Monday 11 January 2016

Sex, drugs (lots of drugs) & rock 'n' roll: Netflix & MDA way too chill?

“Start your free month.”

Like a drug dealer offering a free sample of his product, the button on the Netflix website beckons me to click it.

The US streaming service Netflix was launched last week in more than 130 countries, including Singapore.

Out of curiosity, I went to the Netflix website on Friday to see what it looked like.

Right up front, the button enticed me with a month of free streaming.

And that is how they hook you.

Believing I could quit any time, I clicked on the button and then was asked to “choose the plan that’s right for you”.

The price plans after my free month ends are $10.98 a month for the basic plan, $13.98 for standard and $16.98 for premium.

My plan was to cancel my subscription just before my free month is up and pay $0.

For my plan to work, I must not forget to cancel.

Otherwise, I would look more despondent than the army recruit in the photo posted on Facebook by the Basic Military Training Centre that went viral last week.

After giving Netflix access to my PayPal account and my soul, I was asked to create my four-digit “parental control” PIN, which I would need to enter to watch R21 shows.

After going through a couple more screens, I was eventually asked to choose three from a selection of 78 titles to help Netflix recommend shows for me to watch.

The first thing that caught my eye was something called Hot Girls Wanted.

Why did it catch my eye? Because it’s something called Hot Girls Wanted.

It turns out to be an R21 documentary about the exploitation of women in the US amateur porn industry, but still.

Next, I picked an R21 TV series starring a hot-looking Mary-Louise Parker called Weeds, in which “following her husband’s untimely death, suburban mum Nancy Botwin goes into business selling marijuana to her friends and neighbours”.

To complete my unholy trinity of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, my third and final pick was Keith Richards: Under The Influence, a PG13 documentary about the debauched Rolling Stones guitarist.

Am I really allowed to do this in Singapore? I feel like I was getting away with something I shouldn’t.

After all, this is the country that has finally allowed Madonna to perform here now that she’s a nostalgia act, but the Media Development Authority (MDA) still gave her Feb 28 National Stadium concert an R18 rating for “sexually suggestive content” and banned her from performing the song Holy Water because of its “religiously sensitive content”.

The song contains the line: “Yeezus loves my pussy best.”

Last year, MDA said it was “working with Netflix to familiarise them with Singapore’s regulations and media capabilities ahead of their arrival”.

Earlier, Apple and Google launched their movie buying and rental services in Singapore but were caught offering R21 rated titles, such as Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, to local users. R21 titles are meant for theatrical and not home video release. Both companies have since removed R21 titles from their service and are working with the MDA on classifying its content.

But now that Netflix has arrived, what I discovered is that as long as I remember my PIN, I have access to a trove of grown-up entertainment that could give even a Rolling Stone satisfaction.

Which makes me wonder how good a job MDA did to “familiarise” Netflix with Singapore’s regulations.

Is a four-digit PIN enough to keep children out?

My 16-year-old daughter is tech-savvy enough to find a live stream of the New Year’s Day special episode of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch that let her watch the show in Singapore as it was being telecast on BBC One in Britain!

So if she really wants to watch the suburbanites on Weeds pass the joint, I suspect neither MDA nor I can stop her — Netflix or no Netflix.

When I finally made it to the Netflix home screen, the first show I chose to watch was Weeds.

In the first episode alone, there are scenes about packing drugs, selling drugs, using drugs, gay sex and underage sex. And the drug dealer is the heroine.

Never mind the prison lesbian sex on Orange Is The New Black (R21), there seems to be a show on Netflix about every kind of illicit drug.

For marijuana, you have the aforementioned Weeds and That '70s Show (NC16). For cocaine, Narcos (M18) and Pablo Escobar: El Patron Del Mal (M18). For meth, the almighty Breaking Bad (M18). I’m getting a contact high just by typing those titles.

It’s going to take me more than a month to binge-watch all these uncensored shows.

I think I’ll pay for just one month after my free month is up — but only one.

And then I’ll stop. I promise.

It’s not like I’m an addict or anything.

- Published in The New Paper, 10 January 2016