Seriously?

In her article “Kevin Spacey deserves to be scorned.  But can I still watch House of Cards?”, Hannah Jane Parkinson delves into the uncomfortable question, how do we treat the art created by men in the entertainment industry who we know to have (sometimes allegedly) sexually assaulted people?  It’s a big question.  Some of my own favorite actors have been accused of sexual misconduct.  Really, Morgan Freeman?  For television streaming giant Netflix the answer seemed obvious.  Fire them.  Now.  Cut all ties, condemn their behavior, and move on.  To some, this may have seemed extreme, but it made it clear whose side Netflix is on…or did it?  I would love to believe that this move by Netflix is an altruistic one however, few things are that simple.  Following a series of missteps which included breaches of customer privacy, pay disputes, the use of ASD stereotypes in Atypical, and the questionable handling of sensitive issues like sexual assault and substance abuse, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Netflix didn’t want to leave themselves vulnerable by keeping actors like Kevin Spacey and Danny Masterson on their shows.  But is this enough?  For more on that, I encourage you to read Hannah Jane Parkinson’s article linked above.  Afterall, firing these two actors isn’t the only link Netflix has to the #MeToo movement.

“Everything is funny until it happens to you.”  -Dave Chappelle, The Bird Revelation, 2017

It’s no secret that the #MeToo movement has empowered women all over the world to speak their truth and hold accountable the men who have harmed them.  No one with a halfway decent moral compass thinks this is wrong.  The women of the #MeToo movement work hard to own their stories, standing with one another in solidarity.  But where does that leave men, especially men who in the entertainment industry?  Dave Chappelle has learned first hand that it can leave men like him between a rock and a hard place.  In her article “Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement”, writer/comedian Jamie Loftus slams Chappelle’s’ latest comedy special on Netflix, The Bird Revolution.  But is she being fair?  Is she even being realistic?  In his article, “Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment”, writer Jason Zinoman shares a quote from iconic comedian Steve Martin, “Comedy is not pretty.”  This is something I think we all need to remember when we choose to attend or watch a comedy show.  If you don’t like it or find it offensive then don’t watch it.  It would be no different if someone were to go to the Women’s March and then complain that they were bombarded with pro-feminist speeches, what do people think they are signing up for?  A vast majority of comedy today uses offensive material and there is very little in this world that is off limits to comedians.  So let’s look a little closer at Dave’s last two comedy specials on Netflix, The Bird Revolution and Equanimity.

While Chappelle may appear to be an equal opportunity offender to some, he does seem to think about the issues he incorporates in his shows.  In Equanimity Chappelle addresses his comedy about transgender people, taking the time to relay an experience he had reading a letter from a transgender fan who had been hurt by his set.  Anyone with eyes could see that, while he doesn’t generally worry about peoples responses, he felt bad that this fan had left his show feeling the way they had.  In fact, throughout both of his last two specials, Chappelle took time to try and seriously address important social issues.  And that is where people like Jamie Loftus took the opportunity to pounce and try to make him look bad.  The #MeToo movement and the experience that led to the movement hasn’t just affected women.  For the vast majority of women directly affected there are men in their lives who also feel the effects of these horrendous experiences.  So it only seems natural that men who have women in their lives would want to stand up and address the movement and experiences that led to it.  Chappelle is even more closely affected because he both has women he loves and will protect at all costs, and one of his friends Louis C.K. is one of the offenders.  Of course, he wants or feels like he needs to make his voice heard.  When we evaluate his words I think it’s important to remember that he is only human, imperfect and complicated just like everyone else.  Did he make light of Louis C.K.’s offense against a female comedian?  Yes.  Was it appropriate? I don’t know, after all, it is comedy.  And he did follow it up by questioning what MLK would’ve done had he been in the female comedian’s place.  Was it harsh for him to criticize the female comedians “brittle spirit”? Possibly, but again it’s comedy.  For me when these are the criticisms that people like Loftus choose to focus on they end up throwing away an ally.  It is clear in The Bird Revolution that Chappelle is still processing the whole situation, and he makes some very wise observations.  He was absolutely correct when he said that “Fear does not make lasting peace.  Ask Black people.”  He was correct when he tied the type of change and healing we need in this country to end of Apartheid in South Africa and the efforts of Desmond Tutu and Mandela.  But when we let ourselves get got up in overcriticizing the art of comedy for being what it is, we lose sight of the important messages we can find in it.

