Thursday, October 21, 2021

Forever Netflix

Holman Jenkins makes some interesting points about the Dave Chappelle/Netflix kerfuffle in today's Wall Street Journal. I report them, with minimal commentary.

First point, why is the transgender world up in arms about Chappelle?

Mr. Chappelle is black. This helps. But sadly irrelevant is the fact that his latest Netflix special, while not especially funny, is also not transphobic, the charge leveled by activists. Absurdly, the line some find most incendiary was his statement “gender is a fact.” This doesn’t insult anybody. It only violates an ideological taboo that was invented almost overnight, and that activists now seek to enforce against eight billion human beings who, until yesterday, took gender to be a face-value reality.

Emphasize this point-- violating a newly invented ideological taboo is not the same as insulting someone.

And then, a few words about the economics of the newspaper business. Clearly, as anyone who reads the New York Times can see, reporting the facts has lost out to ideological conformity. No more informing people; thought reform has won:

Once upon a time this would have been fatal to a newspaper that aspired to be a paper of record. But the internet has changed industry economics.

Arguably now the business model shareholders have signed up for is precisely one of catering to reader prejudice. Discomfiting facts might still be reported but no claim is likely to be supported in its pages that contradicts the package of virtue signals the paper sells to readers whose need is to see their idealized selves reflected back at them.

While we like to blame it on the press, the sad reality is that the readers of these newspapers do not want to deal with facts. They most certainly do not want to deal with doubt and uncertainty. They want to see only the facts that affirm their prejudices. It is a sad state indeed.

Of course, Netflix is standing up for Chappelle for the same reason her publisher defended J. K. Rowling. Some people are too important to be jettisoned:

What is often sold in the moment as courage, or “speaking truth to power,” is simply conforming to the self-righteousness of whoever has power. This means: If you’re a Netflix contributor whose “impact value” isn’t in Mr. Chappelle’s league, you can count on being thrown overboard for exactly the reason he wasn’t—if that’s the move that will best enable Netflix leaders to go on making decisions that benefit shareholders.

And then, what are the shows that have made Netflix so powerful? Some are artistically valuable. Others are exploitation porn. Still others are ideologically driven fairy tales. How much of it will soon look like cheap tricks? I’m not sure what Jenkins has against "cheap tricks," but here is his analysis:

But it does highlight an insidious problem already arising in our new “golden age” of television. In the compressed arc that took us from “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” to “Bridgerton” and “Squid Game”—and from early Chappelle to late Chappelle—the danger is the one Nietzsche (to drag him in) pointed to: What once seemed transporting can quickly come to seem a bag of cheap tricks.

Shoveling money at screenwriters and producers, as Netflix and its competitors are doing, is not likely to prove a fix to this problem. The knack that Messrs. Hastings and Sarandos have shown for finding something new and fresh to put in front of viewers is unlikely to prove infinitely self-renewing.

Into the vacuum the conformity police will inevitably enter, even if they’ve experienced a setback in the case of Mr. Chappelle. Maybe this is why Messrs. Hastings and Sarandos have started talking up videogames, merchandising and even sports rights as future refuges for Netflix shareholders.

Here, to my mind, is an important point, one that is rarely noticed.

How much of the Netflix programming represents, not transgender activism, but feminist fairy tales. And, of course, a world where equity, inclusion and diversity reign?

How many times do we see strong, empowered women saving the day? How many times do we see women in charge, with men playing a supporting role, if that? How many times do we see women beat up or beat down men who are twice their size? How many times do we see perfectly diverse workplaces, with minority group members being declared to be the most competent? 

Surely, this emphasis has produced some excellent programs. But, after a time you feel obliged to recognize that, Netflix has fallen prey to ideological conformity, by skewing character and action toward what the woke legions want to see, what their minds can tolerate.


markedup2 said...

Wow. There is much to digest in this one. I love your blog for that.

Apparently, Netflix is already doing some sort of game related programming. Something called Witching, I think.

Back when I watched Netflix, there was a (imho) great show called Sens8. The premise was a bit stupid, but the production was ASTOUNDING. It started woke, but went wildly off the rails. Apparently, the finale was dreadful. My husband swore and cursed and ranted for days, so I never watched it.

The point being: Media companies are vast as is the potential audience. One would think that there would be room for some, um, diversity in product.

Sam L. said...

"And then, a few words about the economics of the newspaper business. Clearly, as anyone who reads the New York Times can see..." I am a proud non-reader of the NYT, and also the WaPoo. I distrust both.
Also, I have not bought into Netflix. Thought about some time back; decided NO.