Salvo 11.02.2021 5 minutes

Just Say No

Netflix employees, activists, public figures and supporters gathered outside a Netflix location at 1341 Vine St in Hollywood Wednesday morning in support as members of the Netflix employee resource group Trans*, coworkers and other allies staged a walkout

Netflix and the woke bullies

When comedian Dave Chappelle made jokes about transgenderism in his recent standup special The Closer, the Twitter mob pounced, some Netflix staffers expressed outrage, and a Netflix transgender-employee group organized a walk-out. They demanded (among other things) that Netflix hire trans people for leadership roles and add a disclaimer to The Closer that says it “contains transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech.”

Surprisingly, Netflix executives have stood their ground—mostly. In emails to Netflix staff, co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended Chappelle and The Closer, writing that “distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering… As a leadership team, we do not believe that The Closer is intended to incite hatred or violence against anyone.”

Sarandos then walked his defense back halfway, saying he “screwed up” in his initial response to the backlash and that he should have “recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.” And though he previously argued that their content does not cause real-world harm, he said this was an oversimplification: “To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world…sometimes quite negative.”

Despite apologizing, Sarandos made clear he wasn’t second-guessing his decision to run The Closer and doesn’t plan on removing it. Good for him, and even if we assume the most cynical of intentions (that he was more committed to The Closer’s ratings and the attendant profit than to any high ideal), the outcome is the same: by successfully resisting the authoritarian left, Netflix provides a model for other institutions to do the same. They can see that refusing to concede to the intransigent minority isn’t fatal. Your business and reputation can survive the woke mob. They’re not as powerful as they seem.

Leftist authoritarians gained ascendancy over our institutions because they appeared more dangerous than they were. They continue to be aided in this by a corporate press that does everything to magnify the intolerant minority and erase or simply vilify their opposition. In the case of Chappelle, as reporter Jesse Singal made clear, they went so far as to lie outright in defense of the narrative. But the façade is cracking. The shadow on the wall that looked like a monster is only a mouse.

We’ve seen this scenario before. Donald McNeil Jr., the former science reporter for the New York Times, said something the woke found unforgivable (when asked on a Times student trip if a 12-year-old should be canceled for saying the n-word, he said the offending word when asking about the context in which it was used). As with Chappelle, some Times staffers wrote a letter to management demanding punishment. In McNeil’s case, they got what they wanted: he lost his job, despite having support both within and outside of the organization.

Hopefully this time is different, though it’s hard to predict how the Netflix standoff will play out. Sarandos may cave to the pressure, in which case his initial resistance will be the last breath of fresh air before wokeness swallows the entertainment industry whole. But if he and the leaders of Netflix say no to the mob, that could have ripple effects through the culture.

That’s what’s at stake here: turning the corner on cancel culture. One hopes Netflix stands firm. If they do, they will discover that our present revolution is led by a tiny faction within the American political system whose views are unpopular and whose power is rooted in bullying.

Of course, it hardly needs to be said that Netflix is never going to become a bastion of common sense or conservative thought. Netflix remains the company that gave Barack and Michelle Obama $50 million to “produce” films for them. This is still the company that produces a continual flow of biased propaganda, as with its absurd miniseries about Colin Kaepernick, in which the former football player compares pampered NFL millionaires to slaves on the auction block, and filth like Cuties, a film about little girls bucking their traditionally religious families and learning how to twerk. But if Netflix caves on Chappelle while ignoring its critics on the right, it will be a bad sign indeed.

This small minority of radicals has gained a disproportionate amount of power by means of threats and intimidation. It can be frightening to stand up to them. But if we do, then like all bullies, they will cave.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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