 

Fandom. Friend or Foe?

Reality can be hard, really hard.  Being the kid who’s a little too different, trying to survive middle school, figuring out your identity in high school, becoming an adult, the pressure of full-on adulting.  So it’s no surprise that many embrace different levels of fandom throughout their lives.  But why do some comics, film franchises, and television series draw such a cult following?  Relatability.  The reality is that none of us are going to be a Jedi Master, get superhuman strength or indestructibility, get spidey powers from a bite, or “boldly go where no man has gone before!”  However, when we see a character that we can relate to, for whatever reason, overcome, be the hero, be treated fairly, etc. we are drawn to that character and their story.  These stories can become a safe escape from the hard realities of life.  And when we find refuge or positive identity in stories it’s easy to understand why people would want to surround themselves with merchandise that is representative of that connection.  Let’s look at a few of the more recent programs that have developed cult followings.

On July 15, 2016, Netflix introduced us to Stranger Things.  Presumably aimed at modern adults in their late 30’s through mid 50’s, Stranger Things follows four geeky middle school boys beginning in 1983 as one disappears, a strange silent girl appears, and the search for answers begins.  For those of us who grew up in the 80’s Stranger Things not only took us back to our childhoods and simpler times but also gave us a childhood mystery to solve, an adventure to live out.  Incorporating characters representative of different ages and social statuses the writers ensure a wide audience appeal without compromising the integrity of the storyline.  What really brings it all together is their integration of these characters into the main plot.  By staying focused, while still showing multiple assets viewers are invited to identify with Stranger Things in the way that is most comfortable for them.

Then we have the different Marvel series that Netflix has brought to the small screen.  DaredevilJessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Punisher are all part the Defenders group of characters with all of the stories centering around NYC.  With multiple plot lines and a variety of stylistic perspectives each series can be viewed alone or as a part of the whole.  Unlike Stranger Things which holds true to the 1980’s stereotypes of gender, and largely of race, the different Marvel series break away, in part from previous MCU stereotypes.  This departure has led to criticism of some of the shows, in particular, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage neither of which has a white male in the hero role and send the clear message that one isn’t needed for the lead characters to perform at their heroic best.  For many, these are selling points allowing women and people of color to have heroes that are a better representation of themselves and thus increasing the MCU fandom base.

But what does this fandom do?  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Or can it be both?  The answers to these questions are as numerous as the fans themselves.  You might have heard it said that you can never have too much of a good thing, but I would disagree.  For fans of Black Mirror show writer Charlie Brooker shows us the dangers of fandom in season 4 opener “USS Callister”.  While it’s extremely unlikely that anyone is going to use our DNA to recreate and place us into a version of their favorite show or film franchise it does bring up the question of where the line lays between reality and fiction.  In her article “Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans” Dee Lockett highlights the disturbing lengths to which some fans will go to engage with the actors who play their favorite characters.  For some, their fandom becomes so all-consuming that it’s no longer entertainment or a temporary escape from reality but rather a way of existing.  While this can become dangerous for the celebrities that they only see as the characters they’re obsessed with, I would suggest that this toxic fandom is even more dangerous for the fans themselves.  This type of singular focus can lead people to detach from existing social circles, family, and eventually reality.  However, these are extreme classes and not what I would consider typical fandom.  For most, their fandom won’t reach beyond seeing their favorite franchise movies on opening night, watching the premiere of a new season with friends, collecting some memorabilia, and possibly attending Comi-Con.  In short, fandom is generally a hobby like any other.  In many cases, fandom is a topic around which friendships and social circles form.  Just like most things in life fandom is great…in moderation.

