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Over the past years, Netflix has grown from a cool new streaming service into something we can’t live without. There are very few people who don’t have their own Netflix account or aren’t logged into someone else’s. It has gotten to the point where Netflix original TV shows and movies such as Roma and Marriage Story are critically acclaimed and even nominated for awards. The streaming service’s widespread popularity means its content is watched by thousands of viewers, including many children and teenagers. This can be highly problematic, however, when shows such as 13 Reasons Why, Riverdale and Stranger Things become hypes. While not all these shows were created by the streaming service, Netflix gave them a platform that allowed for their widespread popularity. 

At its core, Netflix is here to entertain, and it certainly succeeds in doing so. The problem emerges from the fact that it focuses too much on this goal. While 13 Reasons Why is a highly entertaining show, it romanticizes and glamorizes mental illness. Hannah’s suicide is portrayed as some kind of revenge on those who wronged her, forcing them to confront their faults and feeling guilty. This creates an idea that friends and loved ones are responsible for suicide, which can be very harmful. Furthermore, killing herself is presented as a logical option after what Hannah has been through. The actual suicide scene is graphic and breaks many rules, among which the guidelines published by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. The graphic display can be very triggering for viewers. Though the episode starts with a message from the actors urging those with suicidal thoughts to seek help, it seems to have been added almost as an afterthought, trying to make up for the problematic content. While it is important to note that 13 Reasons Why makes the issue of mental health discussable and less stigmatized, we have to ask ourselves if this is the best way to do it.  

Riverdale is problematic for totally different reasons: it’s highly unrealistic. Anyone who has watched beyond the first season will agree that the plot is all over the place and seems to get more confusing every episode. High schoolers are seen stripping, murdering, going to jail, drinking and joining gangs. While this may seem harmless, it does raise questions about what kind of expectations it creates for teenagers. Especially considering Riverdale’s young fan base, there is a good chance teens will attempt to copy the behaviour they see on screen. On the other hand, actors on the show such as Lili Reinhart have been using their platform to promote body-positivity and mental health awareness, reaching many young teenagers and children with their message. Especially in the social-media age, content like this spreads fast.  

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The third show in the holy trinity of problematic Netflix content is Stranger Things. Its problems arise from the sexualizing of the child actors rather than its plot. Ever since its release, Stranger Things has propelled several young actors into fame. Millie Bobby Brown is the most notable, being the immediate target of sexualizing social media posts even though she was just twelve years old at the start of the first season. Similar things happened to the male actors. While Brown often uses her platform to promote important issues, it is hard to remember that she is now only fifteen years old, when she is treated like a grown-up in the show industry and online. 

Though Netflix might be the invention of the century, bringing entertainment and quality content to thousands of screens, it clearly has its issues. The platform should better consider its audiences and the effect TV shows have on them, rather than focusing on the amount of money they can make. As long as we watch our favourite series with a grain of salt, however, we can all continue enjoying our favourite past time: binging Netflix shows. 

Maaike is an international student from Curacao in her sophomore year at the University of Guelph. Originally from the Netherlands, she loves cats, grilled cheese and reading (and watching the movie adaptations!).If she could live anywhere, it would be on Broadway.
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