If you’ve heard of the “Bird Box Challenge,” where people blindfold themselves (and sometimes their children) doing different and sometimes dangerous activities in order to mimic characters in Netflix’s “Bird Box” film, perhaps you also heard that Netflix took to Twitter to warn against taking this challenge.
As the online streaming service put it: “Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes.”
What this ultimately means is that Netflix finally acknowledged that its programs can and do influence viewers.
That’s a far cry from its response to parental concern about its creation and distribution of the teen-targeted suicide drama, “13 Reasons Why.”
According to Deadline, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, “ 13 Reasons Why has been enormously popular and successful. It’s engaging content. It is controversial. But nobody has to watch it.”
It’s easy to see how callous that comment is in light of the content found in the first season of “13 Reasons Why.” The program was not only cloaked in explicit sexual violence, profanity, and substance abuse, but it also romanticized teen suicide and included what is likely the most graphic suicide scene ever produced for video or film — that of the lead teenage female character slitting her wrists.
Academic research demonstrated a 26 percent increase in the Google search term for “How to Kill Myself” following the Season 1 release.
Season 2 wasn’t any better. Among the volumes of dark, explicit content is a teenage boy graphically being sodomized with a mop. This boy then seeks revenge by planning a school shooting.
Netflix’s own academic research about the show has proven that their content has an impact on viewers, and the company has received plenty of public criticism and warnings about “13 Reasons Why.” Suicide prevention experts and other members of the medical community have spoken publicly about their concerns over the potentially harmful impact of the show on children.
Schools all over the U.S. have warned parents about the series. Pro-family organizations and advocates, including the Parents Television Council, have called on Netflix to remove the program and have heard from tens of thousands of concerned citizens through online petitions against the show.
Even commentators in the media, both internationally and in the U.S., have opined that the series presents suicide in a dangerous, glamorous manner.
New academic research published in Psychiatric Services even found that suicidal teenagers claimed “13 Reasons Why” raised their risk of taking their own lives.
And worst of all, there have been news reports and stories about children who took their own lives after binge-watching the first season.
It’s absolutely disgraceful that Netflix continues to market this toxic program to children.
But Netflix’s warning about the “Bird Box Challenge” proves the company’s blatant double-standard regarding the potential harm that its programming can have on viewers. How can Netflix continue to allow a show like “13 Reasons Why,” with the potential for real harm, to remain, while simultaneously warning about the effects of another?
As the competition for families and consumers continues to heat up with the anticipated Disney+ streaming service arrival, Netflix has some real soul-searching to do in order to win back the trust of families. Even though Netflix is a streaming giant, it is still a publicly traded corporation that is knowingly marketing products to children that it knows are harmful. It must take responsibility for its products. And Netflix shareholders must hold it to account.
Families have been rightfully concerned about “13 Reasons Why” and other Netflix programs that target minors such as the cartoon “Big Mouth,” which grotesquely sexualizes children; “Desire,” a film that borders on child pornography; and now even “Sex Education,” which features high-school-aged characters engaged in explicit depictions of sex and nudity.
It is time for Netflix to show real concern for children and families. The company can do so by unequivocally and affirmatively removing its own self-made blindfold about the impact its program content can have on viewers — especially children.
A former NBC and MGM executive, Tim Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. (www.ParentsTV.org)