07 November, 2013

Goodbye Blockbuster

With the ultimate shutdown of Blockbuster Video, we lose another vanguard in our group consumer culture. This is a truly sad day for media junkies everywhere, and one more reminder that our culture is changing in ways that go beyond sets of doors closing and overhead lights fading for the last time.

While I hadn’t been to Blockbuster in a long time, I still recall the times when I went there in a search for buried treasure. Whether it was a VHS copy of the original director’s cut of Blade Runner, battered videos of awful slasher movies with shoddy tracking, or the ridiculous self-flagellation of renting Zelda II: The Adventures of Link enough times that I would have been better off purchasing it, Blockbuster was there for my entertainment during those weekends when I was growing up.

My favorite Blockbuster memories will always come from the years 1995 and 1996. Those were the years when the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64 were released, and Blockbuster offered me a chance to experience them all. Blockbuster in Georgetown had a unique and, in hindsight, very foolish policy of renting out these new consoles to customers so we could try them out for ourselves. While I ended up purchasing a Nintendo 64 (because Goldeneye 007, duh), I’ll still remember the days of chaining myself to my parents’ TV upstairs and playing Jet Moto and Crash Bandicoot on that light gray future machine of the PlayStation. Sadly, I never got very far in those games because we couldn’t check out memory cards, so I would just leave it plugged in when I would go eat or do homework. This set me up for some serious teenage angst when a family member would turn off my game because they would need to do lesser things like sleep without a whirring disc interrupting them. I still can’t play Twisted Metal 2 without getting a little angry about that memory. (This is weird because my good friend Ken just reminded me that TM2 used a passcode system. Apparently I owe my parents an apology.)

I’ll miss the conversations and the directions the employees used to take me when I was in my formative years of entertainment. The best and most knowledgeable Blockbuster associates would always point me towards their favorite films and the cult classics that helped sculpt my entertainment tastes. Those media-saturated folks would recommend films like Akira, Killing Zoe, and Carrie to a boy looking for something different in his world.

That’s not to say that Blockbuster Video didn’t have its awful problems and consequences which lead to its ultimate demise. Yes, Netflix, Redbox and the local public library are far better options in terms of local distribution, cleanliness, elimination of physical waste associated with physical media, and taking care of those horrific membership fees and late fees that really crippled Blockbuster’s consumer base. Yes, Blockbuster replaced many Mom and Pop local video stores across the country with their cutthroat big box retail model.

But even if we acknowledge those problems, for those of us who only had Blockbuster Videos, it was still a place to go and talk about movies and culture. It’s sad to see the blue eyesore of the store fade away from our cultural landscape because it means we no longer need to go physically interact with such knowledgeable people for our entertainment when we can safely pick and choose. I don’t think my local Redbox will ever be able to provide me the experience of talking with a Blockbuster associate who was higher than Rory Cochrane in Dazed and Confused and tried to describe the Monkees’ Head as a family film to an impressionable Southern boy, and that’s a shame(?).

Treasure hunting on a computer screen will never compare to holding copies of entertainment media in hand and imagining the possibilities of what is inside that box. That’s what Blockbuster gave me every time I walked into the store, and it’s what I’ll miss most of all. 

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