 13 Reasons Why released a statement in response to the criticism of the series saying, “We have heard from many viewers that 13 Reasons Why has opened up a dialogue among parents, teens, schools and mental health advocates around the difficult topics depicted in the show.”

It is certainly true that suicide should not be made a taboo subject in the media. Suicide is a worldwide issue and according to Destatis there are around 10,000 suicides per year in Germany alone.

In an article on LinkedIn, Jaela Skehan, a director of the mental health organization Everymind, advocates for constructive and realistic stories on the topic of suicide and urges media outlets and writers to be mindful of how they approach the discussion in the future.

Suicide is preventable. If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or has been affected by the issues raised please contact Deutsche DepressionshilfeSamaritans, or Mind. Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.


Source :  The Local Germany

German and French spy chiefs plead for post-Brexit security cooperation

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German and French spy chiefs plead for post-Brexit security cooperation
File photo of Bruno Kahl, head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service. Photo: AFP
The heads of key British, French and German spy agencies warned on Friday that intelligence sharing and cooperation must continue even after Britain quits the European Union.
The rare joint statement came as top government officials and experts gathered at the Munich Security Conference in Germany for the annual review of threats facing Western democracies.
“Even after the UK’s exit from the EU, close cooperation and cross-border information sharing must be taken forward on themes such as international terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyberattacks,” according to the text.
The meeting was held by Bruno Kahl, head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service; Bernard Emie, chief of the French security agency DGSE; and Alex Younger, head of Britain’s MI6.
“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable,” they wrote.
Their meeting, held on the sidelines of the Munich conference, echoed calls by other officials for joint European efforts on cyber attacks and other risks facing the EU.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, said she would urge continued cooperation with the bloc when she addresses the Munich conference on Saturday.
“I will reiterate that the UK remains unconditionally committed to European security and set up my vision for a unique partnership between the EU and the UK on defence, information sharing, security and law enforcement,” she said.
According to an advance copy of her planned speech, she will acknowledge that no deal currently exists between the EU and a third country “that captures the full depth and breadth of our existing relationship”.
But she will warn: “This cannot be a time when any of us allow competition between partners, rigid institutional restrictions or deep-seated ideology to inhibit our cooperation and jeopardise the security of our citizens.”
Source :  The Local Germany

Merkel’s fate in SPD hands as members vote on power pact

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Merkel's fate in SPD hands as members vote on power pact
Photo: DPA
Germany’s Social Democrats start campaigning on Saturday ahead of a party referendum that spells the last threat to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hopes of forming a new government, five months after inconclusive elections.
In a vote expected to be tight, the more than 460,000 members of the deeply divided centre-left SPD will cast their ballots on a plan to enter a new coalition as junior partners to Merkel’s conservatives.
The vote, which starts on Tuesday, comes as the 153-year-old labour party’s ratings are in freefall, with latest polls giving it just 16 percent support — only one point ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
If the SPD rank-and-file give the thumbs up in the results to be announced on March 4th, veteran leader Merkel will likely launch her fourth-term government by late March. If they vote no, Germans will probably head back to the polls for snap
elections, prolonging the political limbo in Europe’s biggest economy and threatening the end of Merkel’s 12-year reign.
A tense SPD leadership hopes that the restive party troops will back their plans for a new “grand coalition”, dubbed “GroKo”, despite deep-seated fears the party will suffer further in the shadow of Merkel.
Polls now suggest two-thirds of SPD voters support another right-left alliance, but the mood of active party members is hard to gauge.
Both camps are set to criss-cross the country from Saturday, when the SPD’s designated next leader Andrea Nahles and caretaker chief Olaf Scholz will speak in the northern city of Hamburg.
Few dare make any predictions about the ballot given the volatile mood in the party, which scored a historic low of 20.5 percent in the September elections and has been ruptured by harsh infighting.
The party’s youth and left wings are driving a concerted #NoGroKo campaign, backed by some regional chapters. They argue that the party must recover and rebuild in opposition — which would force Merkel to opt for a minority government or face new elections — rather than betray its cherished ideals in another grab for power.
“If we’re scared of new elections, we may as well close up shop,” argues youth wing leader Kevin Kuehnert, 28.
The SPD’s credibility and electoral fortunes have been badly bruised by a series of U-turns, which on Tuesday saw election loser Martin Schulz glumly resign as leader after less than a year in the post.
Schulz, the third candidate in a row defeated by Merkel, had declared minutes after the election debacle that he would take the party into opposition to rebuild its combative spirit. However, he later reversed that decision when Merkel’s initial attempts to form a separate alliance with two smaller parties failed.
In arduous negotiations, Schulz’s team managed to wrest some policy pledges, and the foreign, finance and other crucial cabinet posts, from Merkel’s conservatives. However, his subsequent grab for the post of top diplomat, after he had earlier ruled out personally serving in a Merkel cabinet, was seen as one broken promise too many and sparked a party outcry.
 ‘Heal wounds’
Schulz said he hoped that “time will heal the wounds” as he stepped down, and announced that Nahles would soon take over.
As the party tries to recover from the damaging turmoil, Kuehnert is pushing on with a passionate campaign to torpedo the GroKo deal. His Jusos (Young Socialists) organisation has controversially urged voters to join the party with the sole purpose of preventing another Merkel power pact, arguing that any common ground the two big parties once had has been used up.
The ballot-box pain of Germany’s two mainstream parties was in large part a result of the rise of the anti-Islam AfD. Railing against a mass influx of refugees that peaked in 2015 under the previous GroKo, the populists won almost 13 percent of the vote with their Germany-first rhetoric and angry demand that “Merkel must go”.
If the SPD referendum fails, both major parties fear the likely result will be fresh elections and a further boost for the AfD.
By AFP’s Frank Zeller and Yannick Pasquet
Source :  The Local Germany