Netflix CEO doubles down: Come on, Chappelle's humor doesn't create "real-world harm"; Update: Walkout coming?

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Good for him, although if I were a betting man, I’d start a pool to see how long Ted Sarandos’ defense lasts — or Sarandos himself as Netflix’s CEO. After employees went public to accuse Netflix of creating physical harm to the LGBTQ+ community by publishing Dave Chappelle’s new stand-up special “The Closer,” Sarandos refused to back down. On Monday, as Variety reported last night, Sarandos scolded his team for claiming that comedy was a physical threat to anyone — albeit couched in conciliatory-to-PC language itself:

After addressing top leadership in a Friday memo, Sarandos sent an email on Monday to all staff — some of whom have increasingly expressed outrage over jokes about the trans community in Chappelle’s “The Closer,” and have scheduled a walkout protest as a response.

“We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” Sarandos wrote in an email obtained by Variety.

“With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” he said.

“The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others,” he continued.

Oddly enough, this is a point that the Left pounded into the Right thirty-plus years ago. Remember when conservatives criticized rap music and video games for glorifying violence and misogyny, and the Left accused them of being an American Taliban? Good times, good times. The Right hasn’t entirely abandoned those arguments, but they have certainly learned a new appreciation for freedom of speech as political correctness took more and more specific aim at conservatives and critics of the Left.

The shoe is now firmly on the other foot as progressives and grievance groups attempt to control the public debate and entertainment spaces. They have succeeded on college campuses to the point where stand-up comedians largely avoid making appearances in Academia, where humor has long since died. As those activist students graduated and took jobs at companies like Netflix, they have taken that paradigm with them and have attempted to bully anyone who has the temerity to offer social criticism of their own sacred cows. The executives of these firms, afraid of running afoul of social-media cancel culture and losing audiences as a result, have largely caved when confronted.

That’s what makes Sarandos different, and also why one has to wonder how long Sarandos will remain different. The language he uses in this statement suggests that he’s perhaps a bit too worried about backlash even now. In that sense, we have to hope that the stands taken by Chappelle and Sarandos will finally teach these executives that grievance campaigns on social media are much less significant … and maybe teach a few of these spoiled safe-space graduates the same lesson.

Update: Sarandos’ test may come sooner than we thought:

Tensions are rising inside Netflix Inc. NFLX +0.74% over a Dave Chappelle stand-up special that some employees said was offensive to the transgender community, the latest clash between the streaming giant’s radical-candor culture and its embrace of creative freedom.

A Netflix transgender-employee group is encouraging staff to stage a walkout next Wednesday to protest Co-Chief Executive and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’s recent defense of Mr. Chappelle’s special. The plans for a walkout were earlier reported by the Verge and confirmed by Netflix.

If Sarandos has truly learned from Chappelle, the proper response will be to fire everyone who walks out and hire replacements. That’s what other media companies should have done when employees attempted to bully executives into censorship. Sarandos had better recognize that this is a test as to who runs his company — its CEO, or social media activists with too much time on their hands.