Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Year: 2022

Netflix and Ciao!

Deliberately or otherwise, Netflix’s recent public statements show they do not understand their customers. Part of me feels sorry for them, as they predicted the future trends of media consumption with clarity and adapted with alacrity. Their original business of mailing out DVDs by post is a dim memory as they recognised the importance of streaming early enough that they became the de facto streaming platform worldwide, reaching 222 million subscriptions. They also correctly realised the biggest threat to their dominance would be the greed of studios not wanting to share profits with a delivery platform, meaning that original content would be key to a viable future. Despite this, in chasing capitalism’s dragon of endless growth, Netflix’s price has been escalating rapidly and after their latest hike in June — having been a subscriber ever since they revived Arrested Development in 2013 — I’m out, at least for a while. As they warn their shareholders of tumbling subscriber numbers, it seems I am not alone.

Are you not content?

There was a time when “Netflix Original” was a badge of quality — two of their first three shows were Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. As they grew the library, there was a clear shift toward quantity over quality, particularly with the desire to expand to a mainstream audience who may be less attracted by high quality drama. The plus side for creatives is that Netflix was willing to greenlight a lot of projects with very little oversight. But the money for this untargeted spending had to come from somewhere and it has meant repeated price hikes without any clear increase in the value proposition to subscribers. Why would I want to pay more year on year for service when: (a) I have the same finite time to spend watching TV; and (b) I have no interested in huge swathes of the programming they were now funding?

As recently as 2018 Netflix acquired distribution rights for Alfonso Cuáron’s beautiful Roma, which won three Oscars. Yet it is Apple TV+ that procured the first Best Picture win for a streaming service’s film with CODA. Netflix’s metrics-driven approach appears to reward films with big name actors regardless of quality, since those are most likely to attract viewers’ attention. Indeed, it’s easy for excellent films to get lost entirely through Netflix’s algorithm-driven promotion.

Now Apple Originals bear the distinction of quality that Netflix Originals once had, with a small but highly curated set of shows like Ted Lasso, Mythic Quest, and Severance. Meanwhile Disney’s well-timed acquisition of 20th Century Studios has granted them a deep library of content beyond their family fare, even as the desire to push new content to Disney+ has arguably undermined Phase 4 of the MCU.

It all ends in tiers

There is more to it than just increased competition. I have tried subscriptions to NowTV, Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Dropout, so I have a broad view of the market. A “standard” Netflix subscription is priced at around double what its competitors costs and, unlike several of them, it doesn’t include 4K UHD video at that price.

As Netflix takes steps to prevent account sharing, it highlights my biggest problem with the company’s subscription tiers: tying together quality and simultaneous streams. As someone who lives alone, I have no need ever to stream to multiple devices at once. Yet, to receive the best image quality, I am required to pay for the option to stream to four devices simultaneously. That might be good value for a family but it’s terrible for an individual. No wonder, then, that some people are inclined to share accounts in order to make use of the multiple streams that they are obliged to pay for.

Knives In

I receive increasingly bizarre emails from Netflix asking me to rejoin: “We’re ready when you are.” / “Let’s reunite.” / “Spend on experiences not things. Make time for rest, relaxation and some Netflix.” Their latest puts £6.99 in the subject line, again entirely misunderstanding the reason I left if they are pitching me the price for a below-HD quality stream. For the same reason, I don’t think a reduced price ad-supported tier is going to resolve their current woes (a free ad-supported tier might attract those who just want to watch a few Netflix shows, but I doubt that is sustainable).

I would like to see Netflix remain competitive but to do that their starting point has to be consumer needs rather than investor expectations. Having a great technology back-end means nothing if you are pricing users away from making use of its higher quality. Attacking users for making use of the multi-stream packages you are forcing them to buy is even worse.

There remains plenty of good content on Netflix and I will certainly subscribe at some point to catch up on The Witcher, Stranger Things, Arcane, Better Call Saul, and The Umbrella Academy. However, it is no longer the essential subscription it once was and, for now, it falls into the tumble of subscriptions that I’ll shift between every few months.