Netflix Brings Culture to the Small Screen

 

“You cannot dream to be anything unless you’ve been told the story that you can do it.  And where do we get our stories from?  We get them from our parents, we get them from friends, we get them from what we read, but we also get them from cultural queues.”   ~Justin Simien

I want to preface this post by saying that I am a 39-year-old white woman living in Wisconsin.  While I grew up in a Black neighborhood in the south and have had Black friends throughout my life I still benefit greatly each day from my white privilege.  It is through this lens that I see the world.  And whiteness is the perspective from which I write this post.

My family and I are major Marvel nerds.  Seriously, we see EVERY Marvel movie at the first showing, on the first night (Thursday, not Friday), and in IMAX.  We have every opening night poster, and most of them are framed.  Back when those first showings weren’t until 10:00 pm or even midnight we would even let our kids go in late or stay home from the next day.  In our home, there are three things that ALWAYS trump school: God, family, and Marvel.  You have to have priorities.  So when Netflix announced that they would be doing original Marvel series we were stoked.  And while I like them all Luke Cage is undoubtedly my favorite.  He reminds me of a couple of friends I had as a teen and has a desire to help those in need.  One of the things I like most is the different portrayal of a Black man, particularly in regards to how Black men are typically portrayed in television and film.  When we see Black men in sitcoms they are generally the success stories from their family who have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and made it to the promised land, a.k.a. the burbs.  These stories fail to show the value in Black culture and how hard it can be to break out oppression.  Luke Cage shines a light on the difficulty of re-entering society after being in our prison system, but also sends the message that it can be done.  The bond that Luke has with Pop and his regulars is a very realistic portrayal of the types of relationships I’ve seen in Black communities.  This series highlights some of the beautiful aspects of Black communities while refusing to show everything through rose-colored glasses.  It is also well written, directed, acted, and produced.  And it is representative of the primarily Black community that is Harlem, at least the parts that haven’t been gentrified.  In his article “Luke Cage and the Racial Empathy Gap: ‘Why Do They Talk About Being Black All the Time?'” Nico Lang addresses what I choose to refer to as whining from white people.  For one of the first times, Black Americans have what Lang refers to as an “unapologetically black” show.  Since the invention of silent films Black people have been unrepresented, underrepresented, and misrepresented on the large and small screens.  Instead of praising Luke Cage for the engaging entertainment that it is too many white people have spoken out about how offended and uncomfortable they are with the lack of white representation in the show.  I have no patience or empathy for these people or their bigoted points of view, but just for the record, I counted at least 13 white people in the first episode.  The “problem” for the whiny white people is that none of those white people had lines or were obviously placed.  To that I say, it is about time.  White people have been overrepresented in media and it is time for a change.

Luke Cage isn’t the only series on Netflix to feature an underrepresented cultural group in the United States.  In 2017 Netflix also dropped the satirical comedy Dear White People.  To me, this is one of the greatest gifts bestowed on television watchers ever.  Of course, I am a snarky woman with little patience for bigotry and white fragility.  Dear White People addresses real concerns from Black students on college campuses all over the country and also the struggles of trying to balance being loyal to your community while still being yourself.  I know that there are many who find this series to be racist because of its name or because it’s revealed that Sam sent out the invite to the blackface party.  To those people I would say, keep watching.  You find out why she did what she did.  I have also seen people say that things like blackface parties rarely happen.  Well, that isn’t entirely true either.  They have happened too often in the United States over the last few years that I have been watching for them.  And it isn’t just blackface parties.  Racism on U.S. campuses, including Colorado State, is all too common.  People still throw bling parties, others show up to parties in blackface, and on August 19, 2017, a noose was found dangling from the stairs in front of the door to the floor that had a Black resident assistant in Colorado State’s Newsom Hall.  As long as racism is alive and well there is a need for shows like Dear White People that aren’t afraid to speak the truth.  After listening to Justin Simien’s interview on The Business I have no doubt that he would much rather be writing screenplays about the success our country has had through addressing the hard issues of racism.  It is clear that he would like to see people in the U.S. address this issue as Germany addressed anti-semitism after World War II.  But like he said in the interview, we choose not to address the wound that is racism.  And when you ignore a wound it festers and becomes gangrene.

