Good Riddance, Blockbuster


In the 1980s, America was filled with small, mom and pop video rental places and I loved patronizing those. In the 21st Century, there’s Netflix, and while the range of choices could stand to be better on that service, I still like it a great deal. Bridging the gap in between those eras, there was Blockbuster – a soulless, bland mega-chain that made money by stocking high-profile new releases to the exclusion of all else and soaking people for late fees. And they had a good run doing so. At Blockbuster’s peak in 2004, the chain had over 9,000 stores. (All of which undoubtedly carried 9,000 copies of Scary Movie 3.)

Now Blockbuster is packing it in, closing their U.S. stores. The only thing shocking about the news was that it took this long. Netflix made Blockbuster irrelevant half a decade ago. Apparently they’ve been limping along, a mere shadow of their former selves in isolated pockets across the country. But that will soon end. The announcement reminded me of those occasions when news breaks that a very old celebrity who has been out of the limelight for a few decades has passed away. My reaction is always, “I thought he/she died like fifteen years ago.”

When a once-dominant company goes out of business, it is tempting to look back and reflect on what it all means, to wax nostalgic about the heyday of the firm and to generally eulogize them. A lot of news outlets are doing that with Blockbuster,  but I feel no such impulse. I just wasn’t a fan of their stores. They were boring and sterile.

I guess it’s because, to me, the golden age of video rental was in the ’80s with those aforementioned small, independent video stores. I loved how you could go into those cozy (admittedly sketchy, sometimes) little shops and find rare gems – old classics, offbeat comedies, foreign films, obscure cinema snob favorites, so-bad-they-were-awesome low budget cheese, the naughty flicks that they kept in a separate room in the back, etc. Even small stores in small towns like where I grew up offered up a surprising amount of variety, usually for about a buck per tape. (You even had your choice of VHS or Beta!) Blockbuster destroyed all that. They put the little guys out of business, homogenized everything and ordered copies of Batman Forever by the trainload. Blech!

So, there will be no mourning of Blockbuster on this blog. There will be no RetroAnalysis of their old TV commercials, because frankly those were as mind-numbingly vanilla as their stores. I won’t even make all the obvious late fee jokes because everybody else is already doing that. I will just leave you with the observation that Blockbuster’s downfall is proof that the old dictum was wrong. Apparently you can go broke underestimating the taste of the American people.

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