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The New York Times has assembled a series of stunning and fascinating heat maps that show the frequency of certain Netflix movie rentals by zip code in 12 U.S. cities. The maps invite fine-grained exploration of which movies are popular in which cities, even down to the detail of neighborhood. Milk--the biopic of a gay-rights crusader--is hugely popular across San Francisco, for example, except for two isolated areas where it is barely viewed. In the Washington suburbs, political and foreign films dominate, except at Andrews Air Force Base, where Yes Man is rented more than any other film. There are many such revelations in the maps, some startling and some not.

  • Even Movies Display Partisan Divide Mother Jones's Kevin Drum predicts, "Not only is it good clean fun, but surely also something that can inspire plenty of amateur sociology as well as blog posts full of partisan condescension. Latte-sipping lefties didn't like Paul Blart: Mall Cop! Orange County reactionaries refused to see Frost/Nixon! Nobody liked Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull! (Which goes to show that at least there's some justice in the world.)"
  • Invaluable for Reading Demographics Political blog Half Sigma explains, "The vastly different rental patterns Mad Men vs. Last Chance Harvey demonstrates that there are two very different types of upper middle class. Without knowing anything about the city of Chicago, for example, I can look at the Netflix map and tell you that zip code 60523, which includes West Chester and Oak Brook, is a wealthy family-oriented suburb because of the high number of rentals of Last Chance Harvey, and that the area along the lake [...] is where the hip intellectual child-free people live because they rent Mad Men, and that Addison is full of white proles because Paul Blart: Mall Cop is heavily rented but the Tyler Perry movies are not (which means no black people)."
  • Reveals Racial Film Tastes Steve Sailor explores rentals in L.A.'s heavily segregated neighborhoods. "The black neighborhoods tend to either love small movies (if they have black stars) or ignore small movies (if they don't have black stars). The huge Hispanic neighborhoods to the east, however, aren't as distinctive in their tastes. Blacks and Hispanics share a taste for big budget action thrill rides like Eagle Eye. But, Hispanics like romantic comedies with white actresses, which blacks don't really like." He writes of the absence of popular films catering directing to Hispanic audiences, "The impact of 50 million Hispanics on American popular culture remains remarkably small."
  • Skewed Data But Still Fascinating  Matthew Yglesias calls the map "a fascinating window into the socioeconomic divides in various metropolitan areas." He points to the map for Tyler Perry's latest film, which shows high rental rates across predominantly black east Washington but almost none at all in whiter, wealthier west Washington. But he notes, "One confounding issue here is that I suspect the Netflix demographic skews whiter, richer, and better-educated than average. Consequently integrated ZIP codes like 20001, 20010, and 20002 are more similar in Netflix tastes to places like 20007 or 20008 than the underlying demographics would indicate."
  • Pollsters Should Use This   Jason Kottke muses, "I wonder if you could predict voting patterns according to where people rent Paul Blart: Mall Cop or Frost/Nixon. I wonder what the map for Napoleon Dynamite looks like?"
  • Gay, Boozy Manhattan  Gawker's Foster Kamer concludes, "Manhattan Mostly Occupied by Gays and Self-Loathing Alcoholics." He adds, "Also: Jersey <3's Shitty Movies."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.