Culture

People Calling Out Netflix For Being A Strategic Propaganda Machine Aren’t “Conspiracy Theorists”—Here’s The Proof

By Andrea Mew
·  9 min read
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Netflix

They say you are what you eat, but it’s also true that you are what you watch.

You’ve got the whole world at your fingertips. At a moment’s notice, you could watch an entire series where contestants battle it out in deadly challenges like Squid Game, learn the ins and outs of a serial killer’s mind like in the docu-drama series Dahmer, or get enchanted by social media drama in a show like Inventing Anna. Without a doubt, what you watch has deep effects on your psyche, but what if the shows you’re sitting down for hours on end to watch are intentionally drawing you in and mentally manipulating you?

I’ll take my foot off the gas pedal for a brief moment. No, you’re not being hypnotized by your TV screen à la Halloween (1978), but word has gotten out online that there are some spooky connections between Netflix and the father of propaganda which have people questioning whether or not their streaming pastime is virtuous or secretly vile. 

The Co-Founder of Netflix Is Related to the Father of Propaganda

“Question everything, friends,” said TikTok user @itsmorganfr, who made a revealing video about the original C-suite at Netflix. She pointed out that the original CEO of Netflix was a man named Marc Randolph. When you do baseline digging on Randolph, you quickly learn that his great uncle is Edward Bernays

With my degree in Public Relations (PR), hearing that name caused immediate shock. Bernays is widely credited as the inventor of PR who sought to revamp the idea of propaganda. In addition, his uncle is none other than famed psychologist and father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

But back to that propaganda thing because it should set off some red flags for you. The word propaganda hasn’t always had devious connotations, meaning to misinform or brainwash. Originally, the term was quite innocent and was used by the Vatican in the 1600s in a name for the group of Catholics who wanted to spread Christianity across the globe, in other words, to propagate the Christian faith. 

Over the years, propaganda was shaped and reshaped by highly impactful events such as World War I, where leaders on both sides of the war weaponized the media in such a way as to bolster support to fight and demonize the other side. Edward Bernays, believing in his uncle Freud’s foundational idea that people’s unconscious mind leads them to be easily influenced without knowing it, wrote a book to give the word propaganda a facelift, and of course, sell his business consulting.

Public Relations as we know it was then born to rid the public of their negative view toward purposeful, tactical influence. Let’s give Marc Randolph the benefit of the doubt, of course, since he can’t answer for his family’s beliefs or actions, he’s not the current CEO of Netflix, and his original intention for the Netflix platform was to replicate Amazon’s successful e-commerce platform for books. He is credited with designing Netflix’s user interface as both a movie catalog and market research platform so he could test for perfect UI and figure out how he could retain and influence customers.

While Randolph’s connections feel way too eerie to be a coincidence, he hasn’t been a part of their official team since 2003. Netflix actually announced its streaming service a few years later in 2007. That said, calling out Netflix, an industry leviathan in its own right, for hooking people in and potentially pushing strategic messages is entirely valid when you really take a look at the Bernays school of thought and how we’ve arrived at today’s cultural climate.

We’re Happily Letting the “New Propagandists” Shape Our Lives

Bernays once claimed that an “invisible government” led by “invisible governors” who “organize the opinions of the masses” in order to keep society from breaking out into chaos holds the power in democracies. With public figures and thought leaders creating this structure, society is thus kept from breaking down. Upon the advent of PR, Bernays’ “New Propagandists” capitalized on this social trust by influencing public opinion using group psychology. 

This is done by segmenting people into interest-based groups, religious or ethnic groups, social or political groups, professional or business groups, or other informal groups. Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard people talk about intersectionality. This is a very similar notion whereby viewing people as collections of overlapping groups, figuring out which groups a person belongs to, and then winning the support of the group’s leader(s) is how you figure out how to influence the individual.

“American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day.” - Edward Bernays

Let’s take the series Bridgerton from an intersectional view, for example. Race is portrayed in depictions of slavery as well as reimagined portrayals of white people as racially diverse, like Queen Charlotte being portrayed by a black woman. Modern narratives about oppressive patriarchy are discussed through the ladies not having access to education or Anthony taking over as the head of household and upholding patriarchal values. The way that race, gender, class, sexuality, and many more aspects are depicted in a series has a strong impact on how the viewer will then start to think about those topics. If a male lead’s masculinity is portrayed as toxic, viewers might mistakenly feel animosity toward normal male traits, chalking them up to chauvinism.

