Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Go Netflix Yourself

I remember one cold, winter day back in high school my OAC (grade 13 back when we had grade 13) physics teacher was talking to a bunch of students after another generic physics class and he gave us this analogy: math is to physics as masturbation is to sex.  This might seem like a strange thing to say, and in today's hypersensitive society such comments might even be considered by some sheltered, conservative individuals to be warning signs of a sexual predator, but these are probably the same kinds people who go to some kind of church on a regular basis or who try to banish Halloween from public schools or who voted for Bush.  But my physics teacher was not (to my best knowledge) trying to elicit sexual stories from eighteen year old boys that he could deposit in his spank bank and jerk off to later.  Rather, he was trying to make the assertion that A) physics was far more fulfilling (maybe even more fun?) and hence had more intrinsic value than math because the practical applicaions of physics and in a roundabout way B) sex was far more desirable and fulfilling than masturbation.  The first implication didn't have any real relevence to my life then or now, but the second one is still quite pertinent.

Among certain circles there seems to be this idea that sex and masturbation are somehow polar opposites or oppositional concepts and if they were ever brought together they would cause some kind of devastating, cataclysmic event like introducing matter to anit-matter (thank you Scotty).  It was always like you ha to choose: you can either be one of those dudes who fucks chicks or one of those dudes who sits at home alone on a Friday night playing Xbox, eating a frozen pizza and taking a twenty minute break to tug on his own dick because he couldn't find a chick who was gracious enough to overlook his chronic acne and flabby body long enough to let him stick his dick into her for what would (presumably) some laughably short amount of time (roughly 37 seconds, give or take...).  But that's bullshit.  You don't have to pick.  Why would you?  I enjoy sex but I also enjoy masturbation.  Everybody masturbates.  It feels good.  Sex and masturbation are not diametrically opposed: they are both actions that cause sexual arousal and stimulation, and both viable remedies to your morning wood, depending on your Facebook relationship status.

So now it's time for my own analogy, which is only true for me personally, but which some few of you might also understand: Netflix is to physical digital media as masturbation is to sex.  Keeping in mind that (apparently) unlike my physics teacher I actually enjoy masturbation.  This makes the analogy slightly different ideologically than his.  For me collecting DVD's and now BluRays is sex.  I don't just "buy DVD's", I "Add to my Collection."  It is extremely satisfying to me in ways you can't (or maybe can) possibly imagine to find a movie that is difficult to find or to find a crazy, hardcore mulitple-disk edition of a movie, or to find either of these at some insanely low price that has to be a mistake so you buy it without talking to the clerk and specifically don't mention the price because he might realize that he made a mistake and charge what that piece of cinematic history must surely be worth and then get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.  I remember flipping a coin with my then-university-roomate Dave to see who could buy the only copy of DONNIE DARKO we could find in town (ended up being at CD Plus) which sounds just as ridiculous as it actually must have been.  We were flipping a coin in order to spend money.  The winner was actually out by about $20 or $25.  But we were totally stoked.  In the context of our social circle our DVD colletion defined us.  It wasn't just a random collection of movies.  The movies you had in your collection were actually an extension of who you were as a person.  They represented your identity.  When we looked at the movies somebody owned it told us something about that person, something intrinsic that was being revealed through the collection.  What it told us I don't think we knew, but we knew for sure it told us something.  And it seemed perfectly logical and natural to relate to people in this way, and in a lot of ways it still does for me anyway.  And I kind of assume (even though this is undoubtedly the furthest thing from their minds) that when I show other people my Collection that they will also see that intangible something that I see when I look at DVD/BluRay collections, and that they will somehow draw conclusions about my relative awsomeness based on that esoteric, undefinable information and so I choose my movies accordingly.  This process of selection, purchase and display is very emotionally satisfying to me.