Leezy Does It

Since my radio consumption is now exclusively via podcasts and I don’t tend to use music streaming services, exposure to new music has become much harder. In fact, the primary routes through which I currently discover new artists are film and TV soundtracks, and — believe it or not — Tik Tok. Whilst Tik Tok tends to package trending sounds into comodified memes, there are also a number of great musicians using Tik Tok videos and live streams to propel their music out into the world. A recent discovery has been American singer-songwriter Leezy.

Content note: addiction

Mama says you can’t reach the dreams in the
Little cloud that leaks from your pipe but
Every time I light up it seems that I don’t know how
No, I don’t know how to be alone.

Leezy, Bathtub Blues

Lately, Leezy has become the soundtrack to my broken sleep, often tuning into her live streams from the US at 3am in London. Musical comparisons to Lana del Rey and Mazzy Star are common in the chat, but a British ear will recognise some of her older influences like the fragility of Portishead, and the delicate simplicity of Massive Attack.

Despite her youth, there is a poetic depth to Leezy’s lyrics. During her live streams she speaks openly about her battle with addiction to drugs and alcohol as teenager, having now been sober for three years. That lived experience permeates her songwriting. Her last single, Sierra, is named after the residential treatment facility at which she recovered.

Leezy illustration

Look at all the pretty faces
Come to heal from different places
You give it all away in hope of a better day
And I promised you that I’ll get well

Leezy, Sierra

Leezy is self-aware about her affluent upbringing and the privilege it afforded her, particularly when it came to turning her life around. But what her music captures is that affluence does not provide protection from emotional pain, which she delivers in a minimalist style that is both raw and beautiful. The bisexual confusion of Girls Like You is provocative social commentary both lyrically (“So then why’d she kiss me last Friday night? / Just cause she thought it was something the boys might like”) and through the increasingly less subtle euphemistic sapphic imagery of its music video.

He said my lips felt warm when we were kissing
But only after he’d made me cry
And he said, “baby, I didn’t mean it this time”
And stargazer lillies don’t make up for everything
But I always go back to hear him sing

Leezy, Stargazer

I was initially won over by several songs on her 2019 Dear Diary EP. After requesting a song during one live stream, we discussed how she now has to transpose those songs to perform them because her voice has changed from the time they were recorded when she was smoking daily. I am glad that she does not find talking or singing about those periods to be a trigger. Indeed, her next single — due for imminent release on 29th July — is bluntly titled Cocaine Kisses and is, in her own words, about the romanticisation of drug use, the seduction of addiction and the illusion of connection. As someone whose views on addiction were shaped by Johann Hari’s TED Talk about the link between addiction and isolation or disconnection, to me this combination of themes seems entirely on point and I can’t wait to hear it.

A Postmodern Bill of Rights

One of the darker aspects of Brexit was the Tory Party’s thinly veiled ambitions to repeal the Human Rights Act. At the time, I asked to which of the rights enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights people objected or felt did not really require protection. Whilst the undermining of human rights was one of many seemingly obvious outcomes dismissed as “Project Fear”, Dominic Raab’s appointment as Secretary for State for Justice last year was immediately concerning for those in the legal profession, with his outspoken opposition to the Human Rights Act, saying in 2009 that “The very enactment of the Human Rights Act has served as a trigger for the formulation of claims by lawyers and judicial reasoning by courts, using human rights arguments that would never have been dared before. The spread of rights has become contagious and, since the Human Rights Act, opened the door to vast new categories of claims, which can be judicially enforced against the government through the courts.”

Yes, the passing of the Human Rights Act has meant that citizens have dared to enforce their rights against the Government. That is ultimately what Raab wants to limit. We now have insight into exactly what the Government intends to achieve with its “Modern Bill of Rights” following the Consultation Response. I know these can be (often deliberately) dense documents to look at, so I want to highlight a few key points to make their intentions entirely transparent, as well as how they are ignoring the public response. This requires serious Parliamentary scrutiny, as the Government seeks to rework the most fundamental protections for us all.

The will of Parliament

Remove the courts’ power to interpret legislation in ways that are not in line with the ordinary meaning of the words and the overall purpose of the statute, which will ensure that laws will be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with the will of Parliament.

