Many Nations, Under Netflix
Everyone and their brother has posted this already but last week the New York Times gave us a great interactive feature tracing the popularity of 2009 Netflix rentals by zip code. Here's mine in Seattle, for example:
What do the above movies have in common? Most are smart, some are Oscar contenders, only a handful did well at the box office.
But that's hardly news, is it? More interesting is the fact that you can calculate the racial makeup of cities by toggling toward films such as “Not Easily Broken,” starring Morris Chestnut, which was very rented in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, but nowhere rented in Seattle and Minneapolis and Denver. Not a speck of color on those maps. Same with “Obsession” or any Tyler Perry flick. In fact you can guess which is the whitest (or least-African-American) city of the three based on these rentals. According to Netflix's maps? Seattle. And that checks out. According to 2005-07 data, the African-American population in these cities are: 8.2% in Seattle, 9.9% in Denver, and 17.7% in Minneapolis.
Equally intriguing is calculating where films such as “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” are popular (in the South) and where they aren't (in cities). It's the anti-“Milk,” which is hugely popular in cities and not at all in outlying areas. Looking at these maps, you realize, yet again, that we're hardly “one nation,” let alone “under God.” And don't even get me started on “with liberty and justice for all.”
Quick quiz. The maps below represent the 2009 Seattle Netflix rental habits for four movies: “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “Cadillac Records” and “Seven Pounds.” The darker the color the more popular the film in that area. Click on each map for its answer.