On a somewhat lighter note, this year Netflix introduced viewers to Monse, Ruby, Jamal, and Cesar, four friends entering high school in South Central Los Angeles.  Moments of sobering reality are interspersed in the comedic coming of age story, On My Block.  What some may find surprising is the number of truly good kids and families in the neighborhood in which On My Block is set.  For the most part, homes are well maintained and while they don’t hide the reality of gangs in the area they are hardly the central theme of the neighborhood that they’re often portrayed to be in other shows.  The writers and directors, some of which are from the area being portrayed, have done an excellent job of highlighting the same issues that all teens face along with a few that are unique to that part of L.A.  All in all this is a relatable and enjoyable series that shows a more realistic look of what life in South Central is.

Positive Reality TV? Netflix Delivers.

When I hear reality TV my mind usually goes straight to shows like Survivor, The Amazing Race, and Real World.  But the genre of reality television has become so much more than shows like these.  Today reality TV covers more interests than I have room to list, utilizing a wide variety of formats.  While the early days of reality TV were solely dedicated to entertainment it quickly spread to entertainment with benefits (who wouldn’t want to win a million dollars on Survivor) and then to educational entertainment as demonstrated on The Food Network.  Like most television today, reality TV has subgenres spanning from educational to docusoaps.  With their popularity and evident staying power, Netflix has decided to join the reality TV realm.  Two of Netflix ‘s reality series finding early success are Nailed It and Queer Eye.  Both are patterned after earlier successful models from reality TV.  But, that isn’t to say that there aren’t original aspects to each show.

Nailed It is making its mark with Netflix viewers.  Good humor (appropriate for family viewing) and culinary expertise join together to challenge somewhat unrealistic home  bakers in three good-natured competitions each episode.  This would just be another cooking competition show if it weren’t for the comedic voice of Nicole Byer.  Together with head judge Jacques Torres, Byer keeps guest judges, contestants, and even the production crew in high spirits throughout each episode.  Departing from other cooking competition shows Nicole and the judges always find something positive in each contestants piece.  With the purposeful levity, this lessens the sting of each loss.  While each episode makes it clear that the bakers likely won’t ever be experts you get the idea that they leave the show feeling good about their effort and that their effort is the achievement or success they were looking for.  Nailed It has found a way to bring the right mix of humor and competition to leave the audience with a sense of positivity from each baker taking a chance, and this is something that is often lacking in American television.

As a reboot of the similarly named series from Bravo, Queer Eye debuted to an audience with high expectations; and it delivered.  While it is categorized as “lifestyle television” I feel like Queer Eye provides more for it’s viewing audience.  With the level of divisiveness in the United States today highlighting our common core humanity is of utmost importance.  Queer Eye also challenges stereotypes and our preconceived ideas about masculinity.  While conforming to the formats of shows like Fixer Upper there is a deeper meaning in Queer Eye.  “The original show was fighting for tolerance, our fight is for acceptance,” -Tan.  “My goal is to find out how we’re similar as opposed to how different we are,” – Antoni.  “We all got to come together in a way where we can understand each other,” -Karamo.  For me, these three statements say it all.  When challenging peoples views, opinions, outlooks, and even fear it is far easier to sit on your high horse, particularly when you are a part of the oppressed group.  The person or group who takes the first step towards understanding allows their vulnerability to show.  And I believe that is what these Fab Five are doing.  By taking the show from New York to Georgia they are bringing their mission to seek acceptance straight to the heart of what most would consider the good ole boys club.  This challenges the audience to not only reevaluate how they see gay men but also how they see and have stereotyped straight southern men.  It was beautiful to watch Tom and his friends interact with the Fab Five.  When I saw the Fab Five walk into the restaurant to meet Tom as he had breakfast with the Romeo’s I held my breath wondering how all of the older southerners would react to a group of proud gay men.  Their reactions were priceless in the best possible way.  It certainly challenged my view of how the southern man’s man acts.  Both the Fab Five and Tom seemed very open to one another.  Each of the Fab Five seemed to take a deeper interest in understanding why Tom is the way he is so that they could try to implement changes in his life that could address the core of his fears and doubts.  They celebrate how strong a man needs to be in order to address the pain in his life.  By offering the audience a more positive view of masculinity, one that is accepted by both gay and straight men, Queer Eye is helping to demonstrate that we are all more similar than we think.  Because the Fab Five go deeper than the surface they have laid a foundation from which Tom can continue to grow and improve as a person, if that is really what he wants.

