I love Midnight Mass. I haven’t written a post about it yet, vaguely mentioned it in a book review, but I’m still working on how exactly to say it. I have too many words and none of them seem good enough yet, but I promise you it’s coming.
So why bring up Midnight Mass if I’m not going to describe my love for it in painstaking detail? Well, since I love Midnight Mass, I tend to recommend it to people I know who like horror series. And yes, you can argue that everyone has a Netflix account or the password to a friend’s Netflix account, but the reality is that there are people who don’t. So what do you do if you don’t have a Netflix account or a friend willing to share it with you? Video rental stores are a thing of the past, but libraries are forever (and I will die on that hill). As a long time library user (and lover), I was curious if they carried Midnight Mass and was shocked to find they didn’t but do carry Flanagan’s other series The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. I googled it and couldn’t find a DVD set of Midnight Mass that was out or even a hint that it would be out (though I pine for this limited edition VHS set daily), and it was only when I went to Mike Flanagan’s twitter that not only is Midnight Mass not available on Blu-Ray/DVD but neither are his works Hush or Gerald’s Game and that he has repeatedly pleaded to Netflix to release them in physical media. The reason The Haunting series is available on digital media because they were released through Paramount.
I was shocked by that because Flanagan is such a well-known horror director, especially since Hush and Gerald’s Game have been celebrated and loved by critics and audience members, I couldn’t believe they were only available on streaming services. It just goes to show the naivete on my part for assuming that any movie or TV show gets a physical release. Maybe it’s an assumption based solely on the fact that I grew-up in the 90s and early 2000s, that I frequented video rental stores and the bookmobile weekly to rent movies, that I have a shelf full of those thick Disney clamshells, that I watched as VHS tapes slowly disappeared and my favourite movies and TV shows were available on DVD instead, then Blu-Ray. I guess since I watched the movies and shows I loved adapt to new forms of accessible media, I assumed they’d always be available to the public in some way. And arguably they are, adapting to the digital format on streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Crave, and the hundreds of other streaming sites that are now available. But unlike a VHS tape, DVD or Blu-Ray disc, you don’t actually own any of the movies you watch or have available to you on a streaming service, you just own your subscription to the service.
In early July, Sony’s Playstation store announced that by the end of August that customers “will no longer be able to view [their] previously purchased Studio Canal content and it will be removed from [their] video library” which included films and franchises like The Hunger Games, Saw, John Wick, Paddington, and many others with no clear acknowledgement of imbursement to the customers who had paid for the movies and now wouldn’t have access to them. They still had the account they paid for, just not access to the movies that were promised to them.
And really, Sony doing something like this shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, Netflix does it every month by removing content only to add more. I think it’s just because they add new stuff that no one minds when the old stuff gets culled, but it still isn’t right. If television has “adapted” so that streamable content is how we can access movies, then they shouldn’t be taken away, though even that becomes tricky. Should there be an option to buy individual movies on a streaming service to preserve them on your account? Would that even be possible with licensing issues? There’s a lot I truthfully don’t understand about the technicalities of streaming, the main thing I’ve taken away though is that when you pay for a streaming service you’re really only guaranteed a subscription to the service. Of course you have access to any media that is available on their, but it can be taken away no matter how much you love it. It was never really yours from the start.
It’s why physical media is so important. Call me old fashioned, but I like being able to put a movie or TV show I like altogether on a shelf, to pop open the disc drawer and waiting for the show to start. I like to shuffle through them, get to look at the spines and decide what I want to watch versus scrolling through whatever’s trending on Netflix. I like the Bloopers, the special features, those little extras that you can’t find on streaming services. But again, I’ve never been big on digital things. We all know things can go wrong or technology just messes up sometimes. It isn’t reliable, and you can argue that with physical media you risk the item getting damaged or that it stops working after years of use which is fair, but you can always go out and find a copy somewhere. If it’s made available that is.
I don’t like monopolies. I don’t like that a lot of streaming services control what it is you get to watch, controlling it so much now that they can decide what’s allowed to be published physically and what has to stay digital. It’s a marketing ploy of course, “buy our streaming service to have access to this exclusive content, this show/movie that everyone is raving over!” I know how capitalism works, I get it. But that doesn’t make it right.
Physical media allows for media to be viewed by many, regardless background or how much money a person makes. If someone is able to afford physical media then they are able to physically own that media, it belongs to them, not a streaming services that can be taken away at any moment. And physical media can also be given to libraries where people can borrow and share access to an item they may not be able to on their own. There is an importance and beauty to physical media, and our continuous move to further digitize media gives us less access to items while often making people pay more for it.
We need to continue making physical media of movies and TV shows, to provide a chance and accessibility to things that matter. Art connects us, whether that be through a book or a painting, or shows and movies we watch online or on TV. They connect, they inspire, and it is important to make them available to audiences. By keeping things digital, by creating access only through a digital medium streaming services are telling people that only certain individuals are allowed to take in certain content. I can only hope that more streaming services listen, that they work to actually make new movies and shows available in physical media, hoping that one day I will search my library catalogue and find Midnight Mass waiting for others to check out.