A Cultural Critique of the Netflix Business Model

The word that comes to mind today when I think of Netflix is this; a spectacle. It’s as if they have taken the Roman Colosseum and placed it online, where individuals from any and all origins come to be oogled at, their stories laughed at and the crowdsourced plotlines sink to the bottom of the watery depths of America’s culture problem.

Last night I had the opportunity to watch a new movie that was put out in 2019, called “The Professor and the Madman.” Now this would normally be my sort of thing, as I consider myself to be somewhat of an academic, and I also have firsthand experience with mental illness, having been to the hospital twice in the last three years for symptoms related to schizophrenia. The premise of the story is that England needs a dictionary, from Oxford University Press, and one man, who is fluent in many languages is going to provide it with the help of his friend who has recently been found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing an innocent man in London.

I must admit to you, I watched five minuted of the movie before I turned it off. The beginning starts with the criminal (or madman), William Minor, killing the unarmed man, and his subsequent trial. He is pronounced not guilty after an outburst that sounded as if he had both a speech impediment, and schizophrenia. No man in their right mind would try to defend themselves in that way and many NOT in their right mind would also not try to defend themselves in that way. But everyone is different so for the moment I let it slide.

Now I have to tell you what my thought was at the beginning of the movie up until this point. I was hoping, despite the gory killing and ruling of not gouty by reason of insanity by the jury, that the madman would be somehow redeemed. However I turned off the movie at this very moment, and I will tell you why.

There is no hope for redemption or healing for William Minor in the movie. As I said in the beginning of this article, the movie is a spectacle just like most of the new movies put on Netflix these days. It portrays a madman like the public sees him, irredeemable and irresistibly crazy. A reading of the Wikipedia page for the plot of the rest of the movie has confirmed this. Minor leaves the movie just as crazy as he was when the movie began, with no defining qualities as to his character other than the fact that he was crazy.

I believe (and please feel free to comment below if you think that I’m wrong) that this is the effect that populism has had on Netflix. When Netflix switched to a streaming only platform paid for by subscriptions, they essentially said “Ok we know that the people want movies and TV shows. Let’s give them movies and TV shows.” This was done in the most general way thinking only about quantity, not quality. The emphasis has been placed on unknown actors rather than real stars. It has been placed on muddled thoughts of diversity and categories like “Black Stories,” which do nothing to raise awareness of and of the challenges that black people go through today. It focuses on TV miniseries such as “The Queens Gambit” and “The Crown,” which are eccentric only in their dullness, and watched by anyone because of the all knowing “if you watched this, you may like…”

The Netflix suggestion algorithm is designed to make you watch as many of THEIR shows as possible. That is where they make the real money. They don’t want to pay movie distributors for the rights to movies which are not theirs. They want you to watch their movies on their platform, designed without real viewers in mind. Now you may ask how I know so much about this platform which I abhor (it’s my mother).

Possibly to be continued, with glimmers of hope.

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