The sovereignty of Parliament was a popular Brexit catchphrase, used primarily by people who do not understand Parliamentary sovreignty. I agree with the view that the courts should not be making judgments that are incompatible with legislation passed by Parliament, but it was Parliament which enacted the Human Rights Act. Section 19 of the Act requires that all subsequent bills include a statement from the responsible Minister that it is compatible with Convention rights. This was a deliberate choice by Parliament, recognising that no legislation we pass in a civilised society should contravene human rights. Therefore the court is empowered by section 3 of the Act to interpret legislation in a compatible way and, since this was enacted by Parliament, it is by definition consistent with the will of Parliament.

The Government wants to remove this section 19 statement from new legislation because “This will encourage innovative and creative policy making which better achieves Government aims.” In other words, they expect their future legislation to contravene human rights and so they do not want to be bound by it or forced to identify their disregard for human rights when they choose to ignore it. Nor do they want the court to be able to set aside incompatible legislation. Repealing section 3 of the Human Rights Act met with overwhelming disapproval. 79% of respondents wanted no change to the courts’ ability to interpret legislation in accordance with the Humans Rights Act, and only a dismal 8% supported either of the Government’s proposed options. The Government took no notice.

The Government remains convinced that reform of section 3 is needed to provide a clearer separation of powers between the courts and Parliament. We therefore intend to repeal section 3.

Public authorities

Make clear that when public authorities are giving effect to the will of Parliament, they will not be acting unlawfully under the Bill of Rights. This will deliver greater certainty for public services to do the jobs entrusted to them, without the constant threat of having to defend against human rights claims.

This is perhaps the most insidious statement in the document. Public authorities will be immune from claims that they have violate human rights if they are “giving effect to the will of Parliament”. Who decides whether they are doing so? If the sitting Government orders the police to round up protesters, does that grant them free rein in how they act? Is it enough for the police simply to say in all circumstances that they are enforcing a criminal statute passed by Parliament and therefore cannot have acted unlawfully even if they violate your human rights? Frankly, the “constant threat” of human rights claims sounds like an excellent safeguard for public services, particularly those institutions like the police force which have proved themselves time and again incapable of ensuring proper treatment of minorities and the vulnerable.

The role of the European Court of Human Rights

The UK was instrumental in establishing the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, following the creation of the Council of Europe in London. International law scholars consider it to be the most effective international human rights court in the world, so one might wonder why the British Government would so keen to abandon it.

The ambiguity of the instruction to ‘take into account’ Strasbourg case laws remains a source of uncertainty. In the consultation, we proposed correcting this by promoting a home-grown approach tailored to the UK’s traditions of liberty and rights.

56% of respondents preferred no change from the current framework, and a further 20% rejected the alternative options put forward in the consultation. Of course, many of the respondents knew exactly what was motivating the Government: “1,270 respondents also mentioned that the Strasbourg Court ensures that the UK Government is kept in check”. Once again, the Government’s response is simply to ignore these criticisms.

The Government wants to emphasise the importance of the development of rights under the common law. This would contribute to placing less emphasis on the role that decisions of the Strasbourg Court play in influencing UK courts.

Triviality

The Government believes that human rights provide fundamental individual guarantees in society, but that trust in that system is lost when trivial cases come before the courts.

What exactly is a “trivial” breach of your fundamental human rights? The Government wants to prevent people from even bringing a challenge if they cannot demonstrate they suffered a “significant disadvantage”. But when we are dealing with something so profoundly important as the basic protections that should be afforded to every human being, why is any threshold test appropriate? Surely you should simply not have violated their human rights to begin with. The Consultation demonstrated this overwhelmingly, with 90% of respondents saying the proposed “significant disadvantage” test was not appropriate. 25% of respondents went further and said there was no evidence that the system is being abused or that spurious claims are being brought.

The Government’s response?

The Government remains convinced that introducing a permission stage is necessary to ensure that trivial claims do not undermine public confidence in human rights more broadly but has amended the proposal based on further policy development and analysis.