For me shows like Nailed It and Queer Eye tell me that Netflix is finding ways to bring quality television to their service while simultaneously growing their audience base and staying relevant in the television world.

Altruism? Profit? Both? What’s Behind Netflix’s Move Into the World of Documentaries?

Growing up documentaries were always something you had to watch in school.  They were usually pretty dry like they were trying to make sure we didn’t actually enjoy watching it.  At that time the only television outlet I would’ve associated with documentaries was PBS.  Then along came Animal Plant, National Geographic, and HBO, among others.  While the documentary became more popular, including shows like 48 Hours, their viewing base remained rather set.  I’ll be honest, when my family first got Netflix it sure wasn’t to watch documentaries.  But that’s begun to change.  Our first foray into Netflix’s world of documentaries was Sick, Fat, and Nearly Dead followed by Forks Over Knives.  I was pleasantly surprised by their content and quality.  And so, I added another genre to my Netflix addiction.  In “Netflix and the Documentary Boom” Sudeep Sharma suggests that while Netflix’s move to acquire and fund documentaries looks, and often is, a great thing for many independent documentary filmmakers it isn’t all roses.  Sharma examines the downside including a focus on marketable formats and content while leaving out more artistic documentaries and those with a more narrow audience for their content.  I can see some validity in Sharma’s point of view.  The documentaries showcased on Netflix tend to have wide commercial appeal, providing entertainment and/or providing relevant content for current interests or issues.  Sharma uses the analogy of Netflix being more of a newsstand, rather than a library.  And I would have to agree.  If there isn’t a wide enough base that a documentary appeals to I don’t think Netflix would be interested.  I also think that is okay.  Like so many things in our society Netflix, along with its content, has its place.  For those looking for more of a library type of streaming service Kanopy provides what most of them are looking for.  While Netflix may not provide a platform for the more nuanced and artistic documentaries it does a great job of bringing more mainstream documentaries to a larger audience that may not seek out a service like Kanopy.  It can be a great opportunity for indie documentary filmmakers to get their projects the exposure necessary to continue doing what they love.  More importantly, Netflix provides a gateway for those who haven’t been documentary watchers to try something new.

One of the hit documentaries currently on Netflix is 13th.  This feature-length documentary examines the establishment and impact of the United State’s 13th Amendment to the Constitution.   The shifts between on-screen narratives, historical footage, off-screen narration, and such keep the viewer’s attention.  It is clearly a well-funded documentary examining a hot issue in our country. While it’s focus is on how the 13th Amendment laid the groundwork for our countries current system of mass incarceration of people, particularly men, of color it does offer varying points of view.  13th has an obvious appeal for those looking to learn more about mass incarceration, and could also be used as an educational tool for a wider audience because it provides commentary from all sides of the issue.  It provides a good example of the type of appeal Netflix is likely seeking in the documentaries it screens.  Aside from the technical aspects of 13th, it was extremely engaging.  The way they were able to highlight both intentional and unintentional mistakes and unjust decision while allowing those people involved to address their parts lent legitimacy to the project.  It is one of those films that made you truly feel the issues on the screen without leaving you feeling hopeless.  It is definitely on my recommendation list.

