Friday Night at the Video Store
Rituals are so important. For some, Friday nights are reserved for pizza night with their family. For me, it was Blockbuster video.
Blockbuster video represented a particular sensory experience – the feet walking around on the carpet, dampening the sound of the footsteps. The smell of the plastic video cases. The walls full of the latest releases. The cardboard posters.
But most importantly, walking through the aisles gave us a little journey. We’d remember movies that we might have seen in theaters a few months ago, or perhaps videos that had never made it to theaters at all. Random videos, like a TV version of Encyclopedia Brown (a kid’s series) would show up occasionally and totally make my weekend complete. Or perhaps it was a collection of some of the best episodes from Nickelodeon’s Saturday night series, SNICK.
Then of course there were the aisles of video games, that would give me a weekend to explore a different world than the games I owned. It was always said saying goodbye to the games on Sunday evening.
And there was, of course, lots of piracy. The really good videos, we’d record to blank VHS tapes. I still have a ton of those in my basement. Please don’t arrest me.
But the most valuable parts of the experience wasn’t even the videos or games themselves. It was routine and a finite selection.
Going to Blockbuster every Friday was a tradition for the whole family. Mom and Dad would get something, and my sister and I would each pick our own selection. It gave us practice in making choices, in discovering what we liked.
And it also gave us the joy of having a finite collection. In the world of Netflix, it seems as if you could find a new movie every single day. You could watch part of it and abandon it, whereas with a blockbuster video you had paid a fee per video, so it made sense to see the movie through until the end. There are a lot of movies I would’ve abandoned but stick with just because… well, what else would I watch?
I feel that this routine, this finite collection, the physicality of walking through aisles… is slowly being erased from our culture. I’m not sure what the answer is, since everything is more efficient, but I think about sites like Bandcamp, which come as close as possible to emulating the experience of going to a record store. Because humans, not algorithms, hand pick the selections. It feels more authentic, because it is.
So where do we go from here?