Cynics just got new evidence from Netflix.
Hollywood has been the forerunner of many social justice issues, including the recent #MeToo movement and racial reckoning after the death of George Floyd. In June 2020, Netflix was among many entertainment companies that rushed to support racial justice and black creators.
Now the company is pulling a number of projects from some of its top black names, including an animated series based on “anti-racist baby.” He also warned employees that he will not give in to internal pressure to remove “harmful” content, pressures such as the walkout of employees last year because of a Dave Chappelle special.
“If you find it difficult to support the breadth of our content, Netflix may not be the best place for you,” bed a brutal “culture note” of the company.
It seems to be part of a larger trend in Hollywood to move away from the overt activism of recent years. “Over the past few weeks,” the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, “The entertainment industry has suffered a gradual decline in liberal social activism at the corporate level, at least when it comes to making big public statements on specific issues. The companies that issued statements of outright support during the Black Lives Matter protests…have said next to nothing about the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade by the US Supreme Court.
It’s probably too harsh to say that Hollywood’s so-called social justice commitments are just marketing strategies that companies abandoned as soon as the vibe moved. But milder cynicism seems warranted: Hollywood was happy to make grand token gestures as long as they weren’t too expensive, but suddenly they seem more expensive.
The educational polarization might have made taking a stand on contentious issues less risky than it was for companies, because the more affluent customers — and educated employees — were all on one side. It seemed profitable to bow to their advice, even if it drove a lot of less well-to-do people crazy.
But lower-end customers are also spending money on movies and streaming services. Perhaps more importantly, they vote.
Earlier this year, during controversy over Florida’s new parental rights law, insider activists wanted Disney to use its considerable power as Florida’s major employer to pressure lawmakers to drop the law Project. Disney executive Bob Chapek initially resisted, saying he didn’t want the company to become “political football,” but after news of the dispute leaked, he finally relented.
The resulting fracas with Florida lawmakers saw Disney stripped of its special powers over the area surrounding Disney World, where the corporation essentially functioned as local government. Now the the wall street journal reported earlier this month, business leaders are asking a question: “How can we avoid becoming the next Walt Disney Co.?”
At least Disney has one growing streaming business, with unexpected subscriber growth in the last quarter. netflix lost subscribers over the same period and is now facing a slowing economy, inflationary pressures on households and rising interest rates that must be trying for a business built on a mountain of debt. Dismissals quickly ensued, and corporate idealism was apparently kicked out.
This is exactly what to expect. Netflix is a business, not a charity. Denounce capitalist greed if you will, but of course that greed is really just corporations sending consumers back to themselves.
Netflix presumably refused to cancel Dave Chappelle in part because management thinks the service will gain more subscribers by keeping its shows than it will lose – and canceled ‘Antiracist Baby’ because it doesn’t think so. that the project will generate enough subscribers to justify the cost. If you think these decisions should be overturned, your feud is with the public, not Netflix.
Of course, it wasn’t crazy to think that Netflix and its brethren could wield their power to change some members of that audience. But that power was always going to be heavily constrained by the economic needs of the corporation, which the left seems to overlook by pressuring corporations to take the toughest stance possible on everything. There is no corporate shortcut to social change that avoids the need for politics and persuasion, because when faced with this choice, corporations will always choose to make money over history.