Another Netflix controversy

Last year, Netflix’s show 13 Reasons Why caused public anxiety about the risk of a suicide contagion among teenagers – particularly in those who are vulnerable to bullying and stereotypes. The show portrays the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide who documents the reasons for it in a series of audiotapes. Psychotherapists, professors, and social workers expressed their concern about the show for apparently praising suicide and increasing risk among teenagers. Others, such as Marco Scalvini from the LSE, disagree with this criticism of the show and called for a more open discussion about suicide on TV in order to provide better solutions and understandings.

Netflix seems to be aware of the criticism of 13 Reasons Why, especially of  the scene in which the teenager kills herself. In the more recent You, Netflix focuses less on the details of the murder and certainly shows less blood. However, it is clear that the show relies on crime to attract its audience as the protagonist kills virtually everyone in his girlfriend’s life. You’s protagonist, Joe Goldberg, is a bookstore manager who crosses paths with an aspiring female writer, Guinevere Beck, and develops an obsession with killing everyone in her life. His crimes are never declared until the last scene in which Beck finds out about the murders.

Throughout the series, Goldberg uses social media and his iCloud account to track all of his girlfriend’s movements. He never gets caught, his coolness masking his deep insecurity and fear of being discovered. Joe’s only way of expressing love is through extreme control. All of these behaviours and aspects of Joe’s personality touch upon a serious matter – that of online domestic abuse.

Online domestic abuse surveys by Women Aid Organization in the UK reveal that for 85% of respondents the online abuse they receive is from a partner or ex-partner. They say it is part of a pattern of abuse they also experience offline. Nearly a third of respondents (29%) report the use of spyware or GPS locators on their phone or computers by a partner or ex-partner. For 50% of the respondents the online abuse they experienced also involved direct threats to them or someone they knew. Nearly a third of those respondents who had received threats stated that where threats had been made online, they were carried out.

It is clear that while Netflix can learn from its mistakes and reduce scenes of blood and crime, its content is still problematic especially when put into broader social contexts.


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