Netflix, “Stranger Things” and Compassion Fatigue

3D glasses with Stranger Things logo being reflected in them
By now, many of you have probably watched season two of “Stranger Things” on Netflix. Don’t worry: There are no spoilers here — except I really didn’t expect to see that beach scene with Kevin Bacon in the Upside Down.

(That didn’t happen.)

If you’ve been watching the series, maybe you’ve had similar thoughts and reactions to mine. Several times while I was watching, I had to remind myself this whole thing was created by Netflix. This wasn’t a Disney or Marvel or Lucas Films production designed for huge movie theaters; this was created by the old DVD mail service that now streams “Friends” reruns to your XBox. Most of the actors were completely unknown to the public before this series, and — of course — the premise of the show is pretty ridiculous.

But it’s so stinkin’ good. According to Nielsen, 361,000 people watched all nine episodes on the first day they were released. In the first three days, every episode of the series averaged four million views.

This TV show made by a streaming service — that you and I pay $8 for — created a phenomenon that was nominated for 79 awards, including two Golden Globes and 13 Emmys.

A lot of people are watching this thing.

Compassion Fatigue

Let’s shift gears for a minute.

I don’t need to tell you we live in a very complicated and broken world. When I hear the news of the latest shooting or injustice, it’s easy for me to freeze. I have a strong natural bent toward justice. When I see something wrong, something deep inside me twists and reminds me this is not how things are supposed to be. When I hear about police brutality, racial riots, political corruption, lack of clean water, sexual abuse scandals, threats of nuclear war, homelessness, and children waiting to be adopted, it’s easy for my heart to get wrenched to the point of paralysis.

There’s just too much to do, and I have so little to offer.

When I have big and hard questions about horrible injustices, I really resonate with what people call “compassion fatigue.” It seems impossible for me to care as much as I should about this growing list of tragedies happening all around me. It’s easy to feel hopeless in the midst of problems so big and injustices so prevalent.

That’s a Lot of People

Now back to Netflix for a minute. Do you know how they’re able to make such stunning art like “Stranger Things”? Sometimes the stars align and the right group of people works together with great chemistry — but in this case, it sure doesn’t hurt that 52 million Americans subscribe to Netflix.

52 million subscribers — and that doesn’t even count everyone in your neighborhood sharing your great aunt Ruthie’s password. The U. S. population is around 320 million, so that means 17 percent of Americans pay for the service, with roughly half of the nation’s households represented.

Turns out if enough people give you $8 every month, you can do some pretty cool stuff. If half the nation gets behind something, good things can happen.

Are you ready for a couple more statistics? Did you know only between 5-10 percent of American Christians tithe? One-third of Americans make no charitable contributions at all. About a fourth of American adults volunteer for some sort of community service, meaning 75 percent of us don’t. In the 2016 presidential election, about half of eligible Americans didn’t even vote.

There’s a lot of bad stuff going on, and there are a lot of people who aren’t doing anything about it.

This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. However, I seem to hear more and more people frustrated with the way things are going these days. There is definitely no shortage of issues to get you riled up.

I know tithing is intimidating and sounds ludicrous if you’ve never done it before. I also understand it seems impossible to do any sort of volunteer work. I know what it’s like to have a family and a job and a few other jobs and a house where an electrical outlet isn’t working and a car that has an airbag recall and I’m supposed to get a haircut and ohmygoodness the holidays are coming.

None of us have enough money and none of us have time.

Except we do, and we do.

I know it’s paralyzing to see the world in so much trouble, and it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s my advice:

Do something.

You can’t care deeply about every cause, so pick one that really matters to you and do something. Sponsor a child through Compassion International. Pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child and volunteer at your local drop-off location. Write a letter to a prisoner. Help in the nursery at your church. Volunteer with a local politician. Visit people in the hospital or a nursing home. Surprise the lady behind you in line with a Starbucks gift card.

Be the Church

As Pastor Bill Hybels famously said, “The local church is the hope of the world.”

Who is the church? You are. You and I can help turn some of this stuff around.

Netflix is able to make “Stranger Things” and “Gilmore Girls” and “Daredevil” and “Fuller House” because a ton of people are willing to pay for them. You can’t pull off a huge Hollywood production with just a couple people who are sort of interested; it requires hundreds of passionate people dedicating significant time and attention, and it also requires a fifth of a nation giving its money.

The world is big and the problems are huge, but we are the church, and nothing can stop us unless we stop us. I’m tired of things seemingly getting worse every day. It’s time for us to help turn the tides. I can’t fix racism or gender inequality or political corruption, but I can vote in my local elections, be nice to people in my community — especially the ones who look different from me — and give as much as my budget allows to funding important causes.

If a kooky mom from Indiana can save Will Byers from Demogorgons, surely we can at least make a dent in the issues hitting our headlines today. Don’t let compassion fatigue cripple you. Pick a cause, make an effort, and let’s start making a difference. It’s time, and right now — maybe more than ever — the world needs a Church willing to get its hands dirty.

And then? Go home and watch “Stranger Things.” (It’s really good.)

About the Author

Matt Ehresman
Matt Ehresman

Matt Ehresman works as the creative media director at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan. He loves using video, images, words and sounds to help people think about things that matter. He is a graduate of Sterling College and Regent University and an expert on all things Mountain Dew and superheroes. He is the proud husband of Tillie and occasionally frustrated owner of Jarvis (their mini Aussie).