Advanced Television

Study: Rising adult content in Stranger Things

July 8, 2022

A report from US advocacy body the Parents Television and Media Council (PTC) analysing all four seasons of Netflix’s Stranger Things finds that the TV-14-rated programme has steadily introduced more explicit adult content with each new season, resulting in an increase of uncensored profanity and graphic violence. Stranger Things has become a hit with multi-generational appeal, with subscribers having viewed 286.7 million hours of Season 4.

“For a programme with such multi-generational appeal, we were shocked to see the rapid rise of explicit adult content that includes profanity and graphic violence without Netflix increasing the TV-14 age rating to TV-MA [Mature Audiences],” reveals Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television and Media Council. “Words like ‘f***’ and ‘s***’ – which air uncensored in Stranger Things – were once unthinkable for dialogue on programmes rated as appropriate for 13- and 14-year-old children; but on Netflix they have become ubiquitous.”

The PTC analysed the programme content of each episode of all four seasons of Stranger Things utilising content filtering data from the streaming video company VidAngel. VidAngel content filters identify in specific detail every kind of explicit content that may be found in select programmes, including Stranger Things. The major findings of the PTC’s report, Stranger and More Explicit Things, include:

  • A 217 per cent increase in profanity from season 1 to season 4. Note: Explicit language is uncensored in the programme.
  • A 739 per cent increase in the frequency of the word ‘s***’ from season 1 to season 4.
  • Stranger Things did not introduce the ‘f-word’ until part-way through its second season, but then used it six times in season 2, and five times in season 3, and nine times in season 4. It is useful here to remember that under the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board content ratings system, the use of a single ‘f-word’ on basic cable and expanded-basic cable television programming has traditionally triggered a ‘TV-MA’ content rating. And on broadcast television and radio, a single use of the ‘f-word’ has run afoul of indecency laws enforced by the Federal Communications Commission.
  • A 307 per cent increase in violence from season 1 to season 4. Of note, season 4’s first episode contains depictions of dead children.
  • A 705 per cent increase in graphic violence from season 1 to season 4.

“Our report suggests that Netflix has opened the profanity floodgates for children – a finding that is particularly troubling because Netflix streams programming to cell phones, laptop computers, pads and other devices that are routinely outside the purview of a parent,” notes Winter. “And setting parental controls on those media devices based on a content rating will fail to do what parents expect.”

“Netflix’s apparent desire to attract a broad audience would explain why the company – which has never shied-away from the TV-MA rating – rated Stranger Things TV-14. However, either the content is being rated inaccurately, or there has been considerable ‘ratings creep’ with the criteria used to determine an age-based rating. Neither option allows parents to do their job effectively.”

“Parents deserve a ratings system that is transparent and consistent across platforms. Our report suggests there to be a vastly different standard between streaming content and broadcast content – even if that content is similarly-rated. If a TV-14 doesn’t mean the same thing on Netflix as it does on CBS, it is of little to no value to parents. Netflix must re-evaluate its content ratings for Stranger Things immediately,” asserts Winter.

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