Happy Anniversary, Netflix, You Surprisingly Old Motherfuckers
I recently got a promotional email from Netflix congratulating me and itself on a pair of anniversaries. The streaming giant is apparently twenty years old. That seems way fucking older than I would have thought. I had no idea that the company’s history dates back to the late 1990s, when the world still seemed full of hope and we were nowhere as far advanced in our dispiriting march into oblivion.
I was even more surprised to discover that my history with the company stretches back some fifteen years, to that halcyon moment in 2003 when I decided I might as well give this big DVD-by-subscription thing everyone was talking about a try by renting Billy Wilder’s prickly late-period gem The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as my very first selection.
I don’t remember exactly when I first got a Netflix subscription but I remember very vividly what a transformative and empowering experience it was and how it utterly transformed the way I viewed, and view, media, literally and metaphorically.
What surprised me about Netflix’s email is realizing just how long Netflix has been central to my job as a pop-culture writer. The time between when I started writing about movies professionally in July 1997 and when I started renting movies pretty much exclusively through Netflix in 2003 is but a fraction of the epoch between when I discovered Netflix and today.
For pretty much two-thirds of my career as a professional pop culture writer I have relied upon Netflix extensively for research. I stopped haunting video stores that were long both my home away from home and my place of employment (I spent about five years as a video store clerk for Blockbuster and Madison’s Four Star Video Heaven) and came to rely upon Netflix because it solved so many of the problems seemingly endemic to the video-rental process. Suddenly late fees were never an issue. I similarly didn’t have to worry about new releases perpetually being out.
I still remember the incredible sense of joy and possibility that came with my dad bringing home a VCR. It wasn’t just an impressive new piece of technology: it was goddamned magic. It meant I could watch Star Wars at home whenever I wanted. Hell, I could watch pretty much anything at home. That was incredible.
It didn’t take long, however, for the miracle of the VCR to seem decidedly non-miraculous. The limitations of the technology were achingly apparent: the damn thing broke constantly. It couldn’t contain much information. The visual and sound quality left much to be desired.
The same wasn’t true with Netflix. Subscription by mail still strikes me as an everyday miracle. But for much of the rest of the world, that miracle was replaced by the even more audacious miracle of streaming. You didn’t have to wait for a movie to hit your mailbox anymore. Now you could watch just about anything and watch it on your computer.
Netflix got on top of that development as well, to the point where a lot of people undoubtedly think of Netflix primarily, if not exclusively, as a streaming service.
For me, the novelty of subscription by delivery never wore off, and at this, point that’s existed for about forty percent of my life. The novelty of streaming has never worn off. I’m so grateful for these now ancient innovations that I still think of Netflix as a new company offering miraculous new services to people overjoyed they no longer had to worry about owing 47 dollars in late fees for a VHS copy of If Lucy Fell that mysteriously disappeared.
I’m so grateful for Netflix that I never even think about the video store world that was once a huge part of my life but that was all but destroyed by Netflix.
Like the iPod, subscription-by-delivery and streaming will always seem new and miraculous to me. So happy birthday, Netflix, you surprisingly old motherfuckers, from a crusty old dude who has apparently been with you forever, yet still somehow seems to be feeling the giddy butterflies of newfound infatuation even if you did, for example, green-light The Ridiculous Six and lots more Happy Madison movies pretty much exactly like it.
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