Column: Netflix CEOs note about Dave Chapelle is intriguing

Can we talk about the Ted Sarandos note for a minute? You know, the one that was obtained by Variety, where the CEO of Netflix tells his staff that even though he understands that many people are quite upset by the many homophobic and transphobic jokes in the Dave Chappelle special “The Closer”, it does not really something because the show is a hit and Chappelle is very popular?

I’m obsessed with the Sarandos note. I have read it about 427 times now and it takes my breath away every time.

The first episode alone is a master class in psychologist-villain monologue. It opens with good Ted, kindly Ted who just wants to “follow up” in a sought-after HR corporate way about “The Closer”; he knows (because he listening) that many people in the Netflix management are wondering how to frame internal conversations about the show.

Or rather, how leaders should explain why a self-appointed inclusive streamer would exactly give Chappelle a huge platform for insisting that queer people are too sensitive by doubling the jokes about bringing “the glory days” and trans women back to being like Beyond Burgers. (“It’s not blood, it’s sugar rose juice,” he shouts.) And why Netflix would then suspend the trans team member who protested.

Ted understands that Chappelle’s identification with “team TERF” – or his tale of beating a lesbian, which begins with him explaining that he thought she was a man and ending with him banging her breasts as if they were “chicken fillets” or his apparent belief that all queer people are white – may upset a few employees. “It never feels good when people hurt, especially our colleagues,” he says, just as Hannibal Lecter reasonably explains why he’s eating you, “so I would give you an extra context.”

The “extra context”: Although “some talents may join third parties to ask us to remove the show,” this is never going to happen.

Why not? Because “Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-term deal with him. His latest special ‘Sticks & Stones’, also controversial, is our most watched, tackiest and most award winning stand-up to date. (Subtitle: No one talks about “Bridgerton” anymore, and with declining market share, Netflix desperately needs a hit.)

A man on stage raises his fist next to a giant red "C"

Dave Chappelle doubles down by starring in “Dave Chappelle: The Closer.”

(Mathieu Bitton / Netflix)

If this reasoning sounds vaguely familiar, you may have seen Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen explain why this media platform refused to remove dangerous and divisive content from its site: because it would slow user and profit growth.

Like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sarandos is quick to deploy the “freedom” force field. “As with our other talents, we work hard to support their creative freedom – even if it means there will always be content on Netflix that some people think is harmful, such as ‘Cuties’, ‘365 Days’, ’13 Reasons Why ‘or’ My unorthodox life. ‘ “

(I’m not sure why “Space Force” or “Love Wedding Repeat” are not on this list. They were far more detrimental to the notion of human creativity than the wonderful, insightful “Cuties.”)

But the Sarandos note gets really good in section three, which begins, “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line at hatred …”

Sorry, I had to pause for the terrifying laugh that I do not avoid suffocating every time I read this line while trying to imagine the conversation that inspired it. “Um, Mr Sarandos, hello, quick question. I was wondering, and please do not take this wrong, because I am a very big fan, and I just loved ‘Cuties’ and ’13 Reasons Why.’ But still, I just wonder – I mean, I’ve been asked by people who wonder – where do we really stand on hate? ”

I think we can all say with confidence that if we were lucky enough to be the CEO of a major platform and members of our staff responded to the deployment of a special comedy by asking us to clarify our position on hatred, we may take a hit to reflect.

However, Sarandos does not. “We do not allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hatred or violence, and we do not believe that ‘The Closer’ crosses that line.”

Yet Sarandos understands that “creative freedom” is a difficult concept to understand, especially for the less enlightened than he is about the nature of art and comedy (ahem, “Love Wedding Repeat”). “It’s hard to distinguish between commentary and harm,” he admits, “especially with stand-up comedy that exists to push boundaries. Some people think stand-up art is vicious, but our members enjoy it, and it is an important part of our content offering. ”

While this may not be the textbook’s definition of creative freedom, the note helps clarify another slick concept – “gaslighting”. According to this note, if you question the wisdom of promoting a specialty that revolves around a famous comedian who responds to accusations of homophobia and transphobia by telling more homophobic and transphobic “jokes” while insisting on , that people who have historically been condemned, abused and murdered for simply existing need to get over themselves, then of course you do not understand the nature of the comedy.

In other words, it’s not a Netflix problem, it’s a you problem.

In fact, you probably find the whole stand-up genre too “vicious”, so you should not try to put your taste of milquetoast on the rest of us.

I have never ever met a person who opposes “stand-up comedy”. Some comedians are more miserable or bluer or more self-defeating than others, and the taste varies. But stand-up comedy is by definition not offensive. I’ve just seen Eddie Izzard’s “Dress to Kill”, which I love even more than the Sarandos letter, and he somehow manages to do quite a bit of stand-up without being mean to anyone. In heels.

Of course, “Dress to Kill” is on Amazon Prime, so maybe it’s a branding issue?

Maybe maybe not. The last comedy special to hit Netflix big was Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” from 2018, which vivicized the (straight, male) toxicity behind certain forms of comedy. In case of brutal irony, the thesis includes the story of Gadsby being a lesbian being beaten by a man who confused her with another man, a traumatic event she first tells as a joke and then unspools to reveal exactly how funny it is is.

Oddly enough, Sarandos fails to mention “Nanette” in his note (possibly because he does not want Gadsby’s recording of Chappelle’s show), even though he pats himself on the shoulder for “working hard to make sure more people see their lives reflected on the screen and the under-represented society are not defined by the individual story. ”

This is entirely true, though I’m not sure Netflix should expect a parade in his honor; “One day at a time” was canceled after all, and the streamer’s shining object, “The Crown”, is not exactly a showcase for an underrepresented society.

But what’s the point of opening the conversation to different “communities” if you don’t want to listen to them when you get to push? If the LGBTQ community, including members of your own staff, tells you that – even when you call racism – 70 minutes of Chappelle insults to gays and transgender people is hateful, how can your answer be “um, no, it is not” ?

Instead of writing this wonderfully awful, lip service, tone-deaf memo about “hard and uncomfortable questions”, just say what you mean.

That it does not matter that “The Closer” is an obvious f-dig for anyone who has criticized Chappelle for his bizarre obsession with attacking the LGBTQ community because Chappelle is, as he says at the beginning of the show, rich and famous.

The fact that he is black unfortunately makes his power and influence remarkable, but the way he uses them in this case is not at all angular or groundbreaking. What in the world is nervous about an AIDS joke? Or a “she has an Adam’s apple” joke? As Chappelle knows all too well, there are plenty of people who are superior; many people think that anyone who does not look like them should just shut up and take it. Many people will watch “The Closer” for the same reason they watch Fox News. Because it validates the way they already have it. That’s the problem.

That – and the fact that Netflix seems cool in telling its employees and the communities they state that inclusion is important, just not as important as increasing numbers and making lots of money.

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