Netflix also has an array of popular docu-series.  While the basic criteria for choosing a docu-series to stream or fund and then screen is likely similar to their feature-length documentaries there are some distinct differences as you view them.  Because of the multi-episode format, there are additional factors to consider.  The most obvious of which is making sure that viewers are hooked enough to watch the next episode.  There is also more opportunity for things like theatrical re-enactments and investigating multiple theories around an incident.  Both of these were evident in The Keepers, the real-life mystery of the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnick and the abuse that occurred at Archbishop Keough High School from the late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s.  Utilizing some of the more theatrical features usually found in TV dramas helped the stories being told come to life.  And similar to what you would find in some television shows there were multiple smaller stories being told that were artistically interwoven into the larger overall story.  This is something that you wouldn’t have been able to capture in a single feature-length documentary.  While I certainly enjoyed The Keepers and similar docu-series they are only one of the genres I like to watch.  I still enjoy scripted television series and believe that important content and commentary can be illustrated through them.  For me, there is enough room for both.

Freedom Through Animation

I’ve never been a huge fan of cartoons, even as a child I there were only certain cartoons I would watch, The Jetsons, Inspector Gadget, and Scooby-Doo were my standard go-to choices.  And unlike most people my age and younger I never got into “adult” cartoons.  I just couldn’t get past what I perceived as annoying comedy and inappropriate content.  This week I’ve challenged my perspectives on adult cartoons with mixed results.

My class was assigned three animated series to sample; BoJack HorsemanF is for Family, and Big Mouth.  The one series I found myself intrigued by and drawn into was BoJack Horseman.  If this was a live action series there is NO WAY that I would watch it.  The freedom and creativity that come with animation allow the showrunners to incorporate satire and visual imagery into the storyline in such a way that they are much more a part of the story than could ever be achieved through traditional live action sets or even with actors.  Maybe it’s because I have a golden retriever myself, but I immediately identified with Mr. Peanut-Butter.  His happy, go lucky, love everyone outlook on life is harder to dismiss because the audience doesn’t have to rely solely on the actor for the portrayal of the character.   This is something you see throughout the series.  But that isn’t the true genius.  The genius is that there are characters that are more accurately portrayed with humans and because this is animation both human and animal characters are able to co-exist as if it were the most natural thing in the world.  Another benefit of using animation is the ability to capture dialogue.  As Holly Randell-Moon and Arthur J. Randell point out in their article “The man from ISIS: Archer and the animated aesthetics of adult cartoons”, scenes with extended dialogue come across seamlessly for the audience because of the benefit of editing.  I would imagine that this also reduces the production cost of having to reshoot scenes when an actor fumbles their lines.  Altogether I found that with BoJack Horseman animation creates a smart, witty performance full of satire that I found extremely entertaining.

I was less impressed with F is For Family and Big Mouth.  Randell-Moon and Randell’s article also points out that animation is a way to incorporate politically incorrect and otherwise lewd, or what some would consider inappropriate, content into a show.  We have seen this demonstrated in The Simpson’s handling of Native American stereotypes and it continues in adult cartoons today.  While F is For Family certainly won’t be on my watchlist and did contain some purposely placed politically incorrect content I found that I could forgive this due to the show portraying a family in the early 1970’s.   Big Mouth, on the other hand, was borderline pornographic in my opinion.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total prude, I watch Game of Thrones and other shows with nudity.  However, Big Mouth took this to a new level of indecency by showing the full frontal nudity of a middle school boy.  Animated or not that is wrong.  I could get past the very blunt discussion of sex, puberty, and ejaculation, but the full visual just wasn’t necessary. I felt like the showrunners could have gotten the same effect with a view from the back and the other characters facial expression.  I guess for me the nudity felt like it was there for shock value instead of adding anything of substance to the story.  That being said, this is also a perfect example of the looser reigns provided to Hollywood storytellers through the medium of animation.

So here’s the real question for me: will I continue to watch adult cartoons.  The answer is probably yes.  BoJack Horseman is entirely too amazing not to continue watching.  As for the others…well we shall see.

Binge-Watching: Advantageous or Addiction?

