“The woke mind virus has made Netflix unwatchable,” said Elon Musk recently in a tweet in reply to an article about Netflix’s poor show in the first three months of 2022, where it recorded a loss of 200,000 subscribers.
To be fair to Netflix, its decision to exit Russia inflicted a loss of 700,000 subscribers which means that the streaming service actually gained 500,000 subscribers outside of Russia in the first quarter of 2022. However, that does not mean that Netflix is not in trouble. It had earlier told shareholders that it would be adding 2.5 million subscribers in the first quarter but now it expects to lose 2 million subscribers in the second quarter. As a result, its shares are plummeting and investors are pulling out.
Netflix’s decision to quit Russia aside, its decision to hike prices and curb password sharing is bound to drive more users to dump the streaming service. Netflix is also reeling under billions of dollars in debt and struggling to compete with a wide range of streaming platforms— Amazon Prime and Disney+ being the toughest competitors. Add to that some of the repulsive ‘woke’ content which further sours the company’s name.
When users are done streaming shows like Squid Game, Ozark and Stranger Things, they are likely to step out of the user base until the next big season or show arrives. Netflix’s many other shows may tick all the diversity-related checkboxes but are bogged down by their own mediocrity. Filmmakers may believe that being a woke ally may prove to be the saving grace in case the original story and production flop. But getting away with bad content by pandering to one lobby has not been all that easy, if not counterproductive. There are also many shows that have raised eyebrows for gender-swapped and race-swapped characters in historical dramas always pertaining to the white man’s culture and history. It is a shallow idea based on poor identity politics that has not sat well with many on both sides of the ideological divide.
The word “Woke” was co-opted by left-wing parties and their brand of politics and shunned by the right. Not all elements of “wokeism” were inculcated by the left— regime change wars and anti-establishment beliefs were brushed under the carpet for the left parties have an equal interest, if not more, in wars.
For example, Netflix’s Bridgerton, a period drama set in the early 19th century Britain, exudes a refreshing level of colour blindness, with non-white faces sauntering around in the background and some playing important roles. But soon the extremely rosy picture of an inclusive British society of the 1800s turns into a tone-deaf, nagging mix of historical inaccuracy, condescension and whitewashing of the crimes that sustained such a world for the white British woman to gossip away in beautiful dresses without a care for the world or the blood on their wealth. Fictional fantasies placed in historical periods are free to play with certain soft aspects such as interpersonal and romantic relationships, but should they really whitewash certain hard aspects of history itself? Why sell an alternative story and confuse young people of colour about the otherwise undeniable facts of history? Filmmakers should instead try telling legitimate stories about Black people and other people of colour while also respecting their culture and history. But such is the woke virus that foisting pretty dresses and cups of tea on non-white actors is expected to win favour with the politically charged audience.
In India also, Netflix has had a “frustrating” run as expressed by co-CEO Reed Hastings over its lack of success. While Bollywood is already on a decline for often churning big-budget but substance-free films, many of Netflix’s originals are rife with content that enraged large sections of the Indian audience. While Indians kept an open mind with the streaming platform since it started in 2016, Netflix started off with a clear axe to grind with the larger Hindu community often hurting the sensitivities of Hindus by denigrating Hindu Gods. Finally, a show called “Leila” took Hinduphobia to extremes by being all about a dystopian society enforced by Hindus. The Islamo-leftist element of modern-day wokeism of the West was clear in Netflix’s agenda on India. This was how Netflix stamped itself as a disrespectful, Hinduphobic company often facing boycott calls in India. Things have cooled down, and it might even be trying to mend its ways, but the damage to Netflix and its subscriber growth has been done, especially in a cut-throat Indian market where cheaper alternatives began to emerge.
A decade ago, being woke in the West meant being aware of racial oppression and inequality. It meant remembering and cherishing the history of native Americans. It also meant being anti-establishment and acutely aware of the wars waged by belligerent powers including the home country. This meant questioning the USA’s various regime change wars or Britain’s history of colonialism. Being woke meant discussing pedophilia and sexual harassment scandals in politics, Hollywood and the church. For the woke back in the day, the politicians in power were all the same and this is one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton lost to Trump– because a section of voters was disillusioned with the establishment and started talking about “not voting” or “choosing the lesser of the two evils”. The woke conversations on the internet were a threat to the Democrats.
However, things went berserk. The word “Woke” was co-opted by the left-wing parties and their brand of politics and shunned by the right. Not all elements of “wokeism” were inculcated by the left— regime change wars and anti-establishment beliefs were brushed under the carpet for the left parties have an equal interest, if not more, in wars. This corrupted version of Wokeism is meant to protect the same ideas and the people that the woke were disillusioned with a decade ago when Obama, with his Nobel Peace Prize, went on to bombard Libya, Syria and Afghanistan and became the best friend of the USA’s war machine. Today’s set of woke individuals would never talk about this. In other words, most of the people who identify as “woke” today could not be further from the truth.
The race politics, the open borders, the alarmist politics of climate change, the radical science-free activism around gender and more such gems of the Western left are all meant to create a polarising divide, creating a society where loud diktats trump debates. Disagreeing even minutely could run one out of followers, friends and even a job. It is in the interest of such politicians and activists to suppress debates and divide classrooms, colleges, workplaces and every other aspect of society. Clearly no fan of Big Tech censorship and cancel culture, perhaps this is what Elon Musk is talking about when he derides the ‘woke mind virus’.