Are you one of those people who misses the big brick and mortar video stores? Why?! WTF?!
My friends in their 30s say the cutest things. They say things like “Let’s meet up at the bar closer to 5:30. We’re binging Damages and want to get in a few episodes before bed.” Or “MTV would be so much better if they still actually played music videos” as if YouTube had never been invented or anyone not related to Carson Daly or Fred Durst still needs them in their lives. But the one that really slays me is “Don’t you miss going to Blockbuster and renting movies the old fashioned way?”
No. HELLLLLL NOOOOO. Not one fucking bit.
I should have prefaced this by mentioning that I am also in my 30s. Perhaps I’m just missing that odd nugget of sentimentality that resides in my friends’ souls leaving them yearning for the glory years of VHS, tardy-shaming fees and when your kindness was measured by your (in)ability to rewind. And don’t get me wrong – I have plenty of those golden 30-something moments; I occasionally have to Google what some emojis mean; I find myself more excited about naps after work on Fridays than happy hours; and, of course, the kid down the hall plays his music…oh, it’s not loud or anything. I just don’t like that he’s playing it.
But, I can honestly say there is nothing that compels me to want to jump in a car, deal with crowds and wait in a line to pay nearly five bucks per movie rental versus an activity I can do just the same from my couch (clothing optional, at that…you’re welcome!)
Here are a few reasons I personally don’t miss dealing with the brick and mortar, corporate-owned chain stores – mostly Blockbuster – at all.
The employees, generally, weren’t that helpful.
Look, I get it. There are heaps of thousands of movies that come out all the time and most of the kids who worked there were basically warm bodies to stick the name tag on to serve as cashiers for people all too excited to rent I Now Pronounce you Chuck & Larry or Resident Evil: Extinction. The large stores never catered to cinephiles, but what harm could have been done to ensure hiring at least one person who had more extensive movie knowledge compared to the rest? Think something along the lines of Apple’s Genius Bar…shouldn’t one breathing soul in any operational video store be able to make quality suggestions if Bande à part was not something they had in stock? If you found an employee who had any perspicacity regarding film, it was more of a happy accident than an expectation. This is where the local mom-and-pop video stores proved to be vastly superior and why many of those still exist today. They actually take the time to generally hire people who have better-than-average film expertise. I Luv Video and Vulcan Video in Austin, Texas are still in business to this day, and although I haven’t been in years, I’ve heard you can still wander into either on a Friday or Saturday night and find pretty healthy, young crowds perusing the well-stocked aisles. Speaking of, in regards to Blockbuster…
The selection pretty much sucked.
Blockbuster was notorious for specializing primarily in new releases. So if they ever were fully loaded on the shelves with a movie no one was actually interested in renting, it was like they threw a party and no one showed up. I remember that happened once with a Pierce Brosnan movie…I think it was The Matador. I just remember walking in and seeing an endless, sad, bountiful sea of Pierce Brosnan’s squinting face seemingly gazing back with desperation, pleading for me to take him from the shelf. To this day, I’ve never seen The Matador.
If you wanted to rent something that wasn’t exactly a classic, but definitely older fare or foreign films that weren’t Oscar-gasmic, but still upper echelon (The King of Marvin Gardens and Jamón Jamón are respective examples), you’d basically be shit outta luck. Consequently, I’m pretty sure a lot of people other than me clearly saw Blockbuster’s eventual chess match with Bengt Ekerot once Redbox started trickling into grocery stores. The identical new releases they had were, in essence, the life’s blood of Blockbuster, except those movies were only a buck at their kiosks. It meant I could get a movie and Taco Bell with a five dollar bill. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a “holy shit”-level game changer.
It also meant that unless Blockbuster was willing to drastically overhaul its pricing models or ramp up their anemic selection of older movies, it would be impossible for them to compete since the heftiest amount of their inventory allotted for the proliferation of Pierce Brosnan’s squinty visage, with just a few older ones sprinkled in among the generic categories (drama, comedy, action – more on this in a sec). And on those rare occasions, they did stock something cool like Naked Lunch or Eraserhead, it was perpetually out of stock. I can’t say that Netflix always has them 100% beat here because they’re often limited by content licensing agreements. Furthermore, I think we’re all fully aware of that cosmic rule of the universe that when you desperately NEED something to be streaming, it never is. Or if it had been streaming forever, the day you FINALLY make time for it…it’s not anymore. The world is cruel.
The nation’s largest video retailer had dull, uninspired categories.
I don’t ever remember walking into a Blockbuster and feeling like I was ever guided to movies that would appeal to a young Latino male with burgeoning interests not only within my own culture, but those of the world around me. However, I was lucky; as someone always interested in films, I already knew what I was looking for. So I didn’t just happen to stumble across Amores Perros or Y Tu Mamá También. Remember, millennials, the Internet didn’t always exist and wasn’t used on a daily basis in the late 90s and very early 00s. Blockbuster’s reign was during the pre-convergence era – you could barely look up the time and weather on your phone in 2003, let alone Google ethnically-tailored movie recommendations. But how many other young Latinos, who could’ve adored those movies as much as I did, were never even given the chance because they weren’t steered toward them? There weren’t many coming-of-age movies featuring persons of color so it would’ve been great if Blockbuster had found a way to specifically highlight Fresh, The Inkwell, City of God, Mi Vida Loca, Raising Victor Vargas, The Debut or Better Luck Tomorrow. But movies like that were just lumped in with the other nondescript dramas. Even worse, Blood In, Blood Out/Bound By Honor, a family crime drama, was often categorized as an action movie! Mind you, that’s only if the location even bothered stocking any of these to begin with.
More specific categorization could have provided an opportunity for Blockbuster and the other large-scale video retailers to cultivate a strong base of young customers by offering a deeper sense of inclusion and acceptance, which may have prompted a willingness on their part to spend the additional 3 bucks rather than migrating to Redbox. According to recent reports, Netflix now has over 76,800 categories ranging from “Latin American Movies,” to “Middle Eastern Movies,” “Gay and Lesbian Drama,” and “Asian Action Movies.” None of those would have ever lined the aisles at Blockbuster…at least not in Texas. Inclusion of their surrounding communities, awareness of its content demands and specialty categorization were something smaller local video rental stores always thrived on.
Sentimentality is an odd thing. It can make us spend two hours of our lives Googling the whereabouts of Color Me Badd. Or toss aside a full Saturday of running to errands to binge watch Saved by the Bell. Or find rayon shirts you actually once chose (of your own volition) to wear in public at the back of the closet at your parents’ house and try them on to see if they still fit (they don’t). But, just because you’re digging through an old box and find a Netscape dial-up disc doesn’t mean you should fire it up and try surfing the Internet on a 56K modem. Some things are like Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars again or Arsenio Hall back on late night…better remembered than resurrected.
Instead, we should simply remain grateful that digital media advancements made driving to video stores and dealing with people a novelty rather than necessity. And again, none of this is directed at the privately owned neighborhood stores; they made all the right moves, ensuring prosperity into the digital age and beyond, which the once-mighty rental giants failed to do. Blockbuster’s mostly inept hires, weak selections and flavorless categories should be as longed for as their late fees. Been there, done it. Don’t miss it.
Oh, The Matador is not streaming. I checked.