Free Things

In our capitalist, consumerist society, we find ourselves in an odd predicament. We want to fulfill our desire to enjoy art, cinema, music, literature, etc., but more often than not the things that we want are “owned” (more on that later) by individuals who insist we pay through the nose to do so. Now I don’t have any problem with supporting artists or musicians or the like- I believe any artist should create art, and be in turn supported by the public. However, this isn’t the world we live in. For the most part, the better elements of our culture aren’t moving straight from the artists to the public but from the artists to record companies (who leave the artists with about %10 of the overall profits) and only then to the public. Speaking for myself, while I’m all for art, I’d rather not pay an exorbitant fee when only a sliver of the money is actually getting to the artists. So I thought I’d list off a few of the ways of getting around the system.

Just a quick note before I get to the list. While a lot of the sites I’m going to talk about will allow you to enjoy music or films for free, let’s keep in mind that there are plenty of aspiring artists out there struggling to make a living. If you like their work enough, please, find some way of getting payment/donations directly to them so that they can continue doing what they do.

Now the list.

Hulu (Movies, TV Shows): While this website does have commercial breaks at various points (and a “plus” option you can pay for, in which greater variety is offered), it’s still a step up from watching on TV. You get the ability to watch, pause, and resume whenever, and while you might have to sit through a thirty second ad from Geico, it’s still a decent exchange.

Youtube (Movies, TV Shows, Music): While the quality, legality, and chances of not getting rickrolled are dubious on Youtube, you can generally listen to music, watch some movies, and see various tv show episodes without having to pay anything or sit through ads (though commercials are starting to become a more common annoyance). Again, there’s no guarantees that you’ll find what you want, or that it will be in decent condition if you do, but it’s still a nice to have the chance.

Pandora (Music): This site allows you to create “radio stations” based on songs, artists, or genres you select (after you’ve stipulated what you want, the site will play similar music, giving you the option to fine-tune your station along the way). While you will have to sit through a few commercials every once in a while (from what I’ve seen, fewer than when Pandora first started) and there’s a limit on how many songs you can skip, it’s still a good way to find new artists, and content itself is generally high-quality.

Grooveshark (Music): This site allows you to actually search for and play whatever music you want without paying a cent (there is an ad bar on the side, but otherwise no commercials). While the quality isn’t always great (varies a lot from song to song), it beats paying a twelve bucks for an album on iTunes.

iTunes (Audio Files): While iTunes is certainly part of the industry I was bashing in the first paragraph of this post, iTunes can actually be used to get some great free stuff. For example, I use iTunes to get free podcasts, like Mumia Abu-Jamal’s essays or lectures from the 2010 Socialism Conference.

Netflix (Movies, TV Shows): Now you might be thinking “Netflix? You have to pay for that.” and you’d be right. There is, however, a month-long free trial that you can use. It’s not much, but it’s still better than having to rent (though in Netflix’s defense, the system they use is infinitely better than the disposable DVD system some corporations have created).

Project Guetenburg and other Online Sources (Books): A number of classic works (Dickens, Nietzsche, Eliot, etc.) can be found online for absolutely free. Why pay twelve dollars at Barnes and Noble when you can get a PDF or HTML file online for nothing?

Libraries (Everything): Now that I think about it, I probably should’ve put this section at the beginning of the list.

Like all my lists, this is by no means comprehensive, and any and all suggestions are welcome.


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