Why Richard Corliss Thinks Netflix Stinks. And why that doesn't really matter.

by mattdentler
August 5, 2009 8:06 AM
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It probably doesn't surprise anyone that I wholeheartedly disagree with Richard Corliss' new essay for Time magazine about "Why Netflix Stinks." Corliss seems to have an issue with the fact that Netflix deprives consumers from the experience of visiting their local video store and interacting with clerks and shelves. Guess what: if that process (which currently hangs on by a thread) was so popular and/or successful, it wouldn't be in danger of extinction. And, for every person that cherishes the experience of visiting a neighborhood video store (like Kim's, which he highlights in the article), there are easily 100 other folks that would not watch nearly as many films as they now because of Netflix's service.

I used to be a video store clerk, and I also used to love scanning the walls of Austin hubs like Vulcan Video, Waterloo Video, and I Love Video. However, as my life got busier, the time I spent visiting these stores declined. Once things like Netflix and VOD sprang up, and later iTunes and Hulu, game over. If I wanted something too obscure from these digital services, I would wait for a theatrical event. But if I'm looking for home entertainment, I'm pretty easy to please. And you know what, we don't really have a choice. Kim's didn't make its name from hardcore film lovers alone; mass audiences had to walk through its doors as well. Once those mass audiences started drifting to Netflix and television, you don't have enough customers to sustain a business. This is the same thing that happened to record stores. But let's face it, life's too short and too busy to spend more time at a brick-and-mortar store than you're going to spend actually consuming the product you're there to choose.

Corliss states "Not that every video-store clerk is a budding Quentin Tarantino, eager to point renters toward some arcane masterpiece from Italy or Hong Kong, but you do miss out on a face-to-face with a knowledgeable cinephile." I'm sorry, but I think we need to celebrate the fact that the snobby store clerk era is coming to an end. I used to be that guy, in Brownsville, TX, rolling my eyes when a soccer mom had never heard of Akira Kurosawa. C'mon. Life's too short. Plus, the record-and-video store clerk was never a healthy career track. We have blogs now for that (thanks for reading).

Is it sad that the hipster kids of tomorrow will be better off learning recommendation algorithms, rather than learning the complete filmography of Sam Fuller? Maybe, but at least they're now more likely to earn health insurance. So, while we as video-store consumers may enjoy the face-to-face banter with our clerk, more often than not we leave the store with the movie we really wanted instead of the obscure choice he/she tried to push on us. Besides, that film you chose is probably more enjoyable, and guess what, it's likely available on Netflix. As much as you'll miss video stores, no one else knows which film you're in the mood to see, better than you.

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  • Brett | September 27, 2009 9:29 AMReply

    Netflix is okay for people who want to be able to instantly watch a movie because they have nothing better to do, but for those who want something in particular or have refined or particular tastes, you need to buy a movie or visit a video store. There are still TONS of films available only on VHS that netflix can't send me, whether it's "Voyage of the Rock Aliens" or "Sometimes a Great Notion".

  • Bob | August 31, 2009 4:48 AMReply

    Wow. You really went out of your way to avoid specifically addressing Corliss's complaints and concerns.

    Not to mention, whereas Corliss's essay-- while presenting a case against the Netflix-fication of society -- addressed the benefits of Netflix in a well-rounded argument, your "essay" was biased and one sided.

    And, as the poster above me pointed out, "being busy" isn't a new phenomena of the 21st Century, and therefore should not be an excuse to limit real social interaction, i.e. the kind not done over the internet. Everyone throughout the history of time has been busy. Our parents were busy, yet they still found time to get out of the house and to the store when they needed to. Being busy is no excuse to be lazy and avoid interacting with people.

    Honestly, Mr. Dentler, all I hear in your "essay" are excuses, and no real reasons.

  • Tom Andrews | August 8, 2009 12:39 PMReply

    No, an experience few have ever had is not worth depriving the other 98% of something as beneficial as netflix.

  • matty | August 6, 2009 6:57 AMReply

    You're right. An experience you haven't had is definitely one not worth having.

  • matty | August 6, 2009 6:35 AMReply

    Netflix supports homongenization. Apparently so do you. Just because you used to be (but evidently aren't anymore, right?) an eyerolling snob, that doesn't mean the rest of us working stiffs are. I work in one of the largest video stores in the nation. I have health insurance, and absolutely nobody I work with rolls their eyes when someone hasn't heard of Kurosawa. If life is too short to head out to the video store to find a movie you'd like to see, kill yourself. What did busy people do before the internet? Just stay inside rotting away slowly?

    The economic model for the brick-and-mortar video store may in fact be unsustainable, but that doesn't mean it isn't an important part of movie culture that convenience is killing off (and that Netflix is intentionally destroying). I think this is a pretty narrow-minded point of view you've expressed here.

    Corliss may be an old dude, and he may rightly or wrongly be of the opinion that some cinephile knows better than you what you should be watching (I certainly don't agree). But I do think that the idea that people should be instantly gratified whenever they want anything is a major contributing factor to the general and gradual stupefying of our world.

  • Tom | August 6, 2009 4:25 AMReply

    Netflix hardly supports homgenization. I my queue and watching history are testament to that. Netlix enables me to watch a vastly wide array of diffent kinds of films.

    Perhaps people who live in NYC, LA, Seattle,SF, Austin and similar places don't appreciate the huge majority of people in America that live in regular mid-sized 500k population, urban sprawled cities. Thats where most of us live. I know almost know one that has ever had experience with a place like "Kim's"

    I knew only Blockbuster, Hollywood and some of their immediate local chain predecessors. So this loss that Corliss feels is an experience that select few ever had anyway. Consider yourself lucky, if you could ever go into a video store and have a conversation with young film buff behind the counter who would tell you of hidden gems that you may have missed.

    Most of us would laugh at that prospect, knowing only high school kids working part-time knowing little to nothing about movies. (and theres nothing wrong with that btw)

    Dentler is right on. Most of us are busy. I don't have the time to stop by a video store every day. I certainly don't have the money to do that. Nor do I trust a video's cover art to be my guide for what is good to watch. Thats redick!

    Netflix allows me to watch about 20 movies a month for 20 bucks. And the selection is unbelieveble.

    I shed no tears for the loss of something that most never had anyway.