It’s me again. Me, part of the 18-24 female demographic you love pandering to. I’m the basic college girl who uses her parents’ password but probably will pay for her own account eventually. I am the naïve young woman who was honestly confused that “Netflix and chill” did not include binge watching “How I Met Your Mother.” I drink coffee drinks that are totally not milkshakes, and I have a history of mental illness. I will call you out but, in the end, I will quietly submit to your greatness.
I don’t like confrontation ― you are a huge company, and I’m just some unpaid college writer ― but please chill.
It’s not that I don’t love your topically relevant takes on political correctness, identity politics, and race. #TheFirstTimeISawMe is a now trending hashtag expressing the underlying truths regarding media representation. It’s not that I think you should stop making your shows and original content. You are good at what you do, and you have a huge platform. But like, chill.
Your reach and your impact cannot be ignored. Beyond the power of the pocketbook, you have the ability to reach people I can never dream of. If Netflix publishes a new series or trailer about a previously unheard issue, suddenly people care. Celebrities speak about their personal journeys through eating disorders and recovery. I got the opportunity to tell my story on this site because Netflix opened up a dialogue surrounding mental illness and suicidal ideation. As your hashtag so eloquently pointed out in 15 characters or less, media representation is important. Representation is important, period. But no one is asking you to be our white knight or ethnically ambiguous savior. Sometimes, I just want you to listen.
I know, I know. Listening can be such a key part of a relationship it’s almost cliche. But listen: I never asked for this, Netflix. I don’t want your original content ― not like this anyway. I don’t want you to fluff up my disorders to be suitable for a general audience. I don’t want to watch others struggle as I struggle to be seen. I don’t want my illness to be a witty plot device. I don’t want your high school misfits or your cute chick flick take on what it’s like to try and date on the Autism spectrum.
It sucks enough that I have to deal with my own commentary on how the world sees me. I don’t want your pandering. I am not broken. My mental illness is not a plot twist. It’s a terrible reality, and making a show about Asperger’s doesn’t change the fact that I get shushed at every meal because I’m interrupting too much to talk about knitting ― literally, Rivi, no one cares about your knitting, now let’s listen to Aunt Sue talk about her Niagra Falls train trip.
Because no one cares what I have to say, not unless it’s tied up with a pretty bow. Netflix, you speak to millions of viewers with stereotypically attractive protagonists and melodramatic theme music. I tell my story with hours of typing, and writing, and drawing and tears. And still, we’d rather watch a pretty girl bleed to death than read an honest account of what life with depression and mental illness is actually like.
Maybe I’m spiraling here. Maybe you really do care about me, and my interests, and society at large. Maybe you do want better things for this country and the people living in it. Maybe you do not see my illness as another marketing ploy you can use to further your capitalist agenda.
These issues are important to me. I don’t want this to be a big fight, or spiral out of hand. You are a big part of my daily life, Netflix. You are the best part of my day. And that is very romantic or extremely pathetic. Or both. I can’t tell right now.
And you have some really good stuff! “House of Cards” is great. I mean, I haven’t seen it, but my mom loves it, and the reviews look positive. And you had your whole thing about the private prison system in “Orange is the New Black,” which was probably new information to someone ― someone who had likely never even thought of the lives of prisoners behind bars, someone who now empathizes with the women of OITNB. I mean, I had read about it before. In a book. A paper one. Like an old person.
It’s not that you have to stop altogether with all the pandering content. Just like, chill, okay? These multifaceted issues aren’t going anywhere, and you and I both know nobody asked for the two cents of a multi-billion dollar company.
We have plenty of brilliantly spoken, well-researched, underrepresented writers and advocates who are knocking down the door with flowers and wine to try and woo us millennials over. (I assume. Nobody dates like that anymore. It’s a generational thing.)
As you can tell from this open letter, I hide behind my humor. Sometimes I hide well. And then I watch your shows, with your beautiful protagonists and their eloquent social skills. I worry maybe I do everything wrong. Maybe I can’t even do tragedy right.
Many of your shows, such as “To the Bone,” “13 Reasons Why,” and “Love,” make problems the protagonist. Pain and suffering build the characters and the storyline. Sometimes, like Hannah’s bullies in “13 Reasons Why,” the problems are external. Sometimes, like Mickey’s intimacy issues in “Love,” the problem lies internally but may be influenced by the outside world.
Having mental illness in real life, not on screen, means more than showing too many ribs or slitting your wrists with a razor blade. It means that you have to live in a world that your own brain wants out of. It means that sometimes, the hardest moment of the day is the minute you decide whether or not you have the energy to get out of bed. Being a spoonie, or someone with a chronic illness (mental or physical), means every day is a struggle. And that struggle doesn’t end when the credits start rolling.
It would be great if you could take some of your power and use it for political change or cultural impact. Maybe donate some money to a non-profit. I’m not talking about those “help kids in Africa get solar-powered cell phones,” because you and I both know that’s another cheap marketing ploy. That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about sponsoring programs in high schools to promote mental wellness. I’m talking about using your financial power to tell people that you care what happens after they click the subscribe button. I’m talking about making documentaries, and after school programs, and doing the tough work that us millennials on the ground are scrambling to keep covered.
But I’m totally not telling you what to do. We’re not going to be like that.
So, chill with the overtly topical content. Just for a little bit, okay? Let’s cool down and remember why we make such a great team. Because I’m introverted and anxious and you provide me entertainment for a monthly fee. You’re Icarus, and I’m Eliza Hamilton. You’re flying too close to the sun, and soon you’ll never be president. Did I ruin the metaphor? I ruined it.
Till next time, Netflix. I think we made real progress with this one-sided conversation.
If you need me, I’ll be waiting. Standing under your window with a laptop held above my head, “Say Anything” style, reminding you of what we used to be.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.