As I sit in my living room, directly opposite a pile of three unwatched Netflix discs, I can’t help but think of John Swansburg’s recent analysis of this topic in Slate (via Paul Constant on Slog). The desire for relaxation is undoubtedly a reasonable understanding of why genocide, trauma, subtitles, and experimental structure are unappealing enough to avoid a film for weeks. However, also interesting to consider is the role of the Netflix Queue in the neglect of films.
Swansburg separates the desire of seeing a film from the reality of actually watching one. He suggests the importance of time and emotional state to actually experiencing a movie:
“If you don’t get to it, maybe it’s because you’re a bad person who turns a blind eye to unspeakable tragedy. But maybe it’s just because you’re not quite in the mood for it right now. Perhaps in a few months the disc will again reach the top of your queue and you’ll tear it out of the envelope and throw it into the Toshiba the day it arrives in the mail. In the meantime, you can get started on a good Paleolithic kick.” (“A Very Long Engagement” 2)
The question of the Queue arises when one considers the appeal of appearing a balanced film aficionado over appearing as an ordinary person with bad or limited taste. The Queue provides a straightforward compilation of one’s preferences, and to some extent, personality. Similar to the mixed tape, it can be understood as an opportunity to create an external projection of the self that reflects opinions, emotional range, aspirations, and intentions.
Netflix Queue image from DUKES on Flickr
Example of the meaning of the mixed tape and its relationship to narcissism in High Fidelity
There are many manifestations of the use of art to project one’s online personality onto a global screen; the Facebook offers a plethora of art “applications” to add to one’s profile imagery, such the “Art” art gallery application, “ArtShare”, and “Send Art”. All of these profile additions achieve a similar use of preferences in the artistic realm to communicate the self to all surrounding Facebook friends through images that have become popular cultural icons somehow representing an aspect of one’s personality. Yet the visual depictions that actually appear on one’s profile (with the exception of ArtShare) are typically so small and of such low resolution that they become distant representations of the works they depict, leaving one to wonder the value of posting images only recognizable by the printed text beneath them.
The queue is more interesting in certain respects, because of film’s relationship with the perceived identity/reality dichotomy. In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Laura Mulvey writes,
“The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking, but it also goes further, developing scopophilia in its narcissistic aspect. The conventions of mainstream film focus attention on the human form. Scale, space, stories are all anthropomorphic. Here, curiosity and the wish to look intermingle with a fascination with likeness and recognition: the human face, the human body, the relationship between human form and its surroundings, the visible presence of the person in the world.” (Film: Psychology, Society, and Ideology 749)
The film projects human likeness onto the screen; the Netflix Queue offers a catalogue of the human condition to select from and compose into a flawless persona shared with the online community , as well as though opportunities to point out in real conversation “Oh, that’s in my queue.” In contrast to the Facebook art applications (as well as to film itself), the Netflix Queue produces something tangible that arrives regularly in one’s mailbox, with the potential of becoming actual experience. This is unusual for virtual personality projections. However, when one’s self-created film identity on Netflix faces off with reality, as Swansburg’s article argues, the Netflix identity loses as we rush to the video store in search of something we actually want to watch. Or perhaps to YouTube, where one can find something entertainingly identifiable occuping a shorter period of time.