Netflix's "The Politician" Criticized For Its Depiction Of Suicide

By David Konow 10/11/19

Mental health advocates worry that the way the show handles suicide could lead to imitative behavior amongst the vulnerable.

Image: 
Netflix's "The Politician"
Photo via YouTube

The new Netflix series, The Politician, is receiving backlash from mental health organizations because of how the show depicts suicide.

The Politician, starring Ben Platt, is the latest series from Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, Pose). Platt plays a high school kid who wants to become president of the United States one day, and his ambitions begin when he tries to become student body president. In the first episode, one of Platt’s political rivals takes his life.

Trigger Warning

The show includes a trigger warning, which reads: “The Politician is a comedy about moxie, ambition, and getting what you want at all costs. But for those who struggle with their mental health, some elements may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.”

Yet the Mental Health Foundation has openly criticized this warning to the media. Chris O’Sullivan, an executive at the UK-based Mental Health Foundation, told The Telegraph, “TV dramas naturally want to explore and sometimes to dramatize distress. Trigger warnings can be part of such programming but they should be sincere. They don’t provide a license to then show gratuitously distressing content, content that presents a stigmatizing view of distress or content that romanticizes suicide, shows details of methods, which can increase the risk of copycat behavior.”

Concern Over Life Imitating Art

Ged Flynn, an executive at the PAPYRUS anti-suicide charity, is also concerned about the show, feeling that its graphic depiction of suicide “can, and often does, lead to imitative behavior. People who produce such imagery must weigh up the consequences before putting their work before the public, particularly young people and those who may be vulnerable.”

Digital Spy reports that Netflix consulted with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention when the show was in production.

The streaming service also came under fire for the depiction of suicide in the series 13 Reasons Why.

In 2017, Netflix added a trigger warning at the beginning of 13 Reasons Why after the show received negative feedback from people who thought the show could cause a “contagion effect” and potentially inspire teens to take their lives.

Netflix told BuzzFeed that they used the trigger warning “as an extra precaution for those about to start the series,” and that they also “strengthened the messaging” on their trigger warnings as well.

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.