This morning I was glad to see #cancelnetflix trending on social media. The new show “Cuties” has been denounced as child porn (more on that in a minute). It’s one more reason to add to my list of reasons to consider canceling Netflix.
1. Sex and Nudity is the Norm
When I first compiled this list, I googled “trending shows in Netflix” and searched the top ten results on IMDb’s Parents Guide. Here are a few highlights from each:
- Sex & Nudity: 16 cases
- Sex & Nudity: 9 cases, including “torture involving nudity”
- No parental information available
- Sex & Nudity: 6 cases, including 3 sex scenes
- Sex & Nudity: 7 cases, rated “Severe,” including “porn scenes”
- Sex & Nudity: 29 cases, including “sexual intercourse (one night stand)” and “human-animal, or different-animal intimacy”
- Sex & Nudity: 17 cases, with “a lot of sex scenes” and “graphic nudity throughout”
- Sex & Nudity: rated “Severe,”; “every episode and season has sex and nudity in it”
- Sex & Nudity: “heavy to moderate sexual congress throughout including heterosexual, homosexual, group”
- Sex & Nudity: “long sex scene with full nudity in focus”
That’s just the Sex & Nudity section. I had to stop reading the descriptions (in the parent’s guide!) because they are so explicit and perverse. Not to mention the drug use, violence, gore, and profanity (according to one description, “constant, pervasive use”). Kevin DeYoung, in an article “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones,” asks:
Does anyone really think that when Jesus warned against looking at a woman lustfully (Matt. 5:27), or when Paul told us to avoid every hint of sexual immorality and not even to speak of the things the world does in secret (Eph. 5:3-12), that somehow this meant, go ahead and watch naked men and women have (or pretend to have) sex?
The answer, of course, is no. If you have Netflix, gripping trailers for these off-limits shows will bombard your dashboard every time you log in. When social media is abuzz with the latest plot development, it’s easy to click “Watch Now.” The most riveting shows are often highly questionable. Season 1 may seem pretty clean, but as nudity becomes an expected hallmark of every new release, the casual watcher is often surprised by what creeps into Season 3 or Season 5.
Even if you’re highly disciplined, it raises questions about the rightness of funding such a perverse streaming service. This brings us back to the recent release, “Cuties.”
2. Child Sexuality is Now Accepted
The 2020 show “Cuties” has been the subject of recent outrage. According to one episode summary, “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” This dance crew is called the “Cuties.” The IMDb Parents Guide lists several disturbing counts of Sex and Nudity (if you are a young or sensitive reader, it may be best to skip to the next section of this article):
- A little girl watches a female rap music video where scantily clad women role play through dance.
- A pair of tight leather pants on an 11 year old girl are forcefully pulled down in the midst of a scuffle with another girl; the camera glances at her exposed underwear.
- 11 year old girls dance suggestively in front of a live adult audience. The girls repeatedly move their bums while standing and lying down. They slap themselves on their bums from the back and from the front.
- An 11 year old girl finds a condom on the ground outside and blows it up. The girl then puts it under her shirt to pretend it’s a breast. The other girls scream and yell at her about how gross it is to touch the condom.
- When caught with her cousin’s phone, an 11-year-old girl locks herself in the bathroom, pulls down her pants and snaps a picture of her private area before publishing it online. No nudity is actually shown.
The sick irony is that Netflix rates the show as TV-MA (the equivalent of rated “R”), only for adult audiences. It sexualizes 11-year-old actors but is deemed unsuitable for children under 17. Believers (and unbelievers, for that matter) are right to be outraged.
3. There’s Too Much Quality
While it’s possible to avoid the blatantly perverse shows on Netflix, there are other important considerations. Brett McCracken’s point resonates with me: “My problem with Netflix is not that there is nothing quality to be found; it’s that there is too much quality to be found. It’s overwhelming and can be desensitizing.”
Many of the Netflix screenplays are (let’s be honest) pretty amazing. We live in the Golden Age of television. The historical dramas alone are breathtaking. But for Christians, this means that TV-watching is a greater temptation. In his blog column “Quit Netflix,” Matthew Lee Anderson writes, “my decision [to quit Netflix] was made out of desperation to avoid becoming an empty soul, a hollow-chested person who might reach the end of my life having given a full year of it over to television—and in doing so join myself to the barrenness of the society in which we live.”
4. The Format is Highly Addictive
In addition to a massive library of high-quality, on-demand shows, the Netflix format is dangerously habit-forming. Chris Brantner explains, “Netflix drops an entire season at a time and autoplays episodes after one finishes. It’s a recipe for time-sucking addiction.” It’s rare for Netflix users to only stream one episode. It’s common for entire seasons to be watched in one sitting.
Netflix is often a parent sin.