This proposal will place responsibility on the claimant to demonstrate that they have suffered a significant disadvantage before a human rights claim can be heard in court.

In other words they have completely ignored the response to the Consultation and their “amended” proposal introduces the same “significant disadvantage” test that was rejected by 90% of respondents. It is entirely transparent that the Government wants to prevent claims from even being heard in Court, and is determined to force this through despite public opposition.

Deportations

The recent Rwanda debacle demonstrates the Government’s general contempt for the human rights of those it wishes to deport. Indeed, the only people for whom it seems to have more contempt are the “lefty lawyers” protecting those human rights. 82% of respondents rejected alternative options to make it easier for the Government to deport foreign nationals who committed offences in the UK and 67% said no change was required to the current framework for illegal and irregular migration.

In a pattern you will recognise by now, the Government intends to proceed regardless. This includes setting a high bar for foreign nationals to claim deportation infringes on their right to respect for private and family life, making it easier for the Government to separate families, and placing “limits on the court’s power when they are considering appeals against deportation made on Article 6 grounds (right to a fair trial)”. Meanwhile, they doubled down on the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, stating that they had “considered in detail the issues raised in this area” whilst carefully avoiding any mention of the failed attempt earlier this month to deport asylum seekers before their challenges could be heard.

Hell yeah, I remember Aurora

With apologies to Foo Fighters fans for the title’s lyrical bait and switch, this post is actually about Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora Aksnes, whom I finally saw live a couple of weeks ago. I cannot think of a more uplifting return to live music after the pandemic, and it was particularly fitting to see her at the Brixton Academy where I went to my first gig 20 years ago (Iron Maiden in March 2002).

I have been a fan since stumbling upon Aurora’s EP Running With The Wolves in 2015, though it was her debut album the following year that truly blew me away. All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend may have been an unwieldy title but its content was a sublime distillation of pain and hopefulness. The perspective she captured was that of having struggled silently for too long, fighting battles that others may not see.

And I was running far away
Would I run off the world someday?
Nobody knows, nobody knows

Aurora, Runaway

In Lucky, she wraps it in a lyric simulateously beautiful and coldly isolated, “And I feel the light for the very first time / Not anybody knows that I am lucky to be alive.” The line resonated strongly with me, particularly in the place I found myself at the time. It is those early songs in particular that provide cathartic relief in her live show, a crowd of humans drawn to her music for that reason. Aurora used to joke about the lack of overtly positive songs in her setlist, though infectiously poppy tunes like Cure For Me and Conqueror provide a wonderful release of tension.

There is a touch of the fae surrounding Aurora, her love of nature filtering through to her lyrics as she performs with her entire body, whilst her impish playfulness makes interviews a delight. Another artist might adopt these traits as an affectation but with Aurora it appears an unfettered reflection of her personality, something that came through in unfiltered lo-fi live streams during the pandemic in which she would sing and chat. Indeed, as her popularity has grown, she seems genuinely concerned about losing the personal interaction with fans at shows.

When a human strokes your skin
That is when you let them in
Let them in before they go
I would rather feel alive with a childlike soul

Aurora, Through The Eyes of a Child

What Aurora reminds me above all is the strength in softness, that it is not a weakness to be open or vulnerable but quite the opposite — to allow oneself access to those vital human experiences requires greater fortitude than to harden or close oneself off. Her vocals are at once fragile and determined. The result is subtly powerful, and perhaps explains why her music has attracted a wide spectrum of fans including many from the metal community — indeed, Aurora is a professed fan of metal and created a compilation EP For The Metal People of songs “influenced” by the genre like Under The Water and The Seed. Whatever your musical preferences, then, I do hope you can take the time to listen to a few of the linked tracks because there really isn’t anyone else quite like Aurora.

Under the water we can’t be together
Under the water we die
Then why do we jump in?

Aurora, Under the Water
Her live show featured a minimalist set with a large fabric disc in centre stage, illuminated by lights against which she struck a silhouette. This was, unsurprisingly, most effective as a surrogate moon during Running with the Wolves.

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2022 Priyan Meewella

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