Written by Tim Winter | Published October 21, 2021
October 20, 2021
Dear Mr. Sarandos,
Forgive me if I’m unsure whether I’m addressing yesterday’s Ted Sarandos, or the day-before-yesterday’s Ted Sarandos. They hardly sound like the same person.
Two days ago you proclaimed that your program content on-screen does not translate to real-world harm. Such a conclusion flies in the face of not only logic and reason, but decades of science. Honestly, you sounded like a tobacco executive from the 1960s.
But then yesterday you flip-flopped faster than a hooked halibut on the deck of a fishing boat, admitting that the “change that storytelling can generate in the world is what inspires me to come to work every day.” Wow, that’s a 180 for sure, but at least you got it right.
I earnestly, fervently hope the Mr. Sarandos reading this letter is the same one who proclaimed that he “should have led with more humanity.” It is precisely that issue – humanity – that leads me to write this open missive to you today.
Netflix – under your direct leadership – has produced and/or distributed program content that sexualizes and even sexually exploits children for entertainment.
One specific example, Big Mouth, invites your subscribers to be entertained by depictions and descriptions of sexual assault of children. Program content includes the full-frontal sexual nudity of children; dialogue where a child offers to fellate his own father; and a scene where a child is threatened to have an adult’s penis forced into his mouth against his will. Is that really what NFLX stands for as a publicly-traded corporation?
In recent years, you ignored our public pleas to remove 13 Reasons Why from your platform after we proclaimed it to be a potential catalyst for teen suicide. And after the journal JAMA Internal Medicine published data linking the program’s premier to 19% spike in Google searches for “how to kill myself,” you ignored our pleas again. Then you produced your own research by one of the preeminent experts on the impact of entertainment media, Dr. Wartella (et al.) from Northwestern, correlating the positive impact that 13 Reasons had on the audience. In so doing, ostensibly you pleaded guilty to the charge of “our content has an impact on the viewer.”
It was only after the National Institutes of Health confirmed our worst fears, documenting that an 28.9% increase in teen suicides was directly linked to the release of 13 Reasons Why, that you authorized the removal of the graphic suicide scene. Despite the tragic reality that children died, the program remains available on your platform. Where, sir, is your humanity?
Your internal memorandum quoted outlier researchers who proclaim no harm to children from violent media – researchers who have been broadly discredited for their duplicity. And you attempted to reconcile first-person shooter video games with the reduction of overall crime. But how does that reconcile with the real-life first-person shooters who blast away at concert-goers in Las Vegas, theater-goers in Aurora, at school children in Connecticut, Florida, Colorado, Oregon or at Virginia Tech, at shoppers in an Omaha mall, or at other venues that have become too many to number? Where, sir, is your humanity?
Your internal memorandum specifically cited the PTC’s plea about your film 365 days, and the potential for normalizing – even romanticizing – sexual assault; but you dismissed it. Where, sir, is your humanity?
At a time when the arrogance of Big Tech is front and center in our political dialogue, and when there is bipartisan support to reign it in, where, sir, is your humanity?
At a time when whistleblowers are documenting corporate executives’ prioritization of profit over harm to children, where, sir, is your humanity?
The Walt Disney Company understands that the imagery of its once-beloved children’s classics can lead to racial bigotry, intolerance and hatred. Where, sir, is your humanity?
You appear to be more intoxicated with your stock price than you are concerned with the collateral damage you’re inflicting on a generation of children.
If program content has no impact on the viewer, why does China force you to remove so much of it?
If program content has no impact on the viewer, then why do advertisers spend billions of dollars carefully placing their products within screen shots, or within the ad breaks of television programs that mirror their target demographic?
If program content has no impact on the viewer, why do groups that advocate so fiercely for racial, ethnic or gender causes endorse positive imagery in entertainment media, and condemn negative imagery in entertainment media?
If program content has no impact on the viewer, why does producer-after-producer, and director-after-director, beseech the important message they expect their production will levy on the audience?
If program content has no impact on the viewer, how do you explain today’s toxic political climate across the nation, particularly when the public’s source of information and opinion comes almost exclusively via electronic media?
America’s greatest gymnast, Simone Biles, recently quoted Nelson Mandela in her congressional testimony: “[T]here can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
How will you help to influence society’s soul, Mr. Sarandos?
Either the corporation you lead is willing to profit financially by sexually exploiting children, or it eschews the sexual exploitation of children. You can’t have it both ways. Which one is it?
Tim Winter, President