If you have ever complained about Netflix, Amazon Video, or any other streaming video service, you should be deported to the year 1998, and forced to find cheap entertainment on a Friday night in suburbia. That meant going to Blockbuster Video, and that meant entering a cheap-carpet scented level of hell itself.
Blockbuster Video was owned by Wayne Huizenga, capitalism's greatest fecal alchemist, a Midas who turned a waste management empire into a video empire, and then turned that hunk of crap into the Florida Marlins. Blockbuster's business plan was a simple one:
- Open up mazes filled with VHS tapes.
- Ensure that 80% of those videos were movies no one would ever want to watch, not even in the last waterproof cabin of a sunken cruise liner submerged 300 feet beneath the surface of the ocean.
- Charge three dollars for initial rental
- Charge a reasonable late fee of $59.00 a day
- Imprison the American populace
- Sell the entire prison-state to China
- Force the entire nation to watch the Florida Marlins win a World Series
- KILL BIG LASERDISC (R.I.P. Laserdisc)
Like most giant American success stories, this was a terrible plan, and worked brilliantly because your father did not want to pay nine cents more to rent from Ted's Video and Nails down the street. Ted's Video and Nails would make up the difference by doubling down on pornography and horror movies, both usually kept in a separate vault in the back that you were supposed to show I.D. to enter.
Ted never made you show I.D., and is a convicted sex offender now. He was back then, too, but he let you rent I Spit On Your Grave and 9 and Wild Orchid 2 without much protest. That overcame a lot of the difficulties of your relationship with Ted, and the sex offender thing.*
*Ted's also had questionable policies regarding the sale of candy. You wouldn't think you could buy Nerds indvidually, but there they were in a bucket at Ted's, 50 cents for a handful.
There is literally nothing you should miss about Blockbuster Video. Its employees were wage slaves chained to white particle board fortresses at the front of the store, wearing the same blue polo with the BLOCKBUSTER logo emblazoned on the front that they wore yesterday, and the day before, and let's not talk about how long it's been since this Blockbuster polo had been washed, kid. You wanted to rent the lone copy of Cool Hand Luke in the store for the third week in a row, and the Blockbuster zombie wanted to get to six o'clock, their arthritic I-Mark in the parking lot, and the bag of shake weed they're going to have to settle for until the band takes off or the military becomes the only option to a better life. Besides, the shirt under it is clean, and that's what counts.
Blockbuster's selection made sense only in the sense that there was an alphabetical order, and sections, and then the words on those tapes were arranged in something like alphabetical order. Blockbuster would have one copy of Lawrence of Arabia. They would have 500 fucking copies of The Pelican Brief because Blockbuster either had a sweet deal with the studio on the video release, or because someone seriously overestimated your interest in a middling Grisham thriller.
This bothered me so much I once rented three copies of The Fugitive--three out of roughly seven hundred copies available at once at the Blockbuster on US 19 in Palm Harbor, Florida--just to see if the clerk would even flinch. They did not, and merely noted the $5,000 balance in late fees the family account had on it from the last time we rented Cool Hand Luke. I shot the clerk, and took all three copies home and watched them without remorse. When I finished one, I would go to the next, because the best thing to watch after watching Andrew Davis's classic take on Dr. Richard Kimble's story of redemption and survival IS TO WATCH THE FUGITIVE AGAIN.*
*Andrew Davis may have been the most Blockbuster director ever: Above the Law, The Fugitive, Under Siege, Code of Silence, Chain Reaction.
No one ever called the police, because Blockbuster law only forbade the theft of items, failure to pay late fees, or the unwillingness to spend seven dollars on an 8 oz. pack of Nerds at the register. It did not count as murder, anyway: Blockbuster employees were never really alive. Isn't that right, Run Home Jack?
The only advantage to working at Blockbuster was taking a copy of a new release early for yourself and hiding it at the front counter. No, you didn't really want to watch Like Water For Chocolate, but if you had to be miserable, so did all the suburban moms on your shift.
The version they censored so you couldn't see any of the ladypelts in the nude scenes, mind you. God, Blockbuster sucked. They even allegedly hair-tested their employees, because the last thing you want in society is for the fluorescent light-stunned drones at your place of employ to have the pleasure of getting high and thinking about the bitchin' ride they're gonna get after they finally ditch the fuckin' crapton I-Mark.
Blockbuster brought out the worst in anyone who stepped in its doors, too. Family trips devolved into the same debacle every time, and by that I mean "Oh shit how did we end up renting Ace Ventura AGAIN, DAD?" Go with friends and die, because inevitably one friend would take five minutes scanning the back of the box seeking some inner truth that would reveal it as the movie we can watch tonight while drinking malt liquor that will change the way we view existence. In that span of time the rest of you had decided on watching Hard Boiled again, because no one ever rented it, and also because there was that scene where a guy got hit full speed with a jumping motorcycle.
Besides never having any movie you ever wanted to see, Blockbuster could ruin you financially, at least if you were poor, stupid, and forgetful. Get there too late and have to drop a video in the dropbox? DEBTOR'S PRISON. Late fees of $12 a week overdue? BETTER CALL A COLLECTIONS AGENCY. Blockbuster did not even try to dissuade you from admitting its fellowship in the prison-industrial complex. You could get points off your license for a while by watching the "Safe Driving" video they kept with the other free videos like "Make a fire rescue with your family" and "Creepy Public Access Yoga Tape From 1983 With A Guy Wearing No Underwear and Loose Shorts."
In Florida, Blockbuster may have had the right to detain citizens, but its employees were simply too underpaid and apathetic to do it. It was also an unlicensed daycare where children were left to roam in the aisles and fed only with Twizzlers.
The chain began to die the minute someone figured out how to pipe movies and games directly into the home, and bypass the sad glass tank full of blue-shirted gerbils sucking up retail space and pesky overhead on every corner. No one will ever mourn Blockbuster, because no, the world did not need 80 copies of Baby's Day Out when all we wanted was one copy of Friday. (Which was always out, because demand and stoners.) The world did not need to wait in line behind a deranged woman in bike shorts and a Stussy t-shirt threatening to bomb the store because hell yes she did put Mo' Money in the slot before midnight, and you're a lying dead motherfucker if you doubt her. (Note: this woman did not in fact put the video in the slot before midnight. No one ever did.) The world did not miss bullshit edited versions of movies specifically chosen because they contained famous people you wanted to see naked in them.
The world does not miss Blockbuster, and never will or should. Return your DVDs with blood on them. Poop in the return box. If you see one burning, ensure all neighboring businesses are safe and then let it burn. If a collections agency comes after you for a $3.00 balance on a video you rented in 2002, then MAIL THEM A LIVE PIT BULL. Blockbuster video was the worst kind of business; a trap designed for stupid people to lose money in until they find a better service.
I still have one of those copies of The Fugitive. Come after it if you like, Blockbuster. Oh, that's stealing, you say? To quote Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard: I don't care.