On Sunday, the New York Times techno-wizards rolled out the latest in their series of enormously cool (and endlessly distracting) interactive features — the Netflix maps. Using data compiled from zip codes and Netflix user queues*, these maps visualize rental patterns in 12 major American cities, adjusting for popularity and critical reception, and providing a nifty way for film snobs to confirm their worst suspicions about neighbors’ movie taste.
While the graphs mostly validate what many users already suspected — everybody with a Netflix account is watching Twilight, nobody in an urban area would be caught dead renting Paul Blart: Mall Cop — they also single out a handful of more curious findings. What’s with those zip codes that don’t follow local patterns? Are people actually renting Last Chance Harvey?
Without further ado, here is a short sampling of Netflix mysteries, and some implausible, but not impossible, conspiracy theories for them.
Mystery: What’s up with Minneapolis zip code 55450? A lone and persistent white spot within the city’s “Most Rented” patterns, the district seems to be immune to rental trends, opting instead for the first three discs of Battlestar Galactica: Season Three.
Conspiracy Theory: Led by Minnesota Representative Michele Bachman, a woman Jon Stewart said “speaks crazy to power,” zip code 55450 is home to a renegade Tea Party sect that associates Hollywood blockbusters with liberal politics, and in lieu of movies, has settled on watching the popular Sci-Fi series.
More Likely Answer: 55450 is the zip code of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. Is this how air flight controllers relax on weekends?
Mystery: Why is Fireproof, an evangelical Christian drama about firefighters, the eighth most popular movie in Long Beach zip code 90840 when it’s virtually unrented in the rest of the Los Angeles area?
Conspiracy Theory: The director’s mom lives there?
More Likely Answer: According to Google maps, zip code 90840 falls squarely in the middle of the Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center. Perhaps some firefighters have found God while recovering from the summer’s wildfires?
Mystery: Why are terrorist-themed crime thrillers ( Eagle Eye , Traitor , and Body of Lies ) among the top ten most popular movies in Bladensburg, Maryland (20710) when some don’t even make it into the top fifty of nearby districts?
Conspiracy Theory: Bladensburg is home to former Attorney General William Wirt, a man who ran for president on the Anti-Masonic ticket, and is presumably the first Attorney General ever to have his skull stolen. While Wirt wasn’t alive when terrorism was a major threat, he did write a book called Letters of the British Spy in 1803, and may have sparked an early Bladensburg interest in intelligence work.
More Likely Answer: We have no idea, so here’s another theory: in 1812, the American defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg enabled the British to enter Washington and burn the capital. Maybe locals are still a little touchy about foreigners?
Bonus Mystery: Has anybody in Denver, Atlanta, or Miami seen Julie and Julia?
Conspiracy Theory: No.
More Likely Answer: Maybe, but they’re definitely not trendsetters
Have a Netflix conspiracy theory of your own? Let us know in the comments section.
(*This level of data transparency has gotten the company in hot water before — a recent “Brokeback Mountain” lawsuit claims that Netflix inadvertently outed gay users by sharing their rental information.)