My roommate and I watched most of that documentary The Last Blockbuster the other night and it’s a nice nostalgic tribute to a formative institution of our mutual upbringing but, I have to confess, the nostalgia was warm only insofar as it reminded me of being a kid. When everything was new and movies were uniformly enchanting and carpet was special for being blue.
But I have a vivid memory of the late fees too. Of getting chewed out by my mom because I forgot we needed to return something and, after a week of extortionate daily fees, we now owed three or four times the price of the actual VHS.
I know the documentary goes on to explore the issue of their corporate apathy, so that its triggering of nostalgia is basically a responsible and well-measured gesture, but I just couldn’t get through it.
Blockbuster was a monstrous inhuman corporate behemoth that generated good experiences on a micro level, inside your home, but also, deep down, gave nary a broken fuck for its customers–and the company wore its apathy like a hat. Yes it was certainly the case that you could find a franchise here and there that was managed by people who really cared about the customer experience, and those people could forge bonds with you, help you navigate the waters.
They made Blockbuster feel like your local pub on a Friday night. Another place to be recognized and chat, to decompress, to forge community.
But I just read Author in Chief, a survey of American presidents’ sidehustle as authors, and the book doubles as a history of the publishing industry–which is a pretty ugly story. In the 1980s, major bookstore chains started halving the MSRP of hardcover books just cuz they could afford to, which I guess was kinda cool because it sold more units and ensured bigger advances for authors, but it also put indie bookstores out of business.
And you better believe that the ruination of those mom-and-pop booksellers was part of the corporate plan.
Then for a few years these bookstore behemoths prospered before succumbing (at the hands of Amazon) to the exact same entrepreneurial attrition they’d employed for thirty years against indies.
Well, Blockbuster was the same. It killed a slew of indie video shops, deliberately. It might not have shed blood, but it stole livelihoods from small business owners and used draconian late fees to exploit–let’s face it–working class parents who were trying to find an affordable option for keeping their kids entertained.
It’s unfortunate that, with Blockbuster’s demise, a lot of well-meaning and hardworking franchisees lost their jobs, and I lament that the communities fostered by a local video shop are now a thing of the past; but listen:
Fuck Blockbuster. Fuck it a lot.