If you had been monitoring my families television watching habits over the last two to three years you’d probably say we are binge-watching experts.  Once we get hooked on a show, particularly on Netflix, we like to “see it through”.  Sometimes I feel like it’s a co-dependent addiction, but usually, I just tell myself that we are committed (sounds better, right?)  And I’ll be honest, our love of television and binge-watching is a big part of why I was excited to take this class.  After all, when else would a primarily history major, seminary-bound, 40-year-old wife, and mother of two have the chance to take a class like this??  What I wasn’t counting on was our first binge-watching assignment, House of Cards.  Until this point, I’ve usually had control of the shows I consume.  If I don’t connect with something I turn it off.  And if I feel tired or drained after a rainy Saturday of binging on the latest series I at least feel good about finishing the story.  When House of Cards originally came out everyone told us we HAD to watch it.  I gave the first episode and a half one, somewhat inebriated, viewing and decided I wanted nothing to do with it.  So here we are five years later and it’s come back to haunt me.  Like the first go around I feel like this show highlights the worst of aspects of our society: greed, addictions, distorted priorities, distrust, disloyalty (even when it’s disguised as loyalty, yes I’m talking to you, Francis and Claire!), indifference, insincerity, cheating, the inability to see the beauty around you, and the disregard for other human beings for starters.  Upon reflection, I realize that a part of the reason why the show bothers me so much is that some of these aspects can apply to me when I’m binging a show.  For instance, there have been times when I’ve forgotten to fold the laundry (distorted priorities) and don’t realize the rain has stopped and I could take the dogs for a walk (the inability to see the beauty around me.)  Even more disturbing is when I start a show and become obsessed!  You wouldn’t know anything about that would you Frank?  While I wouldn’t say I’ve become obsessed with House of Cards it did grow on me.  My attitude towards Peter went from annoyed indifference to empathy and, by the end of the sixth episode, hoping that things work out for the guy.  One character I didn’t have to work hard to connect to was Freddy. His part may be small, but it reminded me of a straight-shooting grandpa.  And without Freddy, I’d probably never have been open to believing Frank had any goodness or decency.

One thing that didn’t help was where I watched House of Cards.  Because we have a 10-year-old daughter I watched the show over two evenings in my bedroom where she would have to knock before getting exposed to the show.  And by the time I finished with three episodes each night, it was dark and I was left feeling pretty depressed.  It was in those moments when I could completely identify with Zachary Snider’s assertion that binging can leave you feeling really alone and disconnected from your loved ones.  When I started my second evening of watching my husband was still cleaning up dinner and putting our daughter to bed.  By the time he was done, I was almost through a full episode and he was behind.  While he still came into the bedroom, instead of watching with me he watched an episode of a show I don’t watch on his phone, with earbuds.  It was a stark reminder that you don’t have to physically be alone to feel alone.

In the end, I’m leaning more towards binge-watching being an addiction.  What do you think?

NETFLIX: Will Our First “True Love” Last?

Innovations in television over the last four decades have been like crushes for America’s loyal viewers.  First came the VCR bringing us the ability to watch movies when we wanted, if you could find a video rental store, and record our favorite shows while our parents came to our piano recitals.  It was thrilling, until your parents made you watch the video of your family vacation…AGAIN, because you only had one real movie on VHS and it was rated R.  By the late 1980’s cable was widely available if you could afford it, so usually only the cool people had it.  Then came our favorite neighborhood video store, Blockbuster.  And we couldn’t wait to rush there on our way from from school on Friday’s to rent the hottest video before they ran out!  Who cared if we had to wait in line for 30 minutes and got charged massive fines if we didn’t turn it in on time.

