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How many readers use Netflix?

I wonder how many of you end up watching Netflix the way I do.

Each month, I look at the movies and TV shows that Netflix is removing from their offerings, and bump them to the top of my queue. It becomes not a matter of what I most want to watch, but what to watch before the opportunity goes away.

I have this suspicion that Netflix deliberately tries to obscure the number of shows that they take off of their offerings. Once upon a time, it used to be obvious. All the shows were organized in your own queue, and you could see their disposition from there. Now, the Netflix interface emphasizes browsing what they have, rather than looking for what you’d like them to have. One very useful site I’ve found is this, showing all the shows coming off of Netflix.

This also plays into one of the other oddities that I’ve settled into for watching Netflix. Since I’m watching a lot of, basically, lower interest shows and movies I tend to watch them in manageable chunks. A little every weeknight. A movie is no longer an event for me, it’s something I’ll watch over the course of a week, maybe a half hour at a time. A recent Saturday night, where we sat down to actually watch a movie, I found myself about 45 minutes in thinking about whether it was time to call it quits for the night. Strange habits.

Now, one of the shows that has been on my Netflix list for quite some time is Carlos. It is a dramatization of the “career” of Carlos the Jackal, a communist terrorist of the 1970s and 80s.

I vaguely remember the capture and trial of Carlos the Jackal being in the news. What actually perked my interest is the name “The Jackal” and the use of the nom de guerre in the Fredrick Forsythe book The Day of the Jackal. I loved that book as a teen and wondered about the connection between the fiction and the history.

That said, the show just didn’t peak my interest enough that I would actually watch it. It was also a mini-series, which is always a strike against. So it went, always sitting in my queue but never rising to the top, until Netflix decided to pull it.

Carlos

Of course, Carlos the Jackal bears little resemblance to the contract assassin of the story. Carlos was an ideological terrorist, a Marxist, who was in the employ of the Palestinians. In fact, it was the popularity of that book that likely resulted in Carlos using the name. Apparently, when, in 1975, he was initially sought for the killing of two French policemen, a Guardian reported was tipped off to one of his hideouts. Among Carlos’ belongings, the reporter saw a copy of The Day of the Jackal, and used the connection as a colorful reference in their story the next morning. Reportedly, the book did not actually belong to Carlos at all, but rather to the informer whom he had just murdered, and whose apartment he shared. Carlos may not have liked the book, but he did seem to like the sound of it – Carlos the Jackal – and continued to use the name over the next 20 years.

The show itself is extremely compelling. It is a joint German/French production and is in the whatever language is appropriate for the characters. Often English, as the modern Lingua Franca, but also French, German, Arabic dialects, and even a little Russian (from Yuri Andropov no less). It was made as a TV miniseries, but also was shown at Cannes as a 5 1/2 film.

This show is several notches above what I’d expect for a made-for-TV quality production. It is very well put together, combining conversational settings with well-done action scenes, and period new reports. There is the occasional transparent special effect, but by and large it all fits together very well. The soundtrack is also excellent, featuring period-appropriate punk and new wave songs.

Besides the language, the other hint that it is other than American-made is the full-frontal male nudity. That would be a huge no-go for American movies and absolutely would not feature in American TV. I’ll leave the pontificating about the sensibilities of Europe versus the United States, but a dick doesn’t ruin my enjoyment.

One criticism this production faces was that it glorified and glamorized the life of a terrorist and a murderer. Perhaps it does, to an extent. The life of Carlos, according to Carlos, had him as the hero and the savior of the common man, at the center of all the events of the world. The indulgence of the Communist and Arab nations helped encourage him in this thinking. A documentary might approach the subject by pointing out his side while emphasizing the facts. This show is not a documentary. The disclaimer at the beginning states clearly it should be viewed as a work of fiction, as the facts of the events portrayed are not actually established. I sincerely hope that we can accept that an audience is sophisticated enough to see the multiple levels within a portrayal of historical events. Some may feel we need to return to a strict diet of morality plays, so as to avoid inducing audiences toward the wrong kind of thinking. When did the world go so wrong?

Where did it go wrong?

Something I couldn’t help thinking about is the comparison between the terrorism of the 70s with the terrorism of today. I’m not old enough to think about that world as an adult, but despite the fact that terrorism seemed almost commonplace, I don’t recall the fear and calls for reaction that we have today.

It seems that although the world did less to keep us safe; fewer laws, less surveillance, less intrusion in everything from travel to purchases (even if the only reason was the lack of technology), there also seemed less of an eagerness to give up that individual freedom in exchange for the protection. Maybe the difference is that Europe was more central in the terrorism at the time, and the feeling was different there than in America.

Or maybe terrorists today just aren’t those crazy German communists of yesteryear. It’s true that we used to be able to count on a terrorists sense of self-preservation, something that doesn’t work with suicide bombers. And while the jihadis of today may be well trained, the major difference is that the West is giving them the training ground by funding wars in their back yard. Surely, the Arab nationalists of the 70s were well trained too. The miniseries shows that money was being thrown around, both from the Soviet Union and its friends and from the more radical Arab nations.

The difference might be today’s media, with instant exposure for every terrible thing. A bombing in France in 1978 was something that happened last week on the far side of the world. Now it is something that is happening now, on your phone wherever you are.

In some ways, it seems like this time around might not be quite as bad as the 1970s. Hard to say. But, as the events of 1989 and beyond should have taught us, this too shall pass.

Bombs Away

This is one of those shows, having sat on it for so long, I’m glad I finally watched it and wish I’d watched it early. I guess the combination of foreign release, subtitles and the “miniseries” label keep it off people’s radar. It really deserves a look.

Referenced:

Carlos (TV miniseries)

The Day of the Jackal (book)

The Day of the Jackal (film)

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