Netflix is a paradigmatic example of the type of control which is predominant in contemporary societies as described by Gilles Deleuze because it provides an enclosed form of freedom; freedom within strictly delimited, but obscured, boundaries.

When navigating Netflix it presents itself as an open expanse of unlimited entertainment choices, a vast comprehensive library of content of all genres and topics. We are free to fulfil our vicarious desires in whatever way we choose by selecting what to view and when to view it.

To any user, however, it quickly becomes clear that the content offered is limited in various ways. There is little if anything newer than eighteen months old, many titles do not appear, others appear for a while and disappear. The vast library is also predominantly composed of swathes of titles of which even the most obsessive movie buff has never heard. These straight to DVD (perhaps now straight to Netflix) titles serve an important function. They are not there to be watched but to provide the impression of a comprehensive library.

The Netflix interface works in a strange way which is counterintuitive to those of us familiar with filing systems of most kinds. There is no directory or index of all of the titles on the Netflix system, only a home page with curated lists of genres, popular titles or those “just for you” and a search function. It is left to independent sites to compile comprehensive lists which show up the limitations of the catalogue and the hidden restrictions to our freedom to consume the media on offer.

The way in which Netflix functions is reminiscent of how Gilles Deleuze characterized 'societies of control'. He suggested that the world of discipline and enclosure which Michel Foucault described has been largely left behind. The freeway, rather than the panopticon, is the model of power today. This is because:

A control is not a discipline. In making freeways, for example, you don’t enclose people but instead multiply the means of control. I am not saying that this is the freeway’s exclusive purpose, but that people can drive infinitely and ‘freely’ without being at all confined yet while still being perfectly controlled. This is our future. (Deleuze 1998: 18).

We can see this future in the controlled freedom we experience when using Netflix. Users of Netflix are free to watch as much as they like as often as they like and have the illusion of complete freedom presented to them but this is a freedom which is always subject to subtle and constant controls.

 

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