Blockbuster Block-busted

Oh, hello there, stranger!  I’m just going to say it: I’ve dropped the ball of late as far as updating this humble little site goes.  A combination of (a very successful) Soxtober and some real-life work priorities (horrible, I know) led to this website being the odd-man-out for far too long.  I’ll look to rectify that in the near future.

For now, here’s an expanded version of the piece I wrote last week over at A New Voice.  In it, I discuss the final shuttering of Blockbuster Video stores across the country, bringing to an end not just one particular business, but an important aspect of the lives of most people my age as we grew up.  Enjoy.

Blockbuster Video shut down its final stores this week, putting to rest a business that began in Dallas, Texas in 1985.

Believe it or not, there was a time – not so long ago – when movies were not widely available for rent.  VCRs were far from ubiquitous until the latter half of the 1980s.  Local video stores began popping up as the technology became more popular.  Those of us a little north of 30 may even remember a time when 7-11(!!!) had a video rental component.

But Blockbuster was the most successful national company by far, thanks to a business model that included tailoring a store’s selection to fit local demographics, as well as a breakthrough in the form of video game rentals, something that became possible (and lucrative) after Blockbuster won a landmark court decision against Nintendo.

Blockbuster’s success was incredible, but their bankruptcy and subsequent death merely goes to show how quickly cultural touchstones can disappear from our society, no matter how entrenched they once appeared to be.

Less than 20 years ago, Blockbuster was a staple.  No, it was something more than that.  It was a part of every 90s kid’s life experience to go to a video store and browse titles, perhaps wondering whether he could get away with renting an R-rated movie without his parents’ permission.  Nearly everyone who was a teenager +/- 15 years ago either worked in a video store at some point or knew someone who did.

We learned to manage expectations when a hot new release came out, knowing full well that there was a decent chance that all 12 copies of Deep Impact Armageddon would be checked out by the time you were able to get to the store.  Having the store’s entire selection in front of you was also an eye-opener, as it became readily apparent that there were far more movies released that you hadn’t heard of than ones with which you were familiar.

One of the experiences that was a common thread for me between ages 12 and 25 was going to a video store, often without a specific movie in mind, and stumbling across something I had never seen before.  Whether I wound up disappointed or pleasantly surprised was immaterial.  The point is that everything now is so tailored to our individual preferences, and information about any movie is available instantly, that the experience of seeing a film by happenstance is almost impossible in 2013.

What’s more, there were so many little things we’ll miss.  Suddenly changing your video selection when you see one of your friend’s parents.  Buying candy or other movie theater snacks on the way out.  Getting unsolicited commentary from the check-out person about the movie you picked.  Ok, I probably won’t “miss” that one.

But there was a greater investment to the entire process.  There was also more of a social component, as well as the universality I mentioned earlier.

Now, something so universal simply does not exist.

There’s a lesson, there, and it’s this: Our technological advances arrive with exponential speed.  While once-popular MySpace dies a painful death, the similar Facebook goes from being for college students only to the most successful social network in history in a matter of a couple of years, if not little more than a few months.

Shifts in everyday life have always happened in society, but the sheer speed of those changes now are a little overwhelming.  Things we take for granted as an essential part of our lives today may be unpopular very soon, and may even cease to be shortly thereafter.

Blockbuster Video represents the top outlet for the most popular method of receiving cinematic content from the childhood of anyone from about 25-40.  Even those of us who had long since moved on to the myriad other streaming or delivery options took some nostalgic comfort in the fact that there was still a brick-and-mortar presence on the home video scene.  People of my parents’ generation felt the same way about drive-in theaters.  Someday, people alive now may feel that way about post offices.

Blockbuster had the opportunity to purchase a fledgling company known as “Netflix” in 2000 for $50,000,000, but passed.  In hindsight, that was probably the death knell.

On a conscious level, I understand that Blockbuster going extinct is a necessary price of progress.  As quaint as it might seem to drive to a store with a friend or a date, argue over what movies to rent, and hand over some cash to a lethargic teenager before driving home again, the entire experience is wildly inefficient compared to Netflix, Redbox, or other on-demand services.

Yet . . . there is that other, little part of my mind that gets a bit sad when I realize that young people today probably don’t even understand a “rewind fee” on a conceptual level.

The final video rented by any Blockbuster store was, appropriately, “This is the End.”  For those of us who grew up with video stores as much a part of our lives as, say, Instagram is to today’s youth, Blockbuster and its ilk will always be a part of our generational Zeitgeist, even as we wonder what the next toppled cultural pillar will be.

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One Response to Blockbuster Block-busted

  1. Pingback: Best of 2013 | The Axis of Ego

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