The Netflix Quandary: Glamourising Ignorance and Romanticising Toxic Relationship
“What had the French done to earn Emily in Paris?” was the first things crossed my mind once I finished the series. This comedy-drama (which lack thereof for both) is a vehicle for Lily Collins to stroll around Paris in pretty outfits, refusing to speak French while doing that, and expecting to be perceived as charming as a result. I know I’m late to jump into the bandwagon (this show won the Globes ffs) so I’m not gonna review the whole series.
Netflix series have a track record of being hit or miss. Netflix has had numerous highly dubious (but popular) series with a tepid narrative, glorified ignorance, and toxic romance at least in the past couple of years. It’s excellent enough to serve as a glorified white noise machine, but not good enough to allow you to sit and enjoy the narrative. Netflix continues to release shows that are less than the sum of their parts. Emily in Paris being one of the series that falls perfectly on that criteria.
Another one would be Bridgerton. Bridgerton is the latest period drama from Netflix, and it has an inclusive twist. The set is stunning, the cast is outstanding, and I must say the story has some potential. I guess we can say that this is 1813 Regency-era London version of Gossip Girl and follows the story of Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), a stunning debutante, and the fake courtship she stages during her debut with a hunky duke, Simon (Regé-Jean Page).
As a major fan of historical romance novels, I used to wish Netflix would create a lavish, complex series in the same vein as the books I adored. But I have to bite my tongue for it.
The Toxic Relationship Romanticisation & Rape-within-Marriage Normalisation
Many films and television shows promote the idea that if a romance is full of passion and lust, it must also be full of love. In Bridgerton, it’s difficult to overlook that one of the most prominent aspects of Daphne and Simon’s relationship is their sex life, and their apparent inability to resist one another. This harkens to other toxic romances like Fifty Shades Of Grey and Twilight, in which passion often takes precedence over health and rationality.
This leads to the rape scene which is quite disturbing and bothersome for me. So in the series, Simon does not desire children (unlike Daphne), which leads to the rape scene where Daphne compelled Simon to ejaculate inside her despite his verbal objection. I felt a glimmer of optimism as I saw this moment that they would correctly address this case of sexual assault. However, Daphne ended up playing the victim and being upset because her plan failed. Why?! It just frustrates me till this very second. Many male victims have similar experiences to Simon’s, and by claiming that what happened to him (although his story is fictional) was not rape, you are also claiming that their stories are not rape. With all the progress of me too movement, why did this show choose the shallow, easy route to sweep this issue under the rug? I think this section needs further highlight — which I might write a piece solely about this when the research is finished.
Race Issue and Representation
Now let’s take a detour to Emily in Paris. With only one black and gay (a double hitter, I know) cast member and maybe three speaking lines which scenes served no purpose (he’s just there and being sassy), the show lacks even the semblance of diversity. And then there’s one Asian woman who sings La Vie En Rose in the middle of Parisian street (I cringed hard watching this scene). And don’t make me start the rant about “the whole city looks like Ratatouille” part. It screams ignorance so loud, my head is still hurt hearing this line.
Bridgerton, on the surface, features a fairly varied cast, but it fails to give their backgrounds and races any meaningful agency. Some may say that Bridgerton is a fantasy — an alternate story on what could have been. As a result, some think it is unnecessary to get into the complexities of race, sexuality, and social ramifications. However, Bridgerton’s race issue left a lot of questions unanswered. They DO have people of various races and sexual orientations. But do they get any significant role aside from pushing this dead weight of a plot along?
As comparison, let’s take a look at 911 lone star (yes I know it’s not a Netflix show but why not?). The show has trans, gay, muslim, DREAM-er and other minorities which can be overwhelming to combine all in one show. However, this series able to introduce all the characters naturally — with no forceful effort whatsoever. I love this series as it try to tell the strong storyline from the casts and what they represent. All the characters have strong background and got their own story to tell. All are equally powerful. All of them.