Netflix DVD player

By 1999 our love affair with our VCR’s and VHS tapes started to fizzle as DVD Players and DVD’s became more affordable and the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) was introduced en mass by TiVo.  TiVo was so sweet and reliable, and cute, it just made us swoon.  At this point cable, a.k.a. the most popular guy in school, was getting some competition from satellite providers; and they both decided that TiVo was not only cute, but pretty darn smart, so they decided to step up their games by added DVR options.  Now we’re in the early to mid 2000’s and the quiet, kind of mysterious guy that moved in a while back (1997) is starting to catch our attention.  I’m back at work Monday morning talking to a co-worker when I realize I’ve forgotten to return that one day video rental and I’m going to have to pay the fine…AGAIN.  That’s when my co-worker asks, “Don’t you have Netflix?”  “Net what?” I say.  “Netflix,” she replies.  “You know that online DVD service.  You just go online, sign-up, make a list of the movies OR T.V. shows you’ve been wanting to see, and they mail the first couple to you.  When your done watching them you just pop them back into the pre-paid envelope, stick it in your mailbox, and in a few days you’ve got the next couple of movies on your list.  I’ve had it, like, forever.”  “Yeah, but I bet it’s super expensive,” I retort, a little defensively.  “Nope, you pay less than $10 bucks a month.”  NO WAY!!! I think to myself.  WHY HAS SHE BEEN KEEPING THIS HOTTIE TO HERSELF?? I think. As soon as I  get home I get online and sign up.  A month later my husband says, “I’m really liking this video mail thingy.”  “Yep,” I reply smugly, “it’s Netflix.”  And I think to myself, where has this been all my life?  I’m in love…

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So that little story may have been a bit over the top, but not too much.  Netflix truly revolutionized the way many of us watch television.  It’s like the online video streaming godfather. It’s already taken out Blockbuster, who will it go after next? And where the leader goes others shall follow.  I’ll be honest, my family LOVES television and movies and YouTube videos…OK, we love it all.  And we have it all, well a lot of it: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO Now, CBS All Access, YouTube Red, and probably some others I’m forgetting.  For us each service offers enough different content from the others that it’s worth it.  But if there’s one we CANNOT live without it has to be Netflix.  And now I’ve been asked to evaluate and consider the sustainability of my favorite online video streaming service.

In “Questioning Netflix’s Revolutionary Impact: Changes in the Business and Consumption of Television,” Cameron Lindsey examines Netflix’s rise to power, as well as it’s competition and outlook for the future.  Like so many innovators throughout history Netflix’s founders Randolph and Hastings took a calculated risk with their initial business model.  Hastings, who is also the Chairman and CEO, has continued to take measured risks to bring Netflix where it is today.  That’s not to say he’s done everything perfectly, “In 2011, when Nettlix raised its subscription costs for users that wanted both instant streaming and ‘DVD-by-mail services, they lost roughly 800,000 subscribers” (Lindsey, 178).  While it has rebounded well from that fiasco, Netflix has made business choices that could still wind up ending it’s time at the front of the pack.  According to Forbes, as stated in Lindsey’s piece, Netflix’s content licensing costs were on the rise as of 2014, with 70% of it’s expenses being spent there.  Another shocker is that “Netflix does not own licensing rights to many of its best-known programs” (Lindsey, 181).  Although it looks like this may be remedied, “In an interview with Bloomberg Business, CEO Reed Hastings said that the company plans on taking a larger role in its original programming including production and ownership” (Lindsey, 181).  Netflix still has a great deal of competition, especially when one of it’s rivals is backed by a united group of for broadcasting rivals (Lindsey, 176).  Netflix will need to continue to rely on its strengths, original content and no commercials while continuing to take those measured risks. One that may give the giant a sustainable future is symbiotic partnerships similar to the one it has formed with Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Even if Netflix eventually fades into the sunset I believe it has made a revolutionary impact on the world of television.  In “Individual Disruptors and Economic Gamechangers: Netflix, New Media, and Neoliberalism,” Gerald Sim refers to the argument from author Harry Jenkins that supports this.  Jenkins argues that consumers with a firmer grasp of technology “are demanding the right to participate within the culture…[and] have wrestled away from the industry the power to control their experience.”  Media writer for The New Yorker Ken Auletta reported that by eliminating the requirement of commercial watching for the public Netflix has taken advantage of what Hastings “calls viewers’ ‘managed dissatisfaction’ with traditional television” (Sim, 187).  Sim’s article also touches on an additional success of Netflix, the algorithm they use to predict and suggest shows for their viewers.  Having been a Netflix customer for over a decade and a streaming customer from the time they began the service I can say from my experience this is what first drew me to the service.

No one person can predict the future of Netflix or any of the other online video streaming services.  That being said, any service that wants to stay in business will need to stay relevant, take measured risk, and continue to be an innovator in the realm of television.

 

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