Netflix: Opiate of the Masses
I love Netflix, and so do you.
The reason we all love Netflix so much is because we all, Americans in particular, collectively hate to read.
And if you don’t believe that Americans hate to read: When was the last time you stepped foot inside of a bookstore? Other than to buy a mocha latte from the in-store Starbucks or to meet that OkCupid date in a neutral setting with lots of witnesses in case they turn out to be less like George Clooney and a lot more like Louis CK? Although based on reports I’m not sure if a crowd is really a sufficient deterrent for Louis CK’s prurient predilections …
The point is that I know you can still find a few Barnes and Noble stores where books are essentially set pieces for people either watching YouTube videos on their iPad or dutifully typing their Modern Family spec script while leering at the teenage employees, but that doesn’t make those few remaining Barnes and Noble bookstores any less a sad diminution from when they were the middle class alternative to going to the library to sit next to a homeless person pretending to read the New York Times on a four-foot bamboo stick.
And I have some authority to speak on the decline of American literacy because I taught high school English for more than ten years, and my experiences there taught me that teenagers regard reading with only slightly less suspicion than wearing a condom, which is to say that apart from texts written at a fifth-grade reading level (i.e., Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Donald Trump’s Twitter feed), books are regarded as anathema on par with delayed gratification and drinking in moderation. In my experience, most teenagers become flush with civic pride when shown images of Nazi book-burnings and they regard the world of Fahrenheit 451 as a promising utopia.
It’s why teenagers are responsible for mangling our language with text-speak and emojis, which streamline and replace the need to express oneself using multisyllabic vocabulary and are second only to dick pics when conveying millennials’ most intimate thoughts and ideas.
It’s no surprise, then, that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold chose to kill themselves in their school’s library because there’s nothing misanthropic teens hate more than stacks of books, and they were just as likely to read one as they were to join a Yanni fanclub.
I actually like Yanni. Not enough to join a fanclub, but enough to have a Spotify playlist that I like to listen to when I’m reminiscing about 1990s dentist office waiting rooms.
In truth, there’s hardly any reason to lament the demise of America’s chain bookstores. I worked at a Barnes and Noble in the late 1990s, and back then I had to wear, get this: a shirt and tie. Every day. Tucked in to nice slacks. The last time I went into a Barnes and Noble I saw employees dressed like they’d just come either from Burning Man or their tent beneath the 101 overpass on Ventura.
And so while America continues to forfeit its status as a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs and reaffirms the rest of the world’s impression of us as Cheetos-noshing couch potatoes who firmly believe in the science of detoxing and gluten-free substitutes, Netflix will afford the intoxicating sedative carrying us onward and downward into relatively painless, accomplishment-free lives that should expire around season 23 of House of Cards. Except that doctors are busy keeping us alive with new life-extending treatments that should keep us around long enough to witness season 57 of Orange Is the New Black, which is the season when it’s bound to finally get interesting.
Hopefully Obamacare’s death panels will change all that, and we’ll die sooner, secure in the fact that we didn’t miss much.