Brandon Wetherbee hosts the talk show/podcast You, Me, Them, Everybody. It records this Saturday at R Bar in Los Angeles with guests James Fritz, Diana Metzger, Joe McