On Netflix, Kondophiles vs. bibliophiles and why memories matter

Getting back to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays, one of my colleagues told me that she will extend her Netflix subscription at the end of her one-month free trial (so that the transition back to the office doesn’t have to be a nightmare, I guess). My colleague, a fan of nature excursion and Italy road trips, who hasn’t watched neither Game of Thrones nor House of Cards before, has now decided to no longer be an outsider to the shiniest factory of the media industry (it did, at $153.8bn, become the most valued media company and accounts for 15 per cent of internet bandwidth worldwide).

In a way, Netflix has created a totally different kind of cinema and completely changed the way people watch things. It has revolutionised viewing, but it has to keep up trying to fill up what it imagines the appetite of the public is. One way to arouse people’s interest or eagerness is the “changing your mindset” technique.

Marie Kondo — an exemplary Netflix story

For those who haven’t watched any episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix (FYI it got 6.7 stars on IMDB and 69 points on Metacritic), the show is about the KonMari method, which was invented by the Japanese home organization consultant, Marie Kondo. She teaches you how to tidy up your house, organize things to make space and make you feel better through only keeping things that spark joy in your heart, to “make your home a place of peace and clarity.”

It asks you to choose what to keep, not what to throw away. Holding each item you possess in your hands, you are encouraged to ask yourself if it ”sparks joy.” Yes? Keep it. No? Discard it. (KonMari method)

Marie Kondo’s show tries to convince you that you should see joy sparkling from every single thing in the apartment, and anything that doesn’t provoke a joyous reaction should be discarded. This view is not far away from the principles of Minimalism, whose mantra and power some of us believe can assist in the quest to find true freedom. It’s not about forming new habits, but rather emerging with a new mindset, embarking on a new journey with your life.

After watching 2–3 episodes, you can learn some basic rules of organizing and storing your belongings step by step. It’s like packing your things up in one cabin suitcase before embarking on a flight without wanting the headache of waiting at the airport’s baggage claim.

In fact, it’s quite simple to pack up jackets, T-shirts, socks, but somehow another case in realms of books, or albums. It’s not easy (and not safe!) to persuade a book lover to throw away a book just because it doesn’t spark joy at the moment they hold it in their hands. ALALibrary had a humorous way of seeing it, just 3 days after the Kondo show was launched on Netflix.

Screenshot of a tweet by American Library Association

And yet, Национальный союз библиофилов doesn’t like it either (I mean the National Union of Bibliophiles in Russia). But how come? Let’s see what happens inside a bibliophile’s head.

O Come, All Ye Faithful…

or the unbearable lightness of stocking too many books

Why can book lovers never adapt to Marie Kondo’s method? I will tell you something chilling about them.

  • The essence of Marie Kondo’s method lies in the word ‘magic’. After sorting, discarding not-needed stuff and organizing the remaining, you will have all your clothes neatly folded, your shoes orderly piled up, and your socks well arranged by colours in boxes. It will be so easy each time you pick what to wear for hiking, or for a picnic. But this magic doesn’t work with books. What’s so joyful, miraculous and triumphant about getting rid of them? You don’t need them for a special purpose. It’s the sight of a book that make you delighted.
  • If you just bought a book because you were dumb enough to be satisfied by its sight and the fact that you have it (buying it doesn’t mean that you have to read it), then after throwing it away, nothing can stop you from being dumb to repeat the action (buying it again doesn’t mean that you have to read it). So what’s the point of throwing away in the first place? Some bibliophiles even have mental trouble of buying the same book twice because they don’t remember whether they had bought it or not.
  • Again, you buy a book not for any particular purpose. You buy The Lord of the Rings just because you thought there are little tiny elves stealing socks, but you’re not sure and still buy though. You might read them late at night after watching Bright (Will Smith as a Cop protecting an elf girl named Tikka in possession of a wand). Or not. The same case applies to non-fiction. Why read The Gene: An Intimate History or The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer if you don’t find yourself doing as a med student? Just reading them is fun, no matter if you do it now or later.
  • There’s no point to change your personality. If you are a bibliophile, you are hopeless. Everyone in the family is nagging at your terrible habit of buying too many books. (Look at all those books you’ve bought but haven’t read!) There’s a Japanese term for the stack of your unread books on the shelves: tsundoku. So, it’s not really a bad habit. If no one can force you to stop buying books, why do you force yourself to give up on them?

You buy The Lord of the Rings just because you thought there are little tiny elves stealing socks, but you’re not sure and still buy though

Small things connected to our best memories

It is easy to read those above remarks as critiquing Kondo’s approach to decluttering, but that would be to miss the point. Some things we keep, we keep for a purpose. We keep the memories resurrected by their appearances and the mood they form around them, regardless of whether they spark joy or not. The inability to forget forms part of our identity.

Two months ago I went to the vernissage of the notable German-born photographer Michael Wolf’s exhibition LIFE IN CITIES in the House of Photography in Hamburg. This exhibition includes twelve series of his long-life photography (conducted in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Chicago, and Paris, among others).

I was attracted the most by the Hong Kong segment, first by Architecture of Density, and then by 100 x 100 series. The idea behind 100 x 100 is that the author took photographs in Hong Kong’s oldest public housing estate, the Shek Kip Mei, which is composed of 100 small apartments, each has a size of only 100 square feet. In each photo we see the resident(s), some of which are very old, with their belongings stacked to the ceiling.

Photograph in 100 x 100 series (Michael Wolf’s website)
Photograph in 100 x 100 series (Michael Wolf’s website)

Had these residents learnt about the KonMari method or promised joy of a minimalist life, would they have found more peace and made themselves happier? Or are they satisfied with an entire life fit in 100 square feet?

In the second photograph, we can see two (in fact, three!) hanging calendars, two televisions, and at least two thermos flasks. Maybe one television is used for watching local channels and another one for VHS tapes. If someone tried to move one thermos flask out of the room or to the foot of the bed, they would have said: “Why are you moving them? We’ve kept everything in order.” And they look happy, no? There are ways to be happier but we can’t guess.

If I hadn’t thrown away my Super Nintendo Entertainment System 20 years ago, my life could have been more colourful right now.

Appraising your memory palace

There’s nothing wrong with the minimalist lifestyle, or at least making your living space more organized and everything in its proper place (which is good, and it was already a trend before the Kondo show!). But one should be cautious about trying to get rid of her or his belongings if they don’t spark joy in a short moment. For some jeans fundamentalist, this view can be seen as promoting a “throwaway culture that seems oddly out of step with the environmental issues of today.”

Netflix or Marie Kondo show, it’s all about changing your mindset. But the lure of making a new you, or a better version of you, is like having too much sugar. For a memory keeper, you might not read every book you buy, but you remember who gave it to you or where you bought it on your last trip. All those kinds of small things build up your memory palace. An occasional purge on small things we keep can bring on an existential crisis with flashes of angst, guilt and regret. It’s freakishly terrifying, and quite unnecessary, to that life which we have made.



@POEM_H2020 fellow | structure is (not) imagination

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