Netflix And The TERF War (Update)

There wasn’t much to say about the outrage over Netflix airing Dave Chappelle’s special, The Closer, until I saw it and found out what all the outrage was about. Now I have, and I get it. It was Chappelle being Chappelle, as he’s always been and still was, and that’s the problem Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos faced.

Netflix Inc. Co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos said he “screwed up” in his efforts to communicate with employees who were upset over “The Closer,” a recent comedy special by Dave Chappelle in which he made remarks that some viewed as offensive to the transgender community.

In emails to Netflix staff after the special’s debut earlier this month, Mr. Sarandos defended “The Closer,” citing its popularity on the platform and the company’s commitment to creative freedom. He also said the company believed “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

This wasn’t the first time employees of a company claimed that something said or written morphed into a real risk of physical harm to them, the argument being that if ideas that challenged their hegemony were put out into the world, gullible people would seize upon those ideas, translate them into hatred and go out and find people, in this case transgender people, and beat them, shoot them, kill them. Thus, words that could promote this chain of events had to be eradicated so people didn’t take to the streets to kill transgender people.

In “The Closer,” which was released earlier this month and is currently among the most-watched programs on the service in the U.S., Mr. Chappelle said “gender is a fact” and said he identified as a “TERF,” an acronym that stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” He also compared the transgender community to people who wear blackface.

The backlash was swift. A transgender employee, Terra Field, twitted their outrage and it went viral.

A day after the special’s release, Terra Field, a Netflix software engineer who is transgender, criticized the show on Twitter, saying Mr. Chappelle attacked “the trans community, and the very validity of transness.” The tweets went viral and led to a backlash inside the streaming giant over the special. Groups including LGBTQ-rights advocacy group GLAAD spoke up against the show, and the National Black Justice Coalition asked for Netflix to take the special off its platform.

Field and two other employees then crashed an online meeting of senior execs.

Netflix said Ms. Field wasn’t punished for her tweets, but she and two other employees got into hot water at Netflix when they attended an online meeting of senior Netflix executives last week without permission.

By “hot water,” they mean Field and the other employees were suspended, then reinstated when that wasn’t taken well online. Now Field has called for an employee walkout at Netflix.

A Netflix transgender-employee group is encouraging all employees to take Wednesday off as a form of protest against Netflix for its decision to continue to work with Mr. Chappelle and its reaction to their concerns.

Whether, and to what extent, that will happen remains to be seen, but it’s caused Sarandos to respond to their grievance.

Mr. Sarandos said his remarks on content not causing real-world harm was also an oversimplification and lacking in humanity.

“To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world…sometimes quite negative,” he said.


“We have articulated to our employees that there are going to be things you don’t like,” Mr. Sarandos said. “There are going to be things that you might feel are harmful. But we are trying to entertain a world with varying tastes and varying sensibilities and various beliefs, and I think this special was consistent with that,” he added.

The Chappelle special is popular on Netflix. People want to watch it, perhaps because Dave Chappelle’s comedy is funny, biting, interesting and, did I mention, funny? But there was also a bitter edge to much of it, that Dave Chappelle doesn’t take kindly to those who grieved about his last comedy special, “Sticks and Stones,” which was similarly controversial. Chappelle’s comedy was always controversial, which was a big part of why his comedy worked and mattered. It’s not always controversial in the way someone like Terra Field demands.

Netflix, via Sarandos, has a problem. It can air content that plays into the woke genre, even though that’s becoming increasingly untenable as the rifts between “marginalized” groups is becoming increasingly apparent, even to those who refuse to admit it. Netflix can’t simultaneously assert that it will continue to air content that some might feel is harmful and yet concede that it will cause real-world harm. If it’s harming people, then it’s very much in the wrong. Netflix has a choice of what to air and choosing to air content that harms people is wrong and inexcusable.

But does it harm people to put ideas into the ether that do not adhere to the orthodoxy of transgender activists? If not, then why acquiesce to the claim that they are harming transgender people, they are erasing their existence, challenging their validity, causing people to go out and beat, kill, transgender people? Pick a side, Netflix.

It remains to be seen whether the walkout at Netflix will happen and what, if any, consequence it will have. It remains to be seen whether Sarandos will be co-CEO or lapdog to the outraged. These are employees, the people who cash his paychecks, who are also of the view that they get to tell him what to do, what content his company is allowed to air, and what ideas are permissible to be streamed to the company’s paying customers.

“I’m firmly committed to continue to support artistic freedom for the creators who work with Netflix and increase representation behind the screen and on camera,” he said, noting these goals may at times be in conflict with each other.