Netflix is satisfying, but in a different way.  Netflix is masturbation.  You'd think that after my diatribe about the relative personal and cultural significance that I seem to attribute to seemingly meaningless inanimte objects that the whole idea of Netflix would be anathema to me.  Where is the hunt for rare special editions?  Where is the collection?  Where is the concept of ownership and identity?  In a way Netflix is a great equalizer: everybody who subscribes to the service has the exact same collection.  People stream different movies through their various game consoles, but they all have access to the same pool. Netflix is commercially satisfying in a narrower sense.  Instead of "adding to my Collection" Netflix simply allows me to "watch a movie," which, after all, is what I generally like to do.  It's the quick fix.  It tides me over until I can further feed my addiction.

But Netflix also serves several purposes that traditional physical media just couldn't fulfill.  In fact, from my point of view, physical media and Netflix are not even at odds ideologically.  To me they are not mutually exclusive: they , in fact, work in tandem.  The first thing that Netflix allows me to do is "casually" watch movies and TV shows.  What I mean by "casually" is "financially relaxed," which means the cost is negligible and easy to overlook just like we tend to take for granted our cable or satellite bills.  For a relatively (and, in the case of Netflix, actually) low price I get access to a lot of shows I wouldn't normally have access to due to my limited cable budget.  This is satisfying in and of itself to me personally, however it also leads me directly into point number two which is that this access to movies and shows that I might not otherwise have seen will lead to an increase in commerce.  Take for example my and my wife's recent obsession with MAD MEN.  We instantly got addicted to the show for several reasons.  One, it was well-written and Don Draper is a compelling, three-dimensional character.  Two, it is simply fascinating to watch a show that derives a great deal of its entertainment value simply my emphasizing the cultural differences between the 1960's and the 2000's.  The emphasis on the attitudes surrounding things like drinking, smoking, family life, and especially gender relations is not accidental and is one of the key driving forces of the show.  I mean, I want to find out what happens to the characters, but I also want to be shocked at how the doctor smokes during a pap smear or how you can slap your secretary's ass, fuck her on your couch in your office, send her out to get you a cup of coffee and then fire her for no apparent reason all in the space of a day.  The point is MAD MEN is a great show that I will eventually buy on BluRay, thanks to Netflix which allowed me to wtch it in the first place.  Netflix is in some ways a series of feature-length trailers.

The third reason I enjoy Netflix is far more philosophical and self-indulgent; it gives me a chance to watch a bunch of shit I would never, ever, in a million years have spontaneously bought and watched.  In a way Netflix is helping to broaden my cinematic horizons.  But while this form of consumerist communism helps to satisfy my cravings I will always have that desire to go out and buy that crazy five disk edition of BLADE RUNNER, or to own both my original copy of CLERKS to prove that I was a fan before it was cool and the CLERKS X sepcial edition DVD because it is a special edition with a lot of excellent suplemental material (Kevin Smith is still da bomb, ya'll!).  A lot of people would call that crazy.  They're probably right.

Unlike my physics teacher I can see the value in both sex and masturbation.  I would go so far as to argue that not only are they different pages in the same magazine, they are both necessary to maintain sexual health.  Sex is fucking great.  There's nothing that can compare with sticking your dick into your wife/girlfriend/random stranger/Fleshlight (that one's for you, Pat) and having healthy, emotionally reciprocated sex.  But sometimes you don't want sex.  Sometimes you just want to rub one out, whether it's in the interest of time (don't want to commit to the time it takes to go through all the plot points of the foreplay/sex/cuddling plot structure or you just need to release that stress right fucking now) or doing shit in your fantasies you know your wife/girlfriend/random stranger/ household pet Fleshlight (go Pat!) would just not be into or having virtual sex with celebrities via your right hand (I assume it's your right...).  And there's nothing wrong with that.  That's why I'm totally stoked about Netflix.  It's the perfect compliment to my DVD/BluRay collection and completely satisfying, in a different, funny-feeling-when-climbing-the-rope-in-gym-class sort of way.  I can only assume that my physics teacher hates it though.

This one was for you Mr. Lamore.      


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