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Netflix and the Culture of Choice

To choose a movie to watch out of the massive expanse of options Netflix offers is challenging. Every film is plagued by the immediate availability and advertised possibility of a better film lurking down the menu. Every apprehended option speaks of better unapprehended options. We become saturated with possibility. The prospect of actually choosing something becomes a point of anxiety.

The very possibilities of divorce and prenuptial agreements keep the door open to another possibility—a “better” way. The myth is that we will be enabled to choose what we really want. The reality is that we are terrified from choosing anything at all, and worse, that even in the choosing we only try.

But, as with Netflix, “choice” is an open-ended category that can paralyze us from ever doing anything. And when we do lurch into action, choice presents the possibility of other options that haunt our decisions, transforming them into tentative tests. If we allow choice to plague us, we never extract ourselves from the primordial soup of possibility.

The opposite of this mode of being is adventure—a free, creative dealing with what is given. It involves reckoning with what you do not choose. We would do well to make use of G. K. Chesterton’s formula here, that an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is given as an annihilation of other possibilities. It is an inconvenience to be born into a particular family and a particular body; to have a home in a particular place, a vocation to this particular man or woman; or a project of work no one else can do. An inconvenience rightly considered is not haunted by the possibility of another choice. It is a restriction. We are made terribly responsible.

Against the vagueness of being able to do anything at all, against the absurdity of placing value in the mere ability to choose something else, adventure is an acceptance of what is given in all its thorniness, tragedy, and splendor. To be on an adventure is to reduce, to limit, to perhaps burn the bridges that no one else can burn at the expense of any “other choice” or “better place.” In this lies our profound experience of freedom.

Paradoxically, we are most certain that we are free when we make a vow and keep it; when we give ourselves a moral law and obey it; when we admit that we, without our choosing, have been given to a family and a community and give ourselves to them. We feel freedom when we eliminate “the other option.”

Adapted from A Bad Catholic’s Essays on What’s Wrong with the World, by Marc Barnes, copyright 2017 Liguori Publications (827099).  To order, visit or call 800-325-9521.

Published inReflections