Netflix between cinema culture and consumer products

Netflix between cinema culture and consumer products

In the last years, the film industry has seen the birth of a new protagonist: Netflix. The American platform, initially born as a modern video rental shop, is at the forefront today in the production of TV series and films.

Here is a brief history. The company was set up in 1997 in Los Gatos, California by Reed Hastings, a computer engineer graduated from Stanford, as a service for the rental of DVDs, VHS and video games by mail. Its founder had the brilliant idea to give the possibility to choose the products in a remote way and by subscription and with this new formula Netflix exploded. In 2005 Netflix sent out one million DVDs a day; in 2009 it had a catalogue of 100,000 titles of DVDs and more than 10 million subscribers.

In February 2007 Netflix decided to make a change in the rental of films by creating a platform for video streaming in the same way. It established itself on the international market and in 2016 even doubled the number of its subscribers.

Netflix imposes a cultural revolution and from a mere distributor it also has become a producer of TV series, first of all House of Cards (2011), its first original production, sold worldwide and winner of several Golden Globes. In just three years, Netflix landed in Europe and won over the public for the platform’s simplicity of use.

Netflix: all the secrets of its success

But what are the ingredients of Netflix's success? TV series churned out at will and the ability to create pure addiction, episode by episode, among its subscribers , even despite of the quality of the content offered. The series 13 Reasons why was a prime example of this. A worldwide phenomenon, a story, that is also trivial, set in an American college and that takes its cue from adolescent distress. Stereotypes and bullying make their way into the plot and with a high probability people can recognize themselves in the characters: teenagers like many who are victims of bullying every day, everywhere.

It is a story that takes its cue from reality without even great upheavals and without much imagination or twists, even if the construction of the plot makes the viewer curious enough to get to see the whole series without ever taking his eyes off it.

The availability of the next episode triggers a mechanism similar to addiction and the viewer, in the intimacy of his own home, loses himself in the story, taking full advantage of it until the end. A "product" that absorbs full attention and becomes a companion of whole nights to complete the story. The phenomenon of Binge-watching is nothing more than the spasmodic consumption of the episodes, without the possibility of stopping the curiosity of the viewer and, like Penelope's shroud, is potentially infinite, because that episode will be followed by another and then another again and if that is not enough, the second series will arrive, then the third and so on.

TV series and values

Over the years, Netflix's offer has been enriched with more and more elaborated contents, designed to be watched as long as possible and to involve an increasingly varied and wider audience that includes different age groups.

Netflix's offer is able to gather the consent and requests of its subscribers and show them what they like best.

But in reality, what are the messages hidden behind the famous TV series produced by Netflix and what impacts can they have on young people?

Series like the one on the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar of Narcos or the crimes and corruption related to Rome of Suburra are adeguate for an audience of minors? It is likewise 13 Reasons why? Which type of control can be adopted in order to "protect" minors from violent or inadequate content? And how can we stem the phenomenon of emulation that these series, in some way, can trigger?

The simplicity of access to such contents and stories is difficult to control. Younger people are therefore more exposed to the vision of violent stories, without any mediation by adults. The real problem is that teenagers may not grasp the nuances between the fiction of the stage and the real facts, risking emulating the “villain” and ridiculing the positive character/subject.

Let's not forget that among the innovations of Netflix there is the possibility of sharing the subscription, which is nothing more than a form of sharing of contents and their stories: a subscription, in fact, allows the viewing of up to four films simultaneously and it is not necessary for the holder of the subscription to be of age.

Therefore, the problem is the comparison in the peer group, in critical ages such as adolescence, without adult intermediation : a construction of reality that could be totally distorted.

However, the choice in the Netflix catalogue is so wide that it cannot be linked only to the negative and violent contents of some series on hundreds of titles.

Series like Glow, set in the 80's, describes the vicissitudes of Ruth, an actress with no future involved in the creation of a bizarre TV show accompanied by characters out of the box or Fuller house, which tells the story of D.J. Fuller, a widow who finds herself raising her three children with the help of her sister Stefanie and her best friend Kimmy living in the same house as her children, are the bearers of values such as determination, solidarity and family.

Also the amount of docuseries and quality historical films determined the success of the platform. Netflix really does manage to satisfy everyone.

Netflix's successful and quality series

While it is true that some series convey questionable values, it is also true that the Netflix audience is very demanding and vast. Netflix really can satisfy everyone, even cinephiles and fans of history with series like The Crown. It is an exciting series that tells the life of the British queen, showing her human side, the alleged betrayals of Prince Philip. It is a historical and fascinating story that starts from that famous "yes" on the altar of the Westminster Abbey in 1947 and arrives to the present day. The success of the series is due to the story of the intrigues, strategies and power struggles within the monarchy but also especially to the ability to open a glimpse of royal life.

Soon the third season of La casa de papel (Money Heist) will also arrive. It is a series that tells the story of the big blow of a group of robbers: the assault on the headquarters of the Mint in Madrid to print over two billion euros in 50-bill tickets. The series brings to the screens a real popular uprising: the protagonists, in fact, appropriate the means of production of capitalism. The series mentions the popular revolt of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, in 2011, when the movement of the Indignados was born, which contested the economic austerity that followed the crisis triggered by the fall of Lehman Brothers. It is full of twists and turns, paradoxical and even unbelievable, but it manages despite everything to be compelling and it is difficult to break away from watching it. Unique in its kind, it is a series that amazes for this reason and although it can be compared to other genres of American or Spanish films, it has become a series to be seen.

And since Netflix is really for everyone, how about Stranger Things, one of the most recent hits? Science fiction and horror are intertwined to create a story set in the 80s. It all starts when a child disappears in mysterious circumstances and, at the same time, a strange girl with telekinetic powers arrives.

Soon it turns out that she has escaped from a secret laboratory, where her own father conducted experiments on her because of her abilities. Very strange occurrences continue to happen in this Netflix series, like the appearance of faceless monsters, culminating in the disappearance of another girl.

Four teenagers are investigating the case and two more will be involved as well as Sheriff Jim Hopper. Suspense, twists, action and bated breath are assured and lovers of the supernatural will not be disappointed.

Netflix and criticism: Trivializing evil

The strongest criticism of Netflix is precisely to trivialize the evil, not to treat the most sensitive issues with due respect and often in a superficial way.

The streaming platform has been repeatedly criticized and many have found some of the series available on Netflix guilty of spreading messages harmful to teenagers.

Insatiable was in fact blamed for promoting fat shaming, while the series 13 Reasons Why is blamed for minimizing bullying and self-harm and also the Italian series Baby found itself in the eye of the storm for the same reason, as accused of encouraging and trivializing child prostitution. The series, spitting out from the news of 2013, brings to the stage the teenage prostitution of the Parioli district of Rome.

The series was immediately accused of dealing with a sensitive topic in a superficial way. The authors, for their part, have repeatedly reiterated that the theme of the series is not sexual exploitation, but the difficult adolescence of the characters involved.

Netflix does not propose itself as an educational model, but conveys messages, often negative or distorted, that make mass culture . The basic problem is that, as recently stated by the head of content, Ted Sarandos: "We observe how and how much the public watches a given product. It is the love for the latter that determines its success. Whether critics understand it or not, we are talking about a social media influencers group that talks to a small niche, to a selected audience, which has little to do with the generalist audience around the world”.

Tell me what you want and I'll give you the series for you, it seems to say. Cultural flattening? Inability to discern? Appreciation, in spite of everything ? This is the great risk. We are growing up a whole generation that doesn't know very well how to create an idea of life, because it waits for someone to prepare it under their eyes . It is then appropriate to be able to watch the TV series with critical eyes, without being caught up in the lust for curiosity and fall prisoners of “coming up next”, of the expectation for the episode of the next day. Our relationship with TV series must be balanced and of common sense, without addictions. Only in this way can we remain truly free, without being subjected to a cultural colonialism dictated by the agendas of the media.