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Screen Slate has published 365 days a year for the last nine years as a daily aggregate of NYC alternative screening listings accompanied by a short essay about something showing that day.

Although all the theaters in our wheelhouse have closed, we intend to keep publishing daily and paying writers. (You can support us here.) Thanks for sticking with us as we experiment with our format and content.

We hope you'll bear with us during this strange time, and look forward to seeing you at the movies on the other side.

Slide from Resiliency through Failure - Netflix's Approach to Extreme Availability in the Cloud

Stream Slate #4: The Current Crisis


by Giampaolo Bianconi

Giampaolo Bianconi is a curator and writer in Brooklyn. 

Links:

Resiliency through Failure - Netflix's Approach to Extreme Availability in the Cloud, presentation by Ariel Tseitlin, Director of Cloud Solutions at Netflix, September 2013.

Dystopia as a Service, presentation by Adrian Cockcroft, Director of Architecture for the Cloud Systems, Netflix, June 2013.

Last week I texted Jon Dieringer and told him I wanted to do a weeklong viewing diary, similar to ArtNew’s Consumer Reports or New York Magazine’s Grub Street Diet, but focused on everything I had viewed during a week of quarantine. I was at the end of a week spent in São Paulo with my 90-year-old grandmother, growing increasingly terrified of transmitting COVID-19 to her. I was looking forward to getting home and finally self-isolating, doing my part. My viewing diary would omit nothing: Bernie Sanders livestreams, pornography, reruns of The Sopranos. It would be honest and, I thought, in being honest, it would be funny and relatable.

Content is everywhere. I don’t own a TV, but that’s no longer a political act, as it might have been in the 1990s. I own a laptop, which, let’s face it, isn’t much better. Over the past few years, we’ve transitioned from distribution systems rooted in broadcast to those rooted in databases. The cinema is an increasingly rarefied, even vintage experience (not a judgement, just a fact). Online databases provide lifetimes of moving images, not reformatted as content, at our fingertips, collapsing small and silver screens onto retina and LED displays. Following a test of whether or not an unprotected DVD could survive a journey ferried by the United States Postal System, Reed Hastings founded Netflix as an online DVD-rental-by-mail service. As a teenager and in college, I used my laptop to manage my queue of DVDs I was getting through the mail, most of which I watched on my laptop, which still had a disc drive. In 2007, they launched Netflix Instant. But I don’t remember using it until, I think, 2008.

Slide from Resiliency through Failure - Netflix's Approach to Extreme Availability in the Cloud

Watching online streaming video has always felt a lot like work to me. I have always disliked the interface: the endless scrolling through digital junkspace to mine data for recommendation feedback loops. (Like a lot of things I don’t like, that doesn’t mean I don’t do it.) Sites like Netflix are well suited to disaster: they want to turn you into an efficient visual consumer, rushing only to buy toilet paper (if you can find it) as you work to watch and rate Battlestar Galactica. The more you watch, the more you rate, the better your selections: watching is just harvesting information that allows for the optimization of the mechanism, the holy cybernetic loop, and the production of more generic data-driven content. I think that’s why, starting on Monday, I could barely concentrate on anything. I left started movies unfinished, abruptly closed my laptop on mindless TV shows, skipped to the end of short films.

But I have been watching something that doesn’t seem like work. For the second time in my relatively short life, the meltdown of the global economy and the state’s knee jerk reaction to save it. Who still harbors the illusion that the state serves another function than to prop up the market? Certainly no one waiting for a coronavirus test.

The American state is premised on the coagulation of capital fueled by the illusion of financial circulation. When there’s a crisis, the Federal Reserve simply makes more money appear using computer code. It’s not so different, in the end, from steaming Outbreak (currently #9 on Netflix in the United States): the same code making different images appear, the same code making money appear in different places. How other than with the state’s magic spreadsheet can the market return to its counterfeit profits premised on the expansion of a precarious workforce and a corporate ouroboros that used government funds to buy their own stock and inflate their value? Ask most people to name something the state has provided and they’ll say a road. By that measure, it’s not much of an improvement from the Roman Empire.

Slide from Dystopia as a Service by Netflix's Director of Architecture for the Cloud Systems

If Donald Trump has enough foresight to replace this cliche with some form of temporary Universal Basic Income, we might yet see “a road” replaced with “a check.” But this latest gambit seems more like the loud croak that precedes the final crash of a collapsing house. Throwing a few thousand dollars to the American public isn’t a social safety net, and it’s not even a parody of human rights. It’s a cynical attempt to reboot a system that, for the second time in twenty years, has been exposed as an evil fantasy by ensuring that citizens will keep performing their nominal civic duty of paying bills and spending a few dollars at the supermarket.

The American cult of profitability has resulted in an obnoxious state that serves as an advanced killing machine. The state takes no responsibility for the well-being if it’s citizens, nor do corporations that behave as state-supported actors. Without great wealth it is no longer possible to not die in the United States. If you’re disabled, black, brown, or queer, on top of being poor--then you’re not just destined to die: you’re barely meant to live. Grotesque evocations of herd immunity, a transparent fantasia of Darwinist genocide, is reported matter of factly in the international press. Your death--your lack of existence--is someone else’s profit margin. $2,000 dollars will barely pay an uninsured American’s medical bill.

In the United States, you’re more likely to get financial support from your friends. Spontaneous funds for cinema workers, hospitality workers, retail employees, and sex workers have sprung up across the internet, organized by cohorts of smart, worried, selfless people. I am proud of all of them: they are the best of us. Meanwhile, every corporation that has ever mined your data is sending emails letting you know how much they care about their communities: they’re here to help, they’re here to talk, they’re here to listen. Those with most weaponize their exculpability while those with the least take on the greatest responsibility. I want the opposite. I want to be able to support my friends emotionally while institutions give us the actual material means to survive.

I don’t have a lot of faith that the COVID-19 will encourage a reevaluation of our murderous social order. It’s a reevaluation, by the way, that people with autoimmune conditions, chronic illnesses, and disabilities have been actively organizing for decades. Can we imagine a society founded on genuine care, care that mobilizes the material resources of the state as well as common emotional bonds? Can we imagine a version of productivity that is compatible with health? Can we imagine a state that provides for its citizens? Or a corporate entity that operates in the interest of the public good? And can we do so beyond the length of the current crisis? I don’t know, but I’ll be watching.

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