Bernays actually anticipated this psychological response to the media in his 1928 book Propaganda where he stated that “American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions.” He predicted that visual media would standardize our ideas and habits, exaggerating pre-existing notions rather than stimulating new thought. Bernays also suggested that propaganda wouldn’t ever die out and that if we fancy ourselves intelligent, we have to hone in on propaganda as a modern instrument for uniting beliefs. Societal cohesion is a pleasant thing to dream about, until you realize how corrupt and flawed we all are and how increased technology has also led us to be materialistic consumers.

Streaming Service Addiction Is at Its Worst

The “Consoomer” meme has become a longstanding sensation because it continually rings true. People are charmed by flashy marketing that they see on screens and that they can bring home, from Funko Pop Figurines to themed kitchenware and more. Some may compare a “consoomer” to that of a zombie or slave to a corporation, ready for their next dopamine hit that will keep them complacent until they inevitably get bored again since most things “consoomed” aren’t actually fulfilling.

Netflix as a streaming service is too convenient. We’re all increasingly obsessed with instant gratification, so if a streaming platform can offer us a big syringe full of the content we want to watch, we’ll take the full hit all at once and buy into the strategic propaganda machine. 

Need proof? When Stranger Things Season 2 was released, Nielsen reported that 361,000 people binged the entire nine-episode season on the day it came out. Nielsen has also released data that confirms that binge-watching is on the rise. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 75% increase in time that individual viewers spend any given week streaming video content. Furthermore, research has shown that binge-watching behavior grew and grew during Covid-19 lockdowns. So why is humanity becoming more depressed and anxious when 73% of surveyed Netflix bingers report positive feelings post-binge? In the short term, they may be happier (remember that drug-like dopamine boost), but in the long term, studies have shown that binge-watching increases anxious or depressive feelings threefold.

Studies have shown that binge-watching increases anxious or depressive feelings threefold.

You also can’t discount the negative physical and emotional effects that binge-watching has on your mind, body, and soul. It disrupts your ability to sleep, contributes to poor spine health, puts strain on your respiratory system, promotes a sedentary lifestyle that could lead to heart disease or stroke, and honestly, who doesn’t feel the urge to mindlessly snack when they’re watching shows or movies, to the extent that some pack on really unwanted pounds?

Netflix has made overt pledges to Marxist organizations like Black Lives Matter which divide people on race instead of uplifting true diversity and equality. They’ve commissioned a huge study to increase how inclusive they are and seek to artificially boost the amount of content made by feminist – I mean, female – filmmakers. After all, 98% of Netflix’s 2020 political contributions went to leftist candidates, so their progressive corporate culture isn’t any secret. 

The company has had to bite the bullet on projects which go against the progressive narrative, telling their “woke” employees essentially to quit if they’re offended, but even their content which isn’t overtly politically charged in nature is just mindless reality television. Did I need to see people dressed as furries go on dates in Sexy Beasts? No, but I may have wasted a few brain cells watching it to laugh at how ridiculous it was.

What we watch on screens has a major influence on our daily lives. Increasingly hedonistic or depraved media might lead us to feel more negative emotions. If we don’t practice self-control and recognize how we need to guard our hearts against the 24-hour negative media cycle we’re addicted to, how else will we survive the strategic propaganda machine?  

Closing Thoughts

There’s no better time than the present to relish in your own inner peace and disengage from the hundreds of voices vying for your attention. Instead of filling your head with junk, you could swap out binge-watching sessions for something productive that uplifts your soul or betters the environment around you, whether that’s learning a new skill like baking or taking a walk outdoors with loved ones. While there’s no deliberate effort on Netflix’s part to subvert our attention and render us all submissive, they certainly capitalize on the power that media holds. 

Specific people like former CEOs can’t be held responsible for our society’s worsening rates of depression or descent into intersectional hysteria. That said, the oddly coincidental tie between the platform’s co-founder and the creator of propaganda as we know it at least inspires people to investigate what their screen time means for their psyche.

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