There is no denying the power of nostalgia. People love to relive their youth and teenagers wistfully romanticize past. From Stranger Things to Guardians of the Galaxy’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1,” we see nostalgia everywhere. In the Netflix original 13 Reasons Why, music, fashion, and even the cars of the past play significant roles, and the cassette tape takes center stage.
Old School is Better
The internet and digital media has its advantages, of course, but has pushed people further away from each other. Information is easily shared through streaming devices and social media but lacks tactile connection, and it seems harder and harder to make meaningful connections with other human beings. We can have thousands of friends on Facebook, but not actually have any close relationships.
Tony Padilla is the resident “old soul” of Crestmont. He embodies nostalgia, styling his hair into a pompadour, is wise and confident, and plays Joy Division tapes in his red 1968 Ford Mustang. He tells our protagonist Clay Jensen that “old media is so much better” when asked about the Joy Division tape and Clay agrees that “everything was better before.”
Hannah and the Cassette Tape
“Old School” media has made a comeback in recent years through vinyl records, and while lagging further behind in popularity, cassette tapes. The idea that Hannah decides to record the story of her life on tape is one that speaks to her need to feel a personal connection. Hannah has no “before.” She is new to Cresmont and her one friend has moved away. Other than her parents, her whole life is ephemeral. All of the other characters have grown up together, and everything WAS better before high school.
Hannah uses the cassette tape recorder exactly for what it was first created for in the 1960s, dictation and portable use. With the cassette recorder, she is able to record all over town and insists that her listeners join her. Hannah also chooses the physicality of the tapes over a digital recording because to her the “interwebs makes everything worse.” After her experience with how information, like incriminating photos, can spread so easily via text message, her point of view is easy to understand.
It was only until the technology got better in the 70s and 80s that cassette tapes were used for listening to music, and behind that came the mixtape. Making that perfect mix of music for your best friend or crush was an art form all its own. And designing the exterior of the tape was a much of a process as picking out the songs.
You can tell that Hannah put a lot of love into those tapes. Probably the last bit of love she had in her. This was her way of connecting with something, anything before she dies. And when each person picks up the tapes, holds them in their hands and listens, they are connecting with her in a way that wasn’t possible while she was alive.