‘The woke mind virus is making Netflix unwatchable’: Is Elon Musk right?

Elon Musk Twitter

Fact Box

  • Netflix is one of the world’s largest entertainment services with 222 million subscribers and an annual revenue of almost $27 billion as of 2021. 
  • On April 19, 2022, Netflix released its First Quarter 2022 Earnings report revealing its customer base dropped by 200,000 subscribers during January through March, and another 700,000 after withdrawing from Russia in protest against the war on Ukraine. 
  • In response to an article reporting on Netflix’ dropping shares, billionaire Elon Musk tweeted, “The woke mind virus is making Netflix unwatchable.” In December, he asserted wokeness “is divisive, exclusionary and hateful” in relation to the backlash from Dave Chapelle’s October 2021 Netflix comedy special
  • The term “woke” originated from African American Vernacular English as an alternative word to “awake.” Since 2017, it has become “part of a wider movement” related to social justice causes and acute awareness to perceived racial injustice in society.

Amanda (No)

Netflix has undoubtedly had a rough start to 2022, but Elon Musk's assertion that it is only due to the streaming service's 'woke' content is simplistic of an explanation. In doing so, Musk conflates correlation with causation, that a rise in more progressive-leaning content must cause a drop in Netflix subscribers. Beyond the fact that there's no proof that the correlation itself even exists, there are also multiple, well-documented business-related reasons for the decrease in subscribers, including the rise of new streaming services and an unpopular announcement that Netflix planned to crack down on password sharing.

Further, Netflix is an international company with a wide audience that, yes, does include progressives, minorities, and non-English-speakers. Not only does Musk make the erroneous assumption that the subscription loss is concentrated in the US, but his assumption attempts to paint Netflix's customers as being driven by political ideology instead of just regular capitalistic decision-making. Musk also implies every company that does make a decision based on a social justice analysis will fail, which is just not true. Nike saw a 10% jump in income after launching their ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick, while DiversityInc's top 50 most diverse companies list is hardly filled with failed ventures.

Finally, blaming everything bad on being 'woke' is just lazy analysis, an updated version of the backlash against political correctness, itself an updated version of the backlash against minority-driven disco and civil rights, and on and on. Things change in business, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but they do change. Assigning the blame for every setback to some outside cabal of secret woke tech bros is mere conspiracy-mongering, not a serious criticism.

Siam (Yes)

Many people are canceling Netflix because of their wide embrace of 'the woke mind virus.' Netflix adheres to 'woke' leftist ideology in trying to appease competing victim groups espoused by intersectionality, an offshoot of Marxist Critical Theory. Over recent years, plenty of alternative streaming services have become available, making the amount of available content enormous. 

With the goal of 'inclusion,' Netflix (and Hollywood) have been infusing LGBTQ+ and 'woke' racial ideology into most of its programming, creating shows that better reflect the woke Hollywood elite bubble than they do the general mainstream of viewers. Originality lacks, political messaging is introduced without organic storytelling, and political correctness is valued over humor. Musk is right to call attention to this, saying, 'Generally, I think we should be aiming for a positive society and it should be OK to be humorous. Wokeness basically wants to make comedy illegal, which is not cool. At its heart, wokeness is divisive, exclusionary, and hateful. It basically gives mean people a shield to be cruel, armored in false virtue.' He is exactly correct.

In going openly woke, as the US saw many companies do in the summer of 2020, Netflix has alienated many viewers who don't want to constantly be informed they are inherently racist or bigoted for believing in basic human biology (and that men can't get pregnant), etc. Until it goes non-woke or simply just back to being a streaming platform for everyone without pushing radical content, the future of Netflix is up in the air.

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