What’s In A Meme: Did Netflix Get It Wrong With That 13 Reasons Why Joke?
The Debrief: The internet can’t move for memes. But when going for a quick laugh cross the line?
Reaching meme status is a weird, warped level of millennial accomplishment. It means that someone or something has reached a certain level of importance that warrants internet mockery. But the danger comes when that subject matter that is open to willy-nilly sharing for the sake of an empty ‘rofl’ (because, mate, when did you last see someone physically roll on the floor laughing?) is actually pretty serious.
Netflix are the latest to enter the murky waters of controversial memeing. Earlier this week, Hulu tweeted a 30-second promotional video of what they have on offer. ‘Streaming only on Hulu. Not on Netflix. Try your free trial today!’, they said.
Not to leave the gripe unnoticed, Netflix responded with a reference to their popular show 13 Reasons Why. ‘Welcome to your tape’, Netflix tweeted. Lol, how jokes. Right? RIGHT? Erm, people aren’t so sure.
Welcome to your tape https://t.co/juAMcd0jjU— Netflix US (@netflix) April 18, 2017
If you haven’t made it round to watching 13 Reasons Why yet, it’s a Netflix original series produced by Selena Gomez based on a super-popular book by Jay Asher. In short, it tells the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of cassette tapes that explain why she killed herself. Each tape corresponds to someone at her school who she counts as a reason.
So, we could take Netflix’s ‘welcome to your tape’ tweet as basically inferring that Hulu has made them feel suicidal. Funny…
Okay. If I’m being totally honest, I read the tweet and laughed. Well, I say laugh but it was really more of a gentle guffaw, but I responded in the way that you’re meant to react to memes. They made a joke about something in popular culture that I recognised. Good job, Netflix. Top competitor banter. But when my awkward nasal chuckle faded and I realised what it was they referenced, if not hurt I felt a little uneasy.
I unashamedly love a meme. Live for the lolz, me. Even more so if it’s self-deprecating comment on my failings as an ‘adult’. Slip ‘em all in my DMs, please. But 13 Reasons Why didn’t become so popular so quickly just because it’s another binge-worth show on Netflix (we’re talking Netflix’s most tweeted about series ever, guys) with loads of #relatable reference points. It’s done so well because there are elements of the show that will have really resonated people in a way that’s almost a bit uncomfortable to acknowledge. We’ve all been through the sometimes harrowing experience that is high school. We’ve all seen or experienced bullying. And some of us have in one way or another encountered depression, sexual abuse and teen suicide.
Whether or not Netflix trivialised these really important issues isn’t as easy as yes or no, though, and I really wish it was. The issue is that the nature of the internet and the way we use social media that encourages us to blur these kinds of lines that are probably a lot clearer IRL. And I don’t mean among friends, can you imagine making a joke about suicide to a stranger in the street and expecting them to give you a thumbs up and introduce you to their mates to retell something that normally would be considered ‘in bad taste’? Because that’s pretty much how it works online. But that’s apparently okay because our generation grew up online and that’s just how it is.
We could come up with loads of theories about what it says about how we deal with tricky subject matter. Memes have become such a distinctly ingrained part of our culture because quite often, they’re used to express what’s on our minds and to address the things that are difficult to articulate but easier to laugh at (aka, a coping mechanism I guess). And if it gets shared then there’s your validation that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling right there and, well done, you’re actually pretty funny. But it feels a bit different coming from mouthpiece of American Netflix.
You can see what they were trying to do - Netflix used a competitor’s attempt to draw their customers away to redirect attention to one of their biggest shows in a lolzy ‘if you know, you know’ kind of way. And you know what, fair play. 200 thousand retweets and 380 thousand likes is a whole lot of attention. But I don't think we can afford not to acknowledge Netflix’s responsibility to one of its own shows, it's potentially vulnerable audience and the sensitive nature of the connotations here.
True: on the one hand, as a society, we do need to encourage some normality around conversations about the topics that 13 Reasons Why addresses, but it needs to happen in a far more nuanced and thoughtful way than this. Memes can only do so much.
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