The Death Of Television – Netflix
“Whereas ye know not what [shall be] on the morrow. For what [is] your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” – James 4:14 (The Bible/God)
You have to feel sorry for TV. It has been a major cultural force since the 1920s and was seemingly unable to be knocked off its top spot, lording it over the masses whilst dictating pretty much everything we visually and audibly consume and deciding at what exact time we do so. Families would plan entire evenings around TV, learning the beauty of both organisation and compromise.
“Right, Mum wants to watch Come Dine With Me at half five, even though it’s the same fucking episodes we’ve seen a thousand times, we can all agree on The Simpsons at six, even though it’s the same fucking episodes we’ve seen a thousand times, then your brother wants to watch Top Gear at half six, even though it’s the same fucking episodes we’ve seen a thousand times, and I know you hate it, but that’s okay, because you can watch The Big Bang Theory on E4+1 later on, even though it’s the same fucking episodes we’ve seen…”
But now TV has been reduced to a limp drip of chicken piss, retired into a life that consists of nothing more than going to bingo four times a week, comparing the prices of various supermarkets, and complaining about the punctuality of buses. TV has become such an archaic format that it no longer has control of its own bladder function and the only humane thing left to do is take the poor lil’ bastard into a field and put a bullet into it’s skull, ending it’s constant misery. Because, like the new hip popstar (Miley Cyrus) that banishes the old (Britney Spears) into the vast pit of obscurity, Netflix has come along and made traditional television viewing seem as relevant as using two paper cups and a bit of string to make a phone call.
What Netflix does is pretty damn clever. It gives the user the impression that they’re choosing what they watch and when, but actually they’re not. Because Netflix knows you, better than you know yourself it seems, and begins to “recommend” what programmes it believes you’d dig based on what you’ve already watched. And, of course, you wouldn’t want to be rude. Netflix kindly went out of its way to find these shows, after all. So you often try out these suggestions and, even though for the most part they’re pretty damn awful, you become invested solely on the basis that, after seeing one episode, you kinda wanna know what happens, even though it sucks.
Plus, you who are you to defy Netflix? After all, she knows what you really want. This results in countless evenings spent ignoring the search function and staring blankly at a screen watching something that really should have never been made like, for example, Dead To Me , a show whose sole purpose was to discover whether you can justify two seasons with a lead actress whose boring personality is only matched by that of her completely dull, monotone voice and scripts that read like one of the Biff, Chip & Kipper kids books (it turns out you can).
Netflix also kindly organises your choices into fun categories to minimise the amount of effort you have to use, because scrolling through a few options is apparently too much hard work for your regular couch masturbating TV viewer, and these are usually named things like “Family Films”, “Teen Comedies”, “True Crime Dramas”, and so on. Unless you’re as much of a boring arsehole as me and spend 99% of your Netflix viewing time watching documentaries on everything from Fidel Castro’s rise to power, to how the common bee is dying out in England, to Scottish people being pissed off that Donald Trump plans to build a big arse golf course on one of the countries last wilderness areas. So instead of having reasonable and sane categories, my Netflix is broken up into segments such as “Economic Downfall Documentaries”, “Social Commentary Documentaries”, “World War II Documentaries”, and a plethora of other beaming declarations that I should probably go out and meet a nice girl.
But Netflix has managed to kill off the ability to have a conversation with someone too, which is no doubt it’s biggest murder yet. The other week I decided to blow the cobwebs off my almost forgotten manhood and partake in a “date”. Within a few minutes conversation turned to our current viewing habits and, being a huge fan of Netflix original House Of Cards (watch it, it’s enthralling), I began to talk about Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of a corrupt US Senator.
“NO! Ian! Shut up! I’ve only watched the first episode! You’ll ruin it!”
Which is exactly how Netflix has preyed and slowly butchered the art of conversation. By giving people the “choice” to watch what they want, when they want, it’s virtually impossible to find someone at the exact same viewing point as you, making any conversation a possible spoiler alert that should be avoided like the worst plague. A few months ago I watched Prison Break, a show with a great first season which then died on it’s arse after they broke out and, instead of changing the shows name or simply giving up, they just dragged its decayed carcass through the mud for another three pointless and awful seasons whose only redeeming feature was the character Mahone, played by William Fichtner. I had to lock all doors and windows for a week while I watched as many episodes as I could humanely fit into each day, simply to minimise the possibility of some prick in the street ruining a show that everyone watched nearly ten years ago.
Breaking Bad is obviously the best example of this phenomenon, and the show in itself has become a bastardised real life adaptation of Fight Club with everyone knowingly involved but bound by oath to never utter a single word about it in fear that some titbit of information will spill out by accident, ruining the show and forcing the viewer to deal with their own sad and pathetic day to day life once again. The first rule of Breaking Bad is you don’t talk about Breaking Bad, and this has become reality due to the chaotic nature of Netflix’s viewing structure, a supposedly anarchistic way to view which appears to advocate complete televisual freedom on the surface but deep down is ruling you with an iron fist, twisting your mind to watch and even enjoy whatever the hell Netflix deems appropriate. Macy Gray wrote the lyrics “I may appear to be free but I’m just a prisoner of your love” in 1999, which coincidentally (or perhaps not) is the year that Netflix began it’s subscription based digital distribution service.
Netflix grows bigger, stronger, and smarter with every passing day. Yet no one has is looking towards the future, realising just what Netflix will become, and cutting down this beast in its infancy. There’s a reason Terminator 2: Judgement Day is currently available to watch.
Netflix is available on Netflix. Miley Cyrus is depressingly ubiquitous.
All words by Ian Critchley. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.