On the dangers of Netflix

Sometime during my freshman year of college, I discovered something life-changing.  Not in the sense that I had some sort of spiritual awakening or a profound personal epiphany, but more in the way that free food or the words “this assignment has been postponed” are life-changing to a college student like myself.  And it can all be summed up in one word.


Believe me when I say there is nothing in the whole world quite like returning to your room after a long day of classes and paper-writing to put your feet up and watch an hour or two (or three) of quality entertainment (okay, maybe sometimes it was closer to four).  And even though it drastically reduced my already minimal social interaction, there was no denying it was pure bliss.

That is, at least for a while.

Two or three weeks after my foray into the world of Netflix, I began to find myself more stressed than usual.  My TV-watching wasn’t as enjoyable or relaxing as it used to be, and I started to feel as though I wasn’t getting enough rest. 

Before saying any more, however, let me first talk briefly about a paper I wrote that same semester.  It was on the subject of imaginative literature, or fiction, and how it should be approached from a Christian worldview.  While I was researching, I came across a quote by Gene Edward Veith* that I found interesting.  Here’s what it said:

“To apply the principle to literature, what might render a work harmful is how it affects the reader.  One reader may experience lust when he reads a particular novel.  Other novels might provoke in a reader hate-filled fantasies of revenge or sadistic domination.  Another reader may find that a book dredges up dark occult yearnings.  Another reader may be tempted into covetousness, worldliness, pride, or other sins.  In each case, the reader should ‘pluck his eyes’ out of that book.”

He goes on to say that others may read the exact same thing and experience none of the temptations as those listed above.  So his point is that we as Christians must be highly in tune with how a specific work affects us personally, on both a spiritual and emotional level.  This applies to anything from books to music to movies to TV shows.

Which brings me back to my own situation.  While I didn’t necessarily experience any such temptation during my Netflix viewing, I quickly found myself being weighed down by the heavy atmosphere of a show I was watching.  At a time when schoolwork and other responsibilities were dragging me down, perhaps a show about the moral decline of a high school chemistry teacher to ruthless drug lord was not the best thing for me.  That’s not to say it was necessarily wrong—I’m perfectly capable of watching the same show now without feeling a low-grade depression after each episode.  What I am saying, however, is that we need to be closely in tune with where we are spiritually and emotionally, and not just what everyone is talking about around the water cooler.  For me it meant taking a break for a week or two.  That show can be pretty heavy.

To emphasize, this is not an attempt to talk about the evils of television.  Do I think there are some messed up things on television?  For sure.  What I want to point out, though, is how we all react differently to different things.  You might watch something as harmless as HGTV and find yourself with an increased desire for material possessions.  In such a situation, it is just as important that one “pluck his eyes” away from that thing. 

Does that mean HGTV is wrong or that you should never watch it again?  Definitely not.  However, it might be a good idea to step back and think about what kind of effect it’s been having on you.  (And really, who couldn’t use a little time away from the TV?)  Spend some time in prayer and work to identify the root of the problem.  Only then should you consider returning to your regularly scheduled programming.

The point I’m trying to make is that we simply need to ask ourselves some honest questions when it comes to the movies and shows we consume. For example—yes, I can wax poetic about the great tragedy that is Breaking Bad, but is this making me any happier?  And yes, I’m culturally-savvy enough to say I’ve watched Mad Men, but has it made me any less cynical?  When we are able to do that, we not only spare ourselves the possible emotional despair, but we make our whole lives easier as well.  And that matters far more than anything a mere TV show has to offer.

*From his book, Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to LiteraturePage 33.