I’m on my couch, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. As I scan my Netflix page, which rectangular tiles leap to the forefront of my attention? Well, there’s What Lies Below, with its promotional photo of an impossibly hunky man emerging, dripping, from the surface of a lake. There’s Sexify, with its promotional photo of a woman’s face seemingly captured at the peak of passion. Or maybe I should watch Lucifer, its star staring shirtlessly into my soul, his chest so uncannily hairless it looks like a video game character’s.
The answer to What Lies Below might be a jacked aquatic geneticist with a Superman jaw line, but other mysteries are left teasingly unsolved by Netflix’s most popular titles. For a while this spring, Why Did You Kill Me? jostled for space on the Top 10 list with Who Killed Sara? Why did you kill me? Who did kill Sara? Is it the girl in the yellow bikini? Or is she Sara? There’s only one way to find out: click.
In these late-pandemic days, there’s a woozy familiarity to the screen where we make most of our entertainment decisions. To anyone who’s ever written headlines for online media, Netflix looks familiar. As competitors begin to nip at the streaming giant’s heels, Netflix seems to be flirting with the tantalizing tools that web editors discovered a decade ago or more: the curiosity gap, the sexy thumbnail, the misleading image. A homepage is a homepage, after all, and these days, Netflix has discovered clickbait.