You’ve probably noticed an increase in the number of obnoxious teen romances under the “trending” section of your favorite streaming service’s homepage recently. The trailers feature similar patterns: narration from a misunderstood and ostracized high school student, an overwhelming amount of synth pop, a tone-deaf social commentary and some type of forced minority representation. Each month, another one of these poorly made films or TV shows are rushed off the assembly line. Each month another scandal erupts, bringing more attention and more views to the lazy and reckless content. Netflix has created a perfect algorithm involving low budget set designs, cheap and naive cast members, easily manipulated, small-time directors, and badly executed themes about eating disorders, sexual assault, politics of sexuality, and mental illness. It’s profitable, it’s destructive, and it’s absolutely genius.
Netflix’s first big time hit in teen content was of course 13 Reasons Why. This show had a cast of unknown actors and the backing of executive producer, teen idol, and former Disney Channel star Selena Gomez. The show, which is based on a popular novel of the same name, is about a young girl, Hannah Baker, dealing with depression. She leaves several tapes for her peers detailing her traumas and blaming them for her eventual death. The show also includes a graphic depiction of rape and suicide. When the series was first released it resulted in an uproar of criticism and spectacle from tween magazines such as J-14 to critically acclaimed news outlets like the New York Times. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, wrote an article bashing the teen show’s depiction of depression, warning that it was harmful to young audiences. Despite, or perhaps because of this storm of controversy, the show became wildly popular with young people everywhere who began binging the show in droves. Netflix heard the critics, the enraged parents, and the psychological professionals who said the show was dangerous and wrote the second season anyway.
Next came the show Insatiable, about a high school girl, Fatty Patty, who is bullied about her weight until she is attacked by a homeless man. This event results in her mouth being wired shut. Patty is able to lose the weight and becomes a vengeful beauty queen determined to use her new found beauty as a way of getting back at the people who bullied her. This show, like 13 Reasons Why, carelessly simplifies serious issues like a binge eating disorder which is boiled down to a punchline and pedophilia that’s waved off as satire. Again a wave of controversy ensued leading to the berating of the director and actors, the pawns of the Netflix empire, who were harassed online. Netflix heard the critics from afar, saw the outcry from teens struggling with eating disorders, disregarded the comments about statutory, and made plans for a second season.
This pattern has happened again and again with movies like The Kissing Booth; a low budget film based off of a Wattpad story about a girl in an arguably abusive relationship with her best friend’s controlling older brother. Again, in Dude, a pathetic excuse for a film where teens consider using drugs as a personality trait. Also, another rape scene is poorly handled. Again, in Sierra Burgess is a Loser, when a young woman decides to catfish an unsuspecting classmate. She even engages in non-consensual acts with him after weeks of manipulation and stalking.
These films are horrible influences for young audiences and they draw on tropes and cliches that should have long since been left in the past. It is irresponsible of Netflix to continue to create these films despite how enticing the money looks. Sierra Burgess is a Loser was written and filmed in just over a month. In that same amount of time, Netflix could have bothered to write a story that was just as cheesy and low-budget, but with a script that wasn’t controversial and didn’t reinforce negative ideas about body types and romantic relationships. One of Netflix’s better movies To All the Boys I Loved Before, did just that. The movie was simple, heart-warming and featured some much needed Asian representation in the mainstream film industry. This movie was just, as if not more, popular than Sierra Burgess is a Loser. Hopefully, Netflix will take note of the success that can come with decent and thematically sound teen content.
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