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May 11, 2017

Ex-Stream Entertainment

Netflix exploits and distorts serious issues to create binge-worthy shows.

For a large percentage of students, exam procrastination takes the form of Netflix. I love Netflix. But it’s a love-hate relationship. While I appreciate the instant access to a wide variety of easy procrastination, recently released Netflix shows like 13 Reasons Why have capitalized on the addictive nature of the platform. Many times, the company has failed to create substantive shows and has sometimes caused harm by perpetuating negative stereotypes or exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit.

It’s hard to not feel like I’m being exploited when I get sucked into a show. If it’s a show I don’t enjoy, I know that I can always stop watching or pay for a different streaming service and watch other shows. But while that logic may work in theory, it doesn’t always work in reality. When I began watching 13 Reasons Why, I didn’t really like the show, but I found that I had to keep watching. The show follows a high school girl who commits suicide. Just before her death, she leaves 13 tapes for each person who contributed to her decision to kill herself. The show uses tragic events as cliffhangers to keep viewers interested and, in the process, sensationalizes mental illness. While I could go on about how the show mishandles mental illness for the sake of entertainment, plenty of articles have been written on this topic already.

After finishing 13 Reasons Why, I began to notice a persistent trend with Netflix shows benefitting from this same sensationalization. In the show Making a Murderer, the directors overly dramatize Wisconsin native Steven Avery’s complications with the criminal justice system, turning a ruined life into binge-worthy entertainment. Rather than making a documentary that delivers the line of events, the directors exclude certain information, while using other information to turn Steven Avery’s life into a soap opera. Even one of my favorite shows, Narcos, draws out the hunt of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar to continuously lure in viewers, while ultimately neglecting to show any in-depth look into the lives of typical Colombians, who were arguably the most affected by Escobar.

While not as serious of an issue, Netflix continues to take advantage of weak-willed watchers by also producing cheap and uninteresting recreations of old shows. This can especially be seen with the release of Bill Nye Saves the World, where the lovable Bill Nye proves to his viewers just how out of touch he really is as he tries to connect with younger generations. With series such as Fuller House and the recreation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, watching is painful due to the blatant lack of effort put into these shows, since producers know that Netflix’s reputation and customer base will ensure them views. These spin-offs are an abuse of the viewer’s trust in the quality of shows being created.

While capitalizing on binge-watching is generally negative in my opinion, having a show be addictive is not inherently bad. Dear White People is a clear example of this. The producers use cliffhangers and other devices to make the show entertaining and binge-worthy. However, these devices are actually used to present a message on the black experience in white America. By using elements of other Netflix shows that encourage binging, Dear White People is educationally substantive, rather than full of false or harmful messages for the purpose of creating an addictive show.

So when finals season comes around and you need to figure out which show will allow you to distract yourself the best, think carefully and do your research. Not all Netflix binges are created equal. While there are plenty of good shows, there are also numerous problematic ones not worth your procrastination. Or you can just study.

Fred Kardos is a first-year in the College.

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