Netflix and sound whitewashing
Note: I wrote this article in August, but I didn't realize it wasn't published until October. I kept the published date as it was, but if you didn't see it before well, that's why.
Are you familiar with a small streaming company called "Netflix"? If so, you might recognize their opening sound. And even if you don't, you might have seen one of their multiple recent press campaigns regarding this topic. From a recent episode of the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast on all the sound choices that go into their logo to their announcement that Hans Zimmer has worked on making it longer for cinema productions.
What none of those articles are saying is that this sound is also the sound of Kevin Spacey hitting a desk at the end of Season 2 of House of Cards. Yes, that House of Cards, the critically-acclaimed series that made Netflix' stock jump a 70 percent even before it started and put Netflix on the map. If I were a Netflix executive back then, I would be proud of having the series as part of my corporate identity.
If I were an executive today, however, I would be terrified of people forever remembering that my company's official sound, the one that plays before every show, was first heard in a scene with an actor that has been very publicly accused of sexual assault in 2017. So I can understand why someone would feel that a change is needed, and I'm all for it. No one is blaming Netflix (as far as I know) for not running background checks on their actors.
Having said that, it seems that Netflix has gone all the way to completely erase that any of this ever happened, in what has to be the most pointless history rewrites in some time. In the above-mentioned podcast, a sound engineer talks about all the sounds that came together to compose the current Netflix sound, from a ring on a cabinet to the sound of an anvil, with no mention whatsoever of Kevin Spacey hitting any desks.
Suffice to say, I was confused by this omission, so I dug a bit more and found a Facebook post from August 2019 from the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast official account, where they posted:
"I'm convinced the @netflix sonic logo was originally built from Frank Underwood banging on the desk at the end of House of Cards Season 2. BUT, I'm dying to know who enhanced it! I can't find anything online! (...)".
I can only conclude that the "it's a ring on a cabinet" story is technically true and a sound engineer has actually used it to enhance Kevin Spacey's desk banging sound, but they conveniently "forgot" to mention the relation between these two facts. One of the answers to this Quora question mentions that "The tapping on the table with his (Kevin Spacey) ring is associated with completing a mission or one of his plans being accomplished", which sheds even more light into why they were banging rings on furniture to begin with. And let's pray that the hand wearing the ring wasn't Kevin Spacey's...
None of this is mentioned in the podcast. As for the longer version composed by Hans Zimmer, it does not include the original soundbite at all. I believe that Netflix is going on a PR campaign to rewrite their history, has convinced the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast people to just go with it, and have so far been very successful.
And yet, I have to ask... why? Was it so difficult to come out and say "we don't want to be associated with this sound anymore, and therefore we are releasing a new one"? I honestly don't care about Netflix nor House of Cards (which I have not seen), but I am kind of annoyed at such a transparent attempt to hide their history behind a PR campaign. Or even worse, that they seem to have gotten away with it.