Netflix and Chill: An expression on demand

Article published on Oct. 11, 2017
Article published on Oct. 11, 2017

A winter evening that smells like chamomile tea? A hangover that is begging for some aspirin? Or simply an undying need to binge? Regardless of the occasion, shows on Netflix can easily eat up all of our free time. So much so that we’ve come up with an expression to describe this obsession. Even if we know what it means, we might not necessarily know where it came from.

Let’s start with a little bit of history. Did you know that ‘Netflix and Chill’ dates back to the end of the 19th century? It was when the concept of private space was introduced as “Want to come up and see my etchings?” Yes, back in the day etchings were the way to find yourself alone with your crush. As with every saying, nothing is new – everything is recycled. 

But let’s get back to Netflix. You don’t have to read everything by Naomi Klein to know that the power of a brand is largely linked to its integration in a consumer’s mental space. What better way to colonise a consumer’s mind than to integrate a brand in daily language? But this isn’t the first stunt seen by streaming platforms. After the word ‘binge’, ‘Netflix and chill’ seems to separate the streaming platform from its main activity: television. The expression has been nominalised to the point that it has become a verb, and even though it makes a direct reference to Netflix, you don’t really have to have access to the platform to text “Netflix & chill ;)?” to someone. The immense success of this expression-turned-verb is remarkable; while it slowly became integrated in colloquial language, ‘Netflix and chill’ has also reinvented the lexical framework of shagging. 

A history of lols 

In 2007, Netflix decided to change its activities from delivering DVDs to people’s houses to becoming a streaming platform. Well, lucky them. Internet archeologists discovered the first use of ‘Netflix and chill’ in 2009 in Black Twitter, a well-known breeding ground for marketing companies lacking good ideas. 

At this time – and up until 2012 – the expression didn’t have any naughty connotations, except for the different levels of physical decline that one’s body suffers after a Netflix marathon. Still, towards the end of this period, a first noteworthy change in language was discovered. “About to Netflix & chill” slowly ridded itself of its prefix and learned to stand on its own two feet. 

In 2013, Netflix took off and gathered over a million users. ‘Netflix and chill’ was being used more and more frequently. Nonetheless, the expression kept its initial meaning (the same as ‘YouTube & chill’ for example) and stayed within the confines of Black Twitter. 

In the summer of 2014, everything changed. Young women took over Twitter to express their doubts on the innocence of an evening of "Netflix and chilling". They expressed the fact that there could be dangers behind this simple saying, and that they should be prudent. This negative connotation lasted all throughout the summer until the autumn of 2014. Discussions between girls surprised by their host's behaviour and seriously worried by their friends that actually wanted to chill in front of Orange is the New Black. Was 'Netflix and Chill' on its way to becoming a way to warn people of rape? 

That negative connotation had consequences. In October 2014, the expression became progressively used by men who – rather than denying the sexual connotations – twisted the ordeal into a huge joke. That's when a huge marathon of dirty jokes arose between Twitter and Tumblr. The joke reached its end when the god of lols, Starter Pack, tweeted the "Netflix and chill starter pack" and decided that it wasn't funny anymore. 

What about sex?

As of February 2015, the expression was quickly adopted by everyone and it had a snowball effect. Vine appropriated it, the first memes started popping up, celebrities were using it and the rest of the world joined in. Urban Dictionary set the definition of 'Netflix and Chill' in stone, and Google decided that the expression deserved to be pop-culture's best catchphrase. 

So beyond the most glorious moments of the words 'Netflix and chill', it's important to remember that a lot of the jokes were touchy. They were jokes about the consent of the person invited to a 'Netflix and chill' session. The debate about sexualisation is deleterious to any activity including a man and a woman, and is detrimental for women. What's more, Twitter is starting to record all of the complaints from panicked teenagers whose parents are reproaching them for their 'Netflix and chill' sessions. When your mother has understood what it means, it's the beginning of the end. 

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This article was originally published in Girlshood, a webzine for unconventional girls.