Here in Mexico City, the lockdowns that readers are experiencing are not new. Chilang@s had one just a decade ago because of swine flu. But other things are different.
Primarily, the current Mexican government is conventionally characterized by the Anglo bourgeois media as a populist left-wing administration.
That’s actually nonsense. The country’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, supports Evangelical Christian campaigns in favor of reaffirming the straight family in the name of defending the economy and public health. He portrays feminist activists against gendered killings as reactionaries seeking to overthrow him. And he was an early Coronavirus denier. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed in his Administration, and today, March 27 20202, saw a full closure of all but essential work.
López Obrador has long refused to leave the country to meet world leaders, or anybody in fact, but he spoke to some of them for the first time in over a year through a virtual summit meeting this week, the G20. Part of his populism is declining to visit other countries or learn other languages. Nice.
He is not my kind of leftist—nor, probably, yours.
My other, future home, Colombia, has closed its borders completely, even to citizens seeking return. This Draconian prohibition has done nothing to curb the terrible wave of violence against indigenous environmental defenders, who are slaughtered week after week by right-wing criminals working for shady and shadowy mining corporations.
But away from such stories, isn’t this a golden era for Amazon, Disney, Netflix, and their ilk, selling their wares to sequestered home-dwellers?
Subscriber video on demand is suddenly anticipated to grow by 5% through 2020 around the globe as a consequence of the pandemic. That will amount to almost a billion subscriptions in total, which up by about fifty million on earlier predictions. At present, the vast majority of those subscribers of course live in two countries—China and the US—proportions that will only shift if the assumed growth in South-East Asia occurs.
I’m one of these new victims/subscribers. I have been on Amazon Prime since it started, but only now have I succumbed to Netflix. Rather like my attitude towards Apple, I avoided the company because I didn’t enjoy the discourse surrounding it. In the case of Apple, I hated the snobbish way its users and owners spoke of it, in their quasi-mystical way. In the case of Netflix, I disliked the mad, utopian pronouncements of cybertarian researchers about new liberties for viewers. Yuck. I’d heard it all before: twenty years of promises.
Well, a decade and change ago, I seduced myself into buying Apple, as I had spent enough time away from company prelates to appreciate its qualities.
And now, locked away in my Mexico City apartment on my US$1300 a month salary and my savings from the Global North, I’ve decided that I need to watch more Nordic noir, which is not normally quite the thing here, as far as I can judge. It’s either that or keep staring out my window at the Hotel Roosevelt, where Che and Fidel planned their return to Cuba, or at the Parque de México.
Like other skeptics, I had told all who would listen that the Netflix business model was akin to a Ponzi scheme. It would not ultimately succeed. The prices were not high enough to profit from the service, given distribution costs. This was because Netflix pays (I suspect) a fortune to firms like Amazon which had been far-sighted enough to learn from Hollywood that the real money comes not from production or exhibition, but the part in-between, i.e. distribution. (Amazon owns some of the best non-military communications technology around to pipe its purported rival Netflix around the world).
But the problem with my prediction was this: it assumed that the manic investors in Netflix who kept it afloat would stop the madness when the next recession came around and their cash stopped flowing like open sewage. This would see the house of cards take a tumble.
Perhaps that will indeed occur. But while subscriptions continue to grow, and even exceed predictions that were made just weeks ago, the Ponzi Scheme keeping you—and now me—in hours of viewing pleasure may last longer than I expected.
Or perhaps the surge in new adherents like me will decline, along with people’s incomes. Then we skeptics might be proven right.
Stay tuned. Same Bat time, same Bat station.
Toby Miller is Stuart Hall Professor of Cultural Studies, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana—Cuajimalpa, and Research Professor of the Graduate Division, University of California, Riverside. He is President of the Cultural Studies Association (US). Toby can be contacted at email@example.com and his adventures scrutinized at www.tobymiller.org.