The rarest of its kind, there is only one Blockbuster video store left on earth. After a contender for that title shut up shop in Australia recently, the last standing is in Oregon, USA.
By virtue of clinging on solo, it has become a museum to the chain’s considerable past glories. In its prime, Blockbuster was the largest video rental business, even passing up the chance to purchase an early mail order model of Netflix, but ultimately struggled when consumer attention shifted to digital and debts became insurmountable. On Youtube, there are clips of urban explorers probing vacant retail units still lingering in struggling strip malls. Total extinction can’t be far off.
When I think about Blockbuster, I think about different stages of my life in which I’ve browsed the shelves of VHS tapes, and later, DVDs. As a child, grabbing at dreamy Disney or lurid Hanna Barbara titles: Pink Panther, Top Cat, the Flintstones. Perhaps we should have heeded the warnings of technological sparsity in The Jetsons. Later, on dates, searching for indie comedies. ‘Netflix and chill’ has nothing on the courting ritual of taking turns to choose a video rental.
I can remember the feeling of standing in front of foreign language films as a student, looking for something to illuminate my drab rented room, and living vicariously through the sights and sounds of other worlds before pressing eject and taking the disc back in time to avoid late fees.
Being a child in the 90s has left me with nostalgia for many plastic objects. Rummaging through cornflakes for choking-hazard prizes, bouncy balls from machines outside newsagents and a mania for Puppy in my Pocket. Even the food I loved most had a plastic-like sheen, and probably more unnatural colourings than their modern iterations: garish orange macaroni, pink bubblegum, and strawberry laces.
Humans are a tactile species. Although it has been a long time since I’ve watched anything on VHS, I can recall perfectly the feel of one in my hands and what it sounded like to click open the box with its plastic ridge and matte, wipe-clean cover to reveal the clunky cassettes themselves. I can still feel the sensation of poking a finger through the toothed holes.
I remember so many good times spent online. Forum friendships have shaped my life. But lying with my laptop on my knees tapping a touchpad to watch a film doesn’t have the same feel.
An evocative film will stick in the mind, but I’m unlikely to remember the circumstances of watching it. Walking down the street to slip a cassette in the return box was a physical connection to my town, an act now gone from my personal map. Maybe greater convenience is at the price of making fewer tactile memories.