Over-cautious and hyper-woke, Netflix deserves to fail

I was a subscriber to Netflix’s DVD rental service back in the old days, and it was a lovely feeling knowing that, for the first time in my life, I could get a constantly rotating supply of films for relatively little money. When Netflix became a streaming service, it was even more extraordinary: like being a child in the entertainment equivalent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

So why do I take a certain satisfaction in the streaming giant’s decline and possible fall, its plummeting subscriber numbers, plunging stock price and panicking shareholders? Partly it’s the schadenfreude that always attends the tripping up of a commercial outfit that seems too big to fail. But it’s also a sense that Netflix deserves it. Far too often, viewers like me have chosen something that looks fun, only to find it’s an unwatchable dud.

Netflix’s punishment also points to something broader: the narrowing of cultural horizons, and the possibility that audiences are getting fed up with it. Here, the blame lies with wokeness, a doctrine embraced enthusiastically by arts folks from regional theatre directors to Hollywood studio heads.

Perhaps Elon Musk was onto something last week when he argued that Netflix’s woes were caused by its servitude to PC culture. Shows like Designated Survivor have moved from interesting to boringly PC, while the likes of Sex Education, a series about a diverse group of kids learning about sex in a “body positive” way at an idyllic school somewhere in the English countryside, and Bridgerton, with its colour-blind casting and suggestion that Queen Charlotte was black, contain more than a bit of moral didacticism.

But perhaps the biggest problem is that Netflix and other entertainment makers are now avoiding anything interesting or controversial. The reason is obvious: the risk of scandal for anything that could be erroneously branded racist or transphobic is too real and too onerous to take on.

The fear of offending, combined with the woke zealotry of many arts-makers, has bred a moral primness and hyper-cautiousness that has replaced the risk-taking so essential to creativity. Like browsing Netflix, going to the theatre or the cinema has simply become a bit of a bore, and the way back won’t be easy. 

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