Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Netflix Bitching

I'm sure by now - even if you don't have a Netflix account - you've heard about the change in price structuring by Netflix. Basically they started charging separately for the streaming service instead of including it in your DVD subscription for free. If you want to keep your DVD/streaming package you have to pay quite a bit more a month. Though one of the things I didn't see mentioned by anybody was that if you only keep one or the other you actually end up paying less. But who cares about those details?

So began all the bitching and moaning on Facebook (and I imagine Twitter too, but I'm not on Twitter). I really couldn't believe how mad people seemed to be. You could practically hear the foam around some people's mouths. Lots of mean and nasty words for whoever it is that runs Netflix. But who's to blame, really.

Let me spell out how this whole thing came to be.

Netflix hits the Internet, offering a respite for people sick of the arduous task of walking a few blocks or driving a car to the video store. And for those people who find it impossible to return movies on time there are no late fees. Many people sign up despite the fact that they have local video stores nearby that do things like pay taxes to support the schools, fire firefighters and police in the area. After not too long the local video stores stop making money. A vast majority of them close down, despite there being a dedicated group of us that stick with them. Even big corporate behemoths like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster go under.

Competition thoroughly vanquished, Netflix is now a virtual monopoly in the movie rental business. What do monopolies do? They charge whatever the hell price they want for their goods and services, because where the hell else are you going to get those goods and services?

So to all those people that jumped on the Netflix bandwagon early on and are now complaining about them raising the prices, I say fuck you. You're the reason that I had to finally give in and join to begin with. I was perfectly happy walking to my local video store but now I have none near me thanks to you.

I'm not sure if it is people in general or just Americans (this is what I suspect) that have such a disconnect from cause and effect. I hear some of my friends who drive to work everyday bitch about how bad the traffic is and how it frustrates them, without even considering that traffic is so bad because they drive to work everyday! Everybody else is the cause but not them. I hear many lament the loss of book stores and music stores, but press anybody on how much stuff they purchased from Amazon (yet another company that doesn't pay sales tax - and has an army of lobbyists fighting attempts to change the laws so local business owners stand a fighting chance and to salvage decimated local government budgets) compared to how much they bought from the bookstore or record store - before they closed - and I bet I know what the answer is for a majority of them.

And don't think Amazon won't inch their prices up once they don't have the competition from Borders or Barnes & Noble anymore.

Think about this the next time you're ordering online instead of going down to your local shop. What is the result of the choice you make? And not just on you, but on our economy and world as a whole.

Oh, and quit complaining about paying too much for something that cost a hell of a lot less than it did ten years ago.*

*Do the math - if you watch more than five movies a month on the 2 DVD + streaming plan you are paying less per rental than you did at the video store back in about 2000 or so.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Peace Through Redneck Music

I'm a huge fan of the Playing For Change project that was started a few years ago by music producer Mark Johnson. He recorded street musicians all over the world playing various parts of the same song and then put it all together to create these fantastic tracks of beautiful music. (If you've never heard of this watch the video that started it all, Stand By Me. Then go buy the albums) On top of the wonderful music, Johnson also used this project as a chance to raise money to build music schools in impoverished areas around the world. So, you know, he's an awesome guy all the way around.

I've heard him talking a lot in interviews about the project. One of the lines he always seems to use is something about the power of music making us a part of something bigger than ourselves. Certainly a romantic and poetic thing to say, but I always kind of thought it had a decent amount of hyperbole. As much as I love music it is just music, right?

Maybe it's not hyperbole.

A few weeks ago I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music for a show by Southern Culture on the Skids, a band I've seen several times. SCOTS is always a fun show. The Old Town School was the most unlikely venue for them, a seated space that also has some tables directly in front of the stage where lots of wine sipping goes on. Not anything like any of the other venues I've seen this usually raucous band.

On paper it seems odd that I would go see a band like SCOTS. No band may be prouder than their redneck Southern heritage. I grew up in the South but have vowed to never live south of the Mason-Dixon ever again. They like to throw fried chicken at the crowd during shows. I'm a proud vegetarian. They seem to have a fascination with both Mexican wrestling and car racing. I have a hard time thinking of two things I may dislike more.

But I do love this band anyway. Probably because of just how genuine they are. It's not really hillbilly shtick as some people think. They are just hillbillies.

This particular night had the strangest combination of people in the crowd. I got there late and was sitting on a bench in the lobby while the opening act was playing. There was a guy sitting next to me who asked if I had been inside. When I told him no he told me that he had to leave because the band playing was getting too political. "Why can't they just play music," he said.

I know there are a lot of people who don't necessarily like political music, but I find that people who walk out of a show because the band is being "political" do it not because they don't like political music but because they don't agree with the politics being expressed at that moment. I didn't say anything to the guy, I wasn't about to get in to it with anybody.

Beyond that guy we had a mix of rockabilly hipsters (think the Brian Setzer look), the middle-aged hippies that are a constant presence at the Old Town School, the aforementioned wine-sipping upper-middle class crowd, t-shirt wearing music nerds like myself, hillbilly hipsters who wear John Deer hats to be ironic and also honest-to-goodness real hillbilly types wearing John Deer hats because they drive John Deers on their farm.

I sat there watching the show with this diverse mix of people (OK, diverse mix of white people, let's be honest) and I was even more in awe of this band. As usual, the band invited people to join them on stage and dance. Middle-aged hippies were dancing next to rednecks in from the farm, t-shirt-wearing music geek was dancing next to ironic hipster, the school's young and perky go-go class instructor (seriously) was showing moves to a pre-teen farmer's daughter who was wearing a John Deer hat to match her dad's. Downtown upper middle-class mingled with rural working-class. Those with a taste for micro brews were shaking it with those who guzzle PBR.

Even better, I'm sure that liberals danced with conservatives and Christians danced with atheists. The way that we should.

They all helped with the traditional throwing of the fried chicken from the stage.

All this because of a band that plays the oddest mix of country & western, bluegrass, 1950s pop, 1960s rock, a weird take on traditional Hawaiian, psychedelic, rockabilly, easy listening, rhythm & blues and somehow all blended together with surf guitar.

It was obvious that there were probably more people in the room that voted for George W. Bush than in any other concert I've ever been to. I have no idea what SCOTS political leanings are, mostly because I don't think they've ever done a political song. They are about fun and if you don't want to have fun they are going to make you anyway.

Before playing the song "For Lovers Only" lead singer Rick Miller started encouraging couples in the crowd to put their arms around each other. Down at a front table was a rockabilly hipster with his girlfriend. Miller went straight to him and told the guy he should put his arm around her. The hipster wouldn't do it. Miller even stepped in front of the mic stand and got really close to the guy, pleading with him to put his arms around his date, telling him how pretty she was and, "don't you want to put your arm around her?" The guy still wouldn't budge.

The crowd got really quiet trying to hear what he was saying to the guy - since Miller was in front of the mic now - when there was a single voice that yelled out from the balcony. "For god's sake, put your arm around her!"

The crowd exploded in laughter and cheering, and rockabilly hipster guy finally put his arm around his date. May have been the loudest applause of the night when he did it. And despite his best efforts, for the first time all night the guy looked like he was having fun.

Southern Culture on the Skids strikes again.