This is the problem I specifically have with Emily in Paris. You name a stereotype, and Emily has not only experienced it but also attempted to correct it, to adapt it to the American way of life, within the first three episodes. Emily is not just tone deaf, but she is also selfish and unlikeable — even Lilly Collins who has her own charms and warmth couldn’t salvage this Emily narrative. This series was roundly criticised by many French reviewers and fans for this — propagating stereotypes of the French, praising an unrealistic theme park depiction of Paris, and weak plot lines. If it’s meant to be a metaphor for American imperialism, it works, but if it’s meant to be a fluff-up of the romcom for the streaming era, it falls flat on its face. When people try to do better in representation, context and move farther from stereotyping, this series can do better, honestly.
Communication is the Key
I know the reason for this maybe for the sake of the plot or bring the interesting drama to the story — but can the main leads in both Bridgerton and Emily in Paris communicate with each other? I don’t understand why the writers are relying on to miscommunication to keep the viewers on the edge of their seats. It doesn’t make sense.
If you want to learn something from Bridgerton, it’s that you shouldn’t use sex to fix your relationship issues. Have a conversation with your spouse. Let them know what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to provide. Simon, the protagonist, didn’t want children because his father was violent. And he might have said anything like this at any time before they married.
As for Emily in Paris, aside from the racial clichés, it features a love narrative that the general public did not approve of. Emily and Gabriel got off to a good start. Despite the fact that Gabriel had a girlfriend called Camille, their connection quickly became passionate. Gabriel should have been honest about having a girlfriend, in my opinion. This specific love triangle comes to an end in a way that I believe is meant to be beautiful but instead feels like an awful betrayal.
Come on, Netflix!
Netflix is here to entertain, and it does it admirably. The issue arises from the fact that it is overly focused on this objective only. In recent years, finding out about a new awful Netflix show has become a weekly adventure of mine. Is that, however, an honest mistake? Or, given that Netflix buys the rights to their series, it’s just a lousy marketing technique to get attention so Netflix can continue to profit from these shows indefinitely? Netflix shows don’t have to be great to make money. It only has to be decent enough, with a shoddy stamp of diversity, inclusivity, and a nice-looking set.
Let’s take a look on 13 Reasons Why. While it is a fun show to watch, it romanticises and glamourises mental illness. Hannah’s suicide is portrayed as a kind of retaliation against those who have harmed her, forcing them to face their flaws and feel terrible. This might lead to the perception that friends and loved ones are to blame for suicide, which is dangerous. Furthermore, given everything Hannah has gone through, she is faced with the choice of killing herself. The suicide scenario itself is gruesome and violates a number of regulations (among which the guidelines published by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention). The graphic display can be very triggering for viewers.
That is just one example on top of the two I’ve highlighted earlier. I know it can be very addictive binge-watching TV shows mindlessly, especially during this pandemic where most of us might need to stay at home much longer than we used to. With what appears to be a limitless supply of films, series, and documentaries to keep us watching, Netflix had 207.64 million paid subscribers globally as of the first quarter of 2021. In the year 2020, Netflix generated 2.76 billion dollars in income. Bottom line, Netflix capitalised on the binge-watching craze by creating readily digestible content.
Netflix may be the greatest invention of the century, providing refined concept of entertainment to thousands of screens, but it is not without flaws. Rather than focusing on the amount of money they can make, the platform should think about its audiences and the impact TV shows have on them. It is up to us to decide which shows or movies to watch. I personally think we still can continue to enjoy our favourite pastime: binge-watching Netflix shows — as long as we’re being smart and vigilant while doing it. Regardless, Netflix has a lot of good shows. As a parting words, I’ll leave you with some suggestions of Netflix Original Series you can start to binge-watch. Also, feel free to leave some Netflix recommendations in the comments section below.
- Sex Education
- Sweet Tooth
- Grace & Frankie