For this reason, Netflix is often a parent sin. Binge-watching usually involves binge-snacking (gluttony) and ends late at night when the temptation to watch pornography is highest (lust). Hours in front of flashing images result in sore eyes, a pounding head, and an irritable attitude (anger). This falls short of Paul’s commitment to radical self-discipline: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27). The stakes are too high.
5. There Are Better Things to Do With Your Time
The main reason I quit Netflix was because it sucked up too much of my precious time. I can attest to the truth of what Brad East wrote in an article “Against Pop Culture”: “The truth is that, for every hour that you do not spend watching Netflix, your life will be improved, and you will have the opportunity to do something better with that time.” He goes on:
Reading, cooking, gardening, playing a board game, building something with your hands, chatting with a neighbor, grabbing coffee with a friend, serving in a food pantry, learning a language, cleaning, sleeping, journaling, praying, sitting on your porch, resting, catching up with your spouse or housemate: every one of these things would be a qualitative improvement on streaming a show or movie (much less scrolling infinitely on Instagram or Twitter).
The average Netflix user spends over 10 hours per week watching shows. Time Magazine agrees with these numbers, claiming that the average user spent 1 hour, 33 minutes per day streaming shows in 2015. Does the average Christian spend an hour and a half reading their Bibles and praying each day? No. And it’s not just our spiritual disciplines that are suffering. MarketWatch published an article with a revealing title: “We now spend more time on Netflix than we do bonding with our kids.”
The average Netflix user spends more time watching shows than the average Christian spends reading the Bible.
Christians are called to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16). It’s hard to argue that sitting in front of a screen mindlessly watching show after show is proper for saints who sing, “Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”
6. It Does Not Improve Moral and Spiritual Health
You’ve probably heard, “The internet is just as bad as TV! In fact, the internet is worse!” This is a common justification for watching Netflix, and it’s rarely challenged. But I’m not convinced that it is true.
Douglas Groothuis makes a case against TV by focusing on its role in truth decay. The entire excerpt from his book Truth Decay is worth reading. Groothuis explains, “television emphasizes the moving image over written and spoken language. It is image-driven, image-saturated, and image-controlled. … images have their immediate effect on us, but that effect is seldom to cause us to pursue their truth or falsity.”
He goes on to say, “The self becomes ungrounded and fragmented by its experiences of television. … Moral and spiritual anchorage is lost.” Moreover, “television relentlessly displays a pseudo-world of discontinuity and fragmentation. … The images appear and disappear and reappear without a proper rational context. …the very notion of intellectual or moral coherence becomes unsustainable on television.”
Most alarming is Groothuis’ contention that “the overstuffed and overstimulated soul becomes out-of-sync with God, nature, others, and itself. It cannot discern truth; it does not want to.”
Hebrews 2:1 warns, “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Tony Reinke remarks, “Attentional negligence marks a gradual drift away from our anchor, Christ, one of the spiritual wars inside the attention economy. Drifting away from Christ may simply look like a bunch of Netflix binging.”
7. It Contributes to the Worldliness of the Church
Worldliness is a problem in the church, and it’s not just old-timey fundamentalists who recognize this fact. In an article for Christianity Today, Sam Kim summarizes Os Guinness in observing that
when we look at evangelicalism today, it is the world and the spirit of the age that are dominant, not the Word and Spirit. The church in the U.S. is strong numerically, but weak because it is worldly. The church in America is in the world and of the world; and as a result, it is in profound cultural captivity.
The reasons for our worldliness are many, but who can doubt the influence of television? Brad East recognizes, “Christians like pop culture for the same reasons everyone else does—it’s convenient, undemanding, diverting, entertaining, and socially rewarded.” Christians must be preoccupied with deeper and higher things. A church with power is not a church that spends 12 hours a week watching Downton Abbey.
Abuse and Proper Use
Abusus non tollit usum, abuse does not take away proper use, is an important principle for the Christian life. Just because something can be abused does not necessarily mean that it should be discarded altogether. But some things are so corrupt that it’s safe to say the church should do without them. “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12-13). It’s difficult to argue that Netflix is expedient for serious Christians.
Ditch Netflix for 30 days. Spend the extra time with the Lord, and then decide if you want to resubscribe for $12.99 each month.
If you still aren’t convinced, ditch Netflix for 30 days. Spend the extra time alone with the Lord or at home with your family. Then decide if you want to resubscribe for $12.99 each month. Anderson testifies, “the decision to quit watching Netflix and movies in my home remains one of the single best, and hardest, choices I have made as an adult.” I suspect you will have the same liberating experience.
After all, the best reason to ditch Netflix is because it does not tend towards your happiness in God. While not everything on Netflix qualifies as “sin’s pleasures that will soon be past,” Netflix is at best a lesser pleasure. I’ve chosen to invest my Netflix time in the holy joys that always last.