I love a good algorithm I do. Some creative people are cynical about the increasing role these soulless patterns of data play in shaping our culture. But in a world of ever more bewildering choice, I’m happier for an algorithm to guide me than a human critic. Human critics are driven by their own powerful subjectivity which has been shaped and nurtured by a completely different set of life experiences to your own. Plus, half of them are just trying to write what they think might come across as cool or surprising enough to get them noticed. They have their own agenda. And by “they”, I obviously mean “we”. Trust me, I’ve been bashing out these sorts of columns all over the place for years and have never really had the best interests of the reader at heart. How could I? I don’t know what sort of thing you like.
Once, in the mid-noughties, I wrote a frivolous and disrespectful review of a Pet Shop Boys single. Why? Because I thought I could extract some cheap laughs out of it, that’s why. It has haunted me ever since. Pet Shop Boys are one of the best pop bands of the last 40 years (NB, remember what I just said about my opinions not counting for much – you don’t have to agree with me here). I think I’ve grown up a bit since then but if you’re reading this Neil and Chris, I am an idiot who is not worthy of writing a single word about your output, either good or bad.
Anyway, back to algorithms. What I love about them is that they encourage content platforms to give us more of what we like. TV shows used to be commissioned on the whim of telly execs, who are even bigger wankers than us hacks. Now, they are generated by data produced from previous watching habits. Netflix looks after us this way.
For instance, they are aware that sufficient people loved the French show about a showbiz management firm, Call My Agent (which I’ve written about before), to make another European comedy-drama set inside a glitzy media outfit.
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And so we get Love & Anarchy, set inside a Swedish publishing house, with the same pattern of diva clients, dysfunctional agents, business intrigue, fancy parties and sex. As in Call My Agent, the personal malaise of the central characters is set in vivid contrast against the glamorous veneer of the media world. It being Swedish, there is an abundance of deeply explicit scenes scattered through Love & Anarchy (the protagonist is a stressed-out mum who masturbates almost constantly to help numb her anxieties).
So it is funny, sexy and exciting but also painful and poignant and true. The world in which it is set is, ultimately, neither here nor there. The writing is exceptional and no algorithm can ever recreate that. I am hooked on this show and strongly recommend it. But, of course, my opinion counts for nothing and you’d be better off making your own mind up.
Love & Anarchy is on Netflix