Netflix: A Viable Alternative?
by Aeshna Chandra on Friday, February 6th, 2015
Since its invention over 80 years ago, television has dominated the American cultural landscape. From Monday night football to Friday Night Lights, the finale of M*A*S*H to the finale of Friends, Neil Armstrong’s landing on the Moon to the O.J. Simpson car chase, television has documented this country’s highs and lows. Just this past weekend, most students gathered around their televisions to watch the annual cultural phenomenon of commercials, halftime shows, and football —the Super Bowl. However, before television was even a blip on the landscape, movies were the great uniter and the main form of entertainment for the American public. Although movies did not disappear after television arrived, their function changed dramatically; they no longer were the easiest, most accessible form of entertainment. By 1948, 0.4% of US households had TV, according to TV Basics. At this time, the movie studios had not yet declined the way they would only a few years later. However, by 1990, only 42 years later, 98.2% of households had a television set. The advent of television has changed how we see movies: televisions can be right in your living room, making them much more accessible than the cinema.
But even this mainstay of American culture, so prominent for the last 60 years, seems to be losing traction with the rise of internet television providers like Netflix, Hulu Plus, or HBO Go. TV Basics states that Americans are not only reducing the number of TVs they have, but are also getting rid of their TVs altogether. Meanwhile, although Netflix introduced its streaming service only seven years ago and other providers followed years later, close to 50% of U.S. households subscribe to a streaming service, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The rise of Netflix coincides with the decline in TV viewership, and though it may take years for TV to go out of style once and for all, the trend over the last few years previews a future in which our only use for television sets is as larger screens on which to stream movies and television shows.
No one can argue that, over the past few decades since the inception of the Internet or the eight years since the invention of the iPhone, the rate of technological change in the US has not accelerated drastically. When we Milton students were in diapers, our families still used VCR and had no idea what DVR was. Now even DVDs are becoming obsolete, as everything becomes digitized and stored in the Cloud. We are too young to feel nostalgia, but the undeniable change that has started well before our childhood cannot help but leave us with a feeling of wistfulness. Everything changes so quickly now, and Netflix, with its revolving door of available shows and movies, matches perfectly with this new dynamic. Unfortunately or not, depending on your attachment to the past, television as we know it just cannot keep up.
Yet this change also reflects a more negative aspect of postmodern American culture: the desire for instant gratification for which consumers are so reviled is fed by these internet streaming services. Binge watching, as fun as it may be, throws all semblance of patience out the window. Having access to hundreds, if not thousands, of shows and movies, in all different languages and genres, negates all self-control in consuming media; even Netflix has a built in warning to viewers who have been watching for a certain amount of hours. Allowing consumers to glut themselves on entertainment produces greedy viewers who want everything and want it now.
The decline in TV is inevitable, as it was for movies and the theatre. This decline tells us many things about our modern society, about how we have changed and evolved, for better or worse, since the inception of TV in the 1920’s. The rise of Netflix and other similar services has irreversibly changed our view of entertainment and ways of being entertained. But even though Netflix may be replacing TV in all other aspects, television will still remain the main way of bonding around entertainment. As fun as Netflix is, no one wants to crowd around a laptop to watch the Super Bowl. No Apple TV will ever give us the same thrill as watching events or shows in real time does. As our society moves away from the past, both recent and distant, we can remain assured of one thing: TV, if nothing else, will remain in our living rooms for years to come as a reminder of our collective past and as a way for people to come and be entertained together. After all, nothing can beat great food, great company, and a huge plasma TV on Super Bowl Sunday.
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