Netflix WI: The Canon

Reading through some of the other essays in the Pool journal now.
Glad to see someone else questioning whether Netflix recommendation algorithms are the bee's knees. Eugene Kotlyarenko writes:

In the Netflix viewing model, one supposedly knows exactly which available films are related to the films they’ve already seen and enjoyed. This results in a conservative viewing environment where one tends to stick close to the sources of pleasure. And in fact, in a certain way this strategy immediately sets up viewers for dissatisfaction. Direct comparison to high-rated personal favorites psychologically primes viewers for a higher expectation set, than they would have if they were approaching a film with general knowledge but not direct comparison. This practice invariably results in higher rates of disappointment from the viewer, since it is nearly impossible for successive movies to consistently top previous favorites. Quizzically, the algorithm also functions to create comical hybrid genres that purportedly describe a viewer’s taste. The idea of having one’s viewing habits boiled down to “Tortured-Genius Dramas based on real life,” “Critically-Acclaimed Family Friendly Animation,” and “Cerebral Gay & Lesbian Dramas” can certainly make one question not only the entire prospect of being a serious film viewer, but may lead to some existential soul-searching.

Kotlyarenko's consideration of what Netflix streaming will do to the film canon is well worth a read. He's a bit hard on TV--the films absorbed by the Cahiers du Cinema crowd back in the day were mostly Hollywood schlock, no less saddled by convention and economic expectation, where the risks and artistry took place in spite of the system. This is also true for the TV we value: Monty Python, Outer Limits, Star Trek TOS and TNG, Lost Seasons 1-2, Trailer Park Boys, etc.

Kotlyarenko argues that canons depend on what's available for viewing (repertory cinema, VHS, DVD) and predicts that Netflix will be that next available thing. Let's take him one ghastly step further and imagine that because the studio, eh, fascists will only license the best films for short periods of time, the canon that will emerge will be films that never leave the catalog. Future scholars and young filmmakers will thus have their inspiration and values shaped by Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker, Blue Crush, Breakin' 2, and the complete works of Steven Seagal.