Shaming for Show

In the early days of Netflix (late 1990s), they ran a promotion to get a particular DVD for only two cents. However, a mixup occurred when the freshly printed DVDs were picked up from the replicating service. At least one of the spindles they picked up contained porn DVDs instead of the intended content. None of the DVDs were labeled, so Netflix shipped many customers the porn DVDs. And of course some people noticed pretty quickly and began posting about it online, which is how Netflix got wind that something was amiss.

Netflix of course quickly sent an apology to those customers, explaining what happened and offering to replace each porn DVD with the correct one and covering the extra shipping costs.

The funny thing is that none of the customers took them up on the offer. According to Netflix’s CEO at the time, everyone opted to keep the porn DVDs.

I found this story amusing but also interesting because it contains multiple take-aways.

One aspect is that you can make a seemingly egregious mistake, and no one is actually that bothered. When I first became an entrepreneur in 1994, I was a lot more uptight about making mistakes. It took years for me to develop a more relaxed and playful relationship to the world of business and to not be stressed out about mistakes since most are correctable, especially if you develop a good relationship with customers.

Another aspect is that publicly, it’s common to demonize sexuality as something dark or bad, but privately it’s a different story. I’ve noted this whenever I write articles about sexual topics. Those articles will usually get a lot more readers, and I may get a surge in follow-up emails too, but only privately. On the public side, virtually no one shares it. Perhaps no one wants to be seen as someone who’s into sex. This is clearly an area where there’s a lot more healing and reframing to be done.

What you may not see right away is that we can also connect the dots between these two different take-aways. You may fear how people would react to your actual interest in sexuality if you were more open about it, but in truth it’s really not such a big deal to most people. You’re probably making a much bigger deal of it than it really is.

More generally, people hide lots of details about themselves to put on a better show for social reasons, but it’s really unnecessary. If you were to relax and share a bit more about your honest interests and desires, some people will react negatively as you might expect, but even then their reaction is mostly for show. Internally they worry about what people would think of them if they didn’t react that way. Most of the outrage isn’t genuine.

I often like to say that critics have no stamina. When someone criticizes you, they’re mainly putting on a show for others, possibly even a show for you alone. They want to be seen as someone who will criticize certain behaviors, but internally they may not actually care as much as they purport to. So grab some popcorn, let them put on a good show, and then go on about your life. While critics lack stamina, people who actually align with your desires typically have lots of stamina, and you can explore and experience a great deal of wonder together once the critic’s show ends.