“We have to figure out how to navigate those challenges,” Mr. Sarandos said.

Good luck navigating those challenges, Ted. But remember, if viewers don’t want to watch content that meets the approval of your new content director, Terra Field, then the walkout won’t matter because there won’t be a company at which to be employed. No viral twits are going to compel people to pay for a streaming service that people don’t want to watch.

Update: The walkout happened, and dozens showed. But the video has to be seen to be appreciated.

44 thoughts on “Netflix And The TERF War (Update)

  1. B. McLeod

    Like the right-wing religious fanatics of the 1990s, the [Ed. Note] activists fall into the pit of trying to dictate the words and thoughts of others. Plenty of people don’t accept the new duckspeak postulate that gender is subjective. Whether the speakers are comedians or anybody else, the activists will never be able to browbeat them all into accepting the fad conclusion du jour.

    1. PseudonymousKid

      I don’t understand your hate. Pops, I’m sorry, but my comrade’s continuous ranting about this bothers me.

      Gender at least has some subjective quality that evades biology. If a person looks like a woman I’m inclined to call her “she” regardless of what she was born as or what she has in her pants because I wouldn’t ask about any of that. Wouldn’t you agree or are you firm in your position that none of whatever slur you continue to use that doesn’t even pass the Host’s permissive filter are entirely without reason? There may be more than meets the eye, but at a minimum there’s a subjective quality to this whole “gender” thing. You can say something else is more important, but I’m not going to start asking what chromosomes people have just like I’m not going to ask for preferred pronouns. Do you see any of yourself in the activists you hate?

        1. PseudonymousKid

          I have no idea what you mean and am missing the joke completely if there is one besides myself.

      1. Elpey P.

        Like with Chappelle, I think there was an unintended conflation/substitution of sex with gender in the original comment. They used to be used interchangeably. Now they aren’t except when they are.

        There is a subjective quality that evades age also, which can lead to lots of interesting debates, but that doesn’t untether people from their birth date. At least not without the proper transitional procedure. Somebody has to ask the questions. The bouncers and membership coordinators need to have something to work with.

          1. Elpey P.

            Throwing down ain’t nothing but a thing…

            I’ll take “Song Lyrics That Don’t Hold Up In Court” for $400, Mayim.

      2. delurking

        What’s old is new again.
        “Most times you can’t hear ’em talk
        Other times you can
        All the same old cliches
        “Is that a woman or a man?”
        And you always seem outnumbered
        You don’t dare make a stand”
        – 1973

      3. Pedantic Grammar Police

        Recognizing nonsense isn’t hate. Making fun of people who take nonsense seriously isn’t hate. If you devalue the word “hate” by applying it to differences of opinion, it will lose its impact. Have you heard about the boy who cried “wolf”?

        1. PseudonymousKid

          You’re just mad you can’t prove to me that it’s nonsense. It isn’t all nonsense. Don’t hate.

          1. Pedantic Grammar Police

            If you want to be successful in life, you will need to learn how to recognize nonsense. You might look around and say “But there are lots of people spouting nonsense who are successful! What about Donald Trump? What about “Rachel” Levine?” But you would be wrong, because these people aren’t buying nonsense, they are selling it. They know that what they are spouting is nonsense, and they do it for fun and profit. The people who buy their wolf tickets are destined for failure.

            1. PseudonymousKid

              You don’t know me PGP. Let me break character and explain what I was up to here. I was curious about Bruce, but I can’t just come out and say that because of my neuroses. I have an opinion already based on what I’ve read and thought, but I am willing to change my mind. I have a certain respect for Bruce. I wanted him to prove me wrong, if he could. I wanted to expand my experience by engaging with someone who is adamant that I am completely off my rocker. I tried to get him to budge from his absolute position just a tad by acknowledging there’s at least something subjective about gender. Of course, I would have then tried to exploit that admission into more as is my nature. He didn’t respond, but you and others did. This is one process by which I learn. I’m not staking my life on any of this because this has little to do with me personally even if I’ve run into people I couldn’t clock before and generally don’t want to hurt anyone.

              I make jokes in part because I struggle with all of this like everyone else. I like to try to put myself in the shoes of others, even if they are high heels. Not because I want to be them, but because I want to understand them. I get your point, though, watching people be sheep hurts.

              I’ll be hyperbolic, make stupid references to literature and lyrics, be sarcastic, but I am trying to understand something I currently don’t grok. I hope the Host gets it, but he just might because I haven’t yet been banished. I’m gonna go back to my room for a bit, but this was actually fun for me, believe it or not.

      4. Andy

        What does it mean to you for “a person” to “look[] like a woman”? Where I come from, men and women mostly wear the same clothes, and women don’t put on makeup to go work in the fields. No, I don’t for a moment feel the impulse to call a man “she” because of what he’s wearing. I grew up in a milieu where a man is male and a woman is female, and nothing you do makes you any less of a man. There was a time when “a woman is a woman because she has a uterus, even if she works for a living, and she doesn’t have to wear dresses” was considered progressive, and that’s where my own culture crystallized. “Actually, wearing dresses is what makes you a woman!” just doesn’t work for me.

        And I always assumed B. McLeod was writing “[Ed. Note]” on purpose.

        1. PseudonymousKid

          My brother is my brother even if I’m adopted and share no blood with him. It’s a social question and not a biological one. I’m not team TERF and you shouldn’t be either. They don’t like men all that much and some want to do away with us. Proceed carefully.

          1. Andy

            Who said anything about being on anyone’s team?
            Yeah, it’s a social question. All words are at the end of the day; it’s a social question whether I say man or l’homme. In my society, we call males men and females women. That’s allowed. You can say whatever you like at your dinner parties.

            1. PseudonymousKid

              Chappelle did.

              Have you never met an androgynous person? What do you do then? Stumble over yourself? Ask for a blood sample to take back to your lab? What about someone with XXY or XYY or XXX chromosomes? What are they? Inhuman? You’re being narrow-minded. I bet your dinner parties suck and are boring.

            2. Andy

              XXY and XYY have Y chromosomes and are male. XXX has no Y chromosome and is female. That’s not even hard, and even if it was, it would only apply to a tiny percentage of people.

              No, I’ve never met someone whose sex wasn’t obvious. Even the local man who wears dresses happily credits his wife for making them for him. The gay men are the least “effeminate” of anybody, and besides, nobody thinks talking a certain way or liking Broadway makes you less of a man to begin with, except maybe the aforementioned gay men, whom I’ve heard talking shit about city boys before. If you really need to know, though, my answer is that I say whatever pronoun I feel like and refuse to change my mind. Off-campus, nobody really cares that much.

  2. Elpey P.

    Under those rhetorical standards, Netflix is going to “harm” people across the board with their content. It’s pretty easy to construct that argument for just about anything they air, often with even less gaslighting. The same people complaining about “harm” are often actively cheering it on against other idpol factions. It’s just another culture war tactic, evolved to best leverage current social pathologies.

    So we’re right back to the question of which identity politics faction they’re going to pay more attention to. It’s a circular question, because power only recognizes the voices it amplifies. But the groundswell of voices pushing back in defense of women (literal definition, not circular non-definition) against the recent dismantling of sex-based rights and protections – and of the legitimacy of their identity – may finally be getting too loud for power structures to ignore. Whether we’re talking about viewership or about calculating “harm” as a factor, they’ve by far got the numeric advantage.

    Since everyone is Team TERF in one form or another, it makes sense for it to be in the form that actually challenges patriarchal oppression instead of coddles it.

    1. SHG Post author

      When harm is defined by what someone feels, no matter how rational or attenuated, there’s no winning. And even if there was, no one would let you or they would run out of things to feel unsafe about and have to start being happy. That would be terrifying.

      1. rxc

        The problem for the woke progressives is that things that are “funny” are inherently about something unpleasant that happens to someone else. Or they involve saying things that hurt someone’s feelings. I am not talking about people being happy, but stories that are funny. Funny is a different concept from happy – you can be very happy about nice stuff. Funny, inherently, is about something that is not pleasant, that happens or is done to, or said about, someone else. So, the woke have to eliminate the concept of funny from culture. Happy is good to keep, and easy. Everyone likes babies and kittens and nice scenery. Funny requires embarassing situations, slipping on a banana peel, jokes at other people’s expense or about other people, or running into something. All situations that conflict with the Progressive vision.

        So funny has to go. Unfortunately, most people don’t want that to happen. Problem.

            1. Elpey P.

              It worked for Trump better than for it did for people who love good comedy. There’s more than one way to kill it.

  3. CLS

    It appears the caving has begun. Outlets are reporting as of this morning Sarandos is issuing mealy mouthed statements concerning how certain titles “can cause harm to some communities” or some such garbage.

    I’m loath to critique humor of any sort because comedy is subjective. But it is worth mentioning Dave is something of a generational talent. If any other comedian told a joke involving Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and a deadbeat black father working at a Foot Locker in D.C. they’d be booed out of the room in a heartbeat.

    What’s really head-scratching about the outrage over “The Closer” is that if you actually watch the damn thing there’s nothing for the trans community to get upset over. Yes, he makes fun of them. He makes fun of everyone. No one’s safe when Dave Chappelle has a microphone in hand. Everyone who’s clutching their pearls over “The Closer” take selective bits out of context so they can participate in the outrage du jour.

    If Sarandos and the Netflix brass had balls they’d let the big walkout happen, tell those who were offended to not let the door hit them on the ass as they left, and hire new people. I’m sure Netflix could fill those positions in a heartbeat.

    Unfortunately, I fear they lack the balls to continue backing Chappelle.

      1. CLS

        I like to think they’re watching this from on high, with Carlin remarking “Hey Lenny! Remember you got arrested for this shit?”

        And Lenny looks to Richard Pryor and says “Motherfucker. Can you believe that cocksucker?”

      2. Jim Cline

        We still have Bill Maher and Dennis Miller. Unfortunately they’ve both made their political leanings so well known that the folks being skewered that need to hear how silly they come across will never take the time to hear them.

  4. Jeff

    I watched the special and I don’t even recall Chapelle mentioning that he was a TERF. It was obviously when he was discussing Rowling, but I don’t recall him saying that. It was probably as an aside.

    But there’s some very uncomfortable points in his special, about “punching down”, that I’m sure the transgender community and its supporters would rather not address. Focusing outrage on another point is a convenient way of doing that.

    The entire concept, that if you say something, and peoole hear it and then go out and attack and kill others in response, is laughable. Adults (on the presumption that they are even common anymore) are capable of thinking rationally, and if they’re going out and attacking trans people over comments a comedian made then they already had it in them in the first place. It’s similar to the paradox of intolerance, in that it presupposes that society is incapable of hearing and rejecting ideas on their own. It’s bullshit.

    1. SHG Post author

      There were parts I found very funny and there were parts I found less funny. I don’t recall the TERF mention either, but then, I am not hypervigilant so I could easily miss something.

  5. Drew Conlin

    Would I be entirely off base to say Paddy Chayefsky satirized and foretold this in the movie network? Marginalized group angry at each for low ratings!!
    Not many endings better than a tv personality being assassinated for low ratings

    1. SHG Post author

      When I wrote the post, I thought about the old WNBA debate about why more people don’t watch women’s basketball (so women basketballers could be paid the equivalent of men basketballers) and how sexist it was. The only problem was that people just didn’t want to watch it and nobody could make them.

      1. Richard Parker

        The level of play in the WNBA has improved a lot. The first 5 years I could have played and been a star. That’s not saying much.

  6. Paleo

    Not sure how one can avoid screwing up when the people he’s talking to will only accept one response. This expected response is diametrically opposed to his duties to NFLX shareholders. No way for him to win.

  7. Dilan Esper

    But does it harm people to put ideas into the ether that do not adhere to the orthodoxy of transgender activists? If not, then why acquiesce to the claim that they are harming transgender people, they are erasing their existence, challenging their validity, causing people to go out and beat, kill, transgender people? Pick a side, Netflix.

    It seems to me that the central sticking point here- and it’s one that goes far beyond trans activism- is nobody seems to be willing to call BS on ANY assertion on the left that something causes harm or ANY assertion on the left that emotional harm is comparable to a physical threat.

    And note- this is only on the left. People on the right who claim, e.g., that their kids are harmed by exposure to Darwin’s theories, are still dismissed.

    I am particularly sensitive to this because as a lawyer, I have to march into court and prove things that I say. I have to demonstrate causation. I have to show that future harms are likely to occur.

    But in public discourse, people just assume that if someone on the left says that X will lead to people getting killed, it must be true, or at least they are afraid to say the claim is false. And that’s behind so many controversies, including this one. “Dave Chappelle’s jokes aren’t going to kill anyone, and you shouldn’t make false claims that they will just because you dislike his jokes or feel they are hurtful” is basically the only response necessary here. But it’s the one that nobody will make.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sarandos made it at first, and was then mobbed for it, backed off and apologized.

      And I may occasionally suggest it.

  8. Richard Parker

    “Birth” and “Death” are artificial constructs of our foul capitalistic, racist, and anti-LSMFT society,

    I was never “born” and I refuse to “die”.

    PS: Preferred personal pronoun “Living Tzar God”.

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