Today I did something I haven’t done since about 2010, which was to open iTunes and buy—buy!—a movie. Given the general state of things, I thought I’d treat myself to a little premium indoor entertainment. Also, the movie wasn’t available on any of dozen-odd streaming services that are constantly splintering from each other or consolidating, ferrying your favorite movies back and forth behind different paywalls.
The movie was Leviathan, a very good Russian film about bad things happening with little reason or recourse. Nice. So I bought the movie and fucked around with an iTunes download error for a while until the title screen came up with Russian text—as expected, no problem so far—and French subtitles—unexpected, less ideal. I don’t speak Russian or French, so I went over to the subtitle menu and switched to English subtitles. A little checkbox confirmed that I was about to see English subtitles, but the movie went right on playing French subtitles and the checkbox, autonomously, went back to “Subtitles: French,” as if to give itself some plausible deniability for the problem. We went back and forth like this a couple times, while the grim Russian actors on screen offered incomprehensible treatises about god and futility, and I grew increasingly irate with the little checkbox menu in the corner of the screen. It seemed like a problem I could fix by restarting my computer, but I had a lot of tabs open and didn’t feel like dealing with all that.
This is the least of the world’s coronavirus-related problems and it’s the least of my coronavirus-related problems, which I will not enumerate here, but it bothered me in the way that small, arguable indignities do. I paid for this! I’m clicking the thing! All the fictional depictions of consumerist dystopias portray popular media as seamless pacification and this isn’t even seamless! Goddamn!
Things are probably going to start breaking very soon. They already were—no decent civilization should produce as many video streaming services as ours, not to mention our litany of abject societal evils that feel jarring to add to what I only intended as a product complaint about iTunes—but really spectacularly and unavoidably now. Behind the dumb little irritations of things like streaming service spin-offs are half my friends’ media jobs that fold overnight when some suit sends an email that’s like “in an exciting brand opportunity, we are divesting from our pivot to Facebook Watch” or whatever. (I’m generalizing. Insert your own industry’s jargon of precarity here). Things are going to start visibly breaking, and their fixes are, to a large degree, still up to us. The new empty spaces will leave room for authoritarian crackdown and grift and unnecessary surveillance acting in the service of both, but also empathetic policies that would have been considered too radical last week. How terrifying and exciting.
I’m going to restart my computer and try to get these subtitles to work. It’s not a metaphor so don’t you dare accuse me of one.