Over the weekend I finally signed up for Netflix. I did it for work.
Stop laughing. Seriously, I did.
Last week I had a conversation with my editor at the American Spectator, and we decided that this week’s column would be about the rather unappetizing idea of Mitt Romney running for president in 2016. One ingredient to a successful piece on the topic would be Mitt, the documentary on Romney’s 2008 and 2012 runs for the White House which has played a role in the resuscitation, of sorts, of Romney’s political stature.
Mitt is available on Netflix. So I signed up for it, watched the documentary and wrote the AmSpec column over the weekend. Feel free to read it here.
Naturally, Mitt isn’t the only thing you can watch when you get Netflix. You can also watch House of Cards, in which Kevin Spacey will delight and terrify you as Francis J. Underwood, a devilish Democrat congressman from South Carolina who effects a stunning political rise through machinations and misdeeds which would make George Soros and Hillary Clinton run screaming from their TV’s.
So I did. Two seasons, 26 episodes in four days. Believe it or not, I actually managed to function on a serviceable level Saturday, Sunday, Monday and yesterday. I got a reasonable amount of work done, had some social interactions, the dog was played with and taken for walks and meals were eaten. There was even a modicum of sleep during the House of Cards binge.
I like this binge-watching thing. I much prefer it to having to wait all week for a new episode of a show I’m interested in. I’ll gladly sit through a story that takes a few hours to tell.
I’m that way with books. Always have been. Give me a good book and I’ll plow through it in one or two sittings. I’ll block out a Saturday or Sunday and just read the sucker until I’m done. And for that reason I’ve always preferred movies to TV shows. Movies are a couple of hours’ worth, but the story wraps up at the end – unless it’s one of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movies, or The Matrix trilogy or some other such franchise. For me, I’ll block out the time to watch a movie when I feel like it and be perfectly happy doing so. Having to orient my schedule to insure I’m available every Thursday at 7:00 to watch this show or that which is cut into 10-minute segments so as to bombard me with ads for denture paste or feminine products or flavored water isn’t something I’m interested in, so I can’t remember the last broadcast network TV show I watched with any regularity – and there aren’t that many cable shows I’ll invest time in. I’ll watch HBO’s offerings from time to time, for example; I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, True Detective was outstanding, I think Deadwood, Rome and The Sopranos were three of the greatest TV series in history and for a while I liked Treme’ before I couldn’t recognize New Orleans in it anymore. With HBO you don’t have to sit through commercials, though, and if you miss an episode on Sunday you can be sure to see it on Monday or Tuesday. It’s easier for me to commit to that than The Americans, or Vikings, or Halt and Catch Fire or Mad Men, all of which I’ve invested in thanks to the miracle of DVR and Cox On Demand.
I’m not saying this is a good thing, or a bad thing. It’s just my personal preference, and there are lots of folks out there like me.
There are lots of other folks out there who don’t like binge-watching. They’ll camp out in front of a TV just like I will, mind you, but they’ll do it on a schedule. They’ll watch this show at 8:00, that show at 9:00, this one at 10:00.
Why am I telling you all this very obvious stuff? Because if you were to apply 20th century interest-group politics to the discussion binge-watchers like me would be hiring lobbyists to do battle on Capitol Hill against the Schedule Slaves, and we would have to forge a legislative compromise which would satisfy neither of us.
I don’t think you should have to orient your time around when a TV show comes on, and I’ll be damned if you’re going to tell me that I can’t block out a weekend to watch a House of Cards marathon. If you try, I might come and protest in your living room to deny you the enjoyment of your shows at their appointed time. And that legislative compromise which seeks to settle the issue with some arrangement allowing you some limited freedom to do as you will and me to do as I will? We will battle around the edges of it forever. The issue will never go away.
The good news is, there is no 20th-century interest-group politics surrounding TV watching habits. Thankfully I’m able to use on-demand from the cable company and Netflix to satisfy my entertainment desires and the Schedule Slaves still have oodles of TV channels around which to orient their time.
The bad news is that too many areas within our economy and civil life can work just like entertainment given the technology available to the public but we’re not allowing them to.
In Baton Rouge, the Metro Council just allowed rideshare companies like Uber to operate freely, but of course the city’s ridiculous Taxicab Commission is raising a stink about Uber’s commencing operations without the proper paperwork. And Baton Rouge is perhaps the friendliest local government Uber will find across the fruited plain; they’re in a war with bureaucrats all over the country who are holding on to the old oligopolistic model in which mobbed-up taxi companies conspire with mobbed-up local bureaucrats to keep the competition out and the public unsatisfied and demanding even more regulations in pursuit of a reliably painless experience.
People demand law and regulation, at least in the economic sphere, because they want to guard against getting screwed out of their money or having their convenience or safety compromised by those with whom they do business. And in the conventional circumstance, people perceive that if you deal with a company who provides you with a product or service you’re at a disadvantage because that company has access to a lot more information about the product or service than you do.
But is that true anymore? I’m going to say much less so than in the past.
If you hire someone to service your home without checking Angie’s List, you’re a fool. If you go to a movie without looking it up at Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a mistake. If you buy something at Amazon without looking at the customer feedback posted at the bottom of the page, you’re not doing your job as a consumer. Online reviews and reputation have changed the dynamic in ways government never could have, and they will destroy a bad business faster and more efficiently than any regulatory agency and slow-moving administrative or legal process could ever hope to.
Which brings us back to Netflix, and this new society we’re evolving into.
If I can watch virtually any show I want, any time I want, in any dose I want on practically any device I want (you can watch TV and movies through Netflix on TV’s, computers, tablets and mobile phones), do you really expect me to tolerate the federal government picking my health-care plan? Do you really expect me to accept the EPA telling me I can’t dig a pond on my land or the IRS asking the members of an activist group I belong to what books we read?
Do you expect me to take a number and wait in line at the DMV or to get a passport? Or to submit to an old-school taxi oligopoly if I need a ride somewhere? Or to submit my kids to stupid Zero Tolerance policies in public schools – or worse, to be told that because my kids are no more interested in being dragged through an Industrial Age assembly-line institution than I am that they need to be medicated for the convenience of “educators” in those public schools? Or to have to fight political battles in order to achieve my market preferences for things like insurance, financial services, vacation accomodations, food or mail delivery?
Barack Obama’s presidency is collapsing, as it should. But it’s not just because Obama isn’t fit for the task. The problem goes a lot deeper than just him. The public is learning what the private sector is capable of delivering in the 21st century, and it is adjusting its expectations accordingly. It isn’t interested in one-size-fits-all anything anymore, and it knows it shouldn’t have to accept it from government. But government refuses to change to accomodate the public, and is in fact resisting the private sector’s evolution into the 21st century.
That’s why the public has less and less faith in government these days. It’s only going to get worse. And the political party which recognizes this dynamic and acts on it will be the one which dominates the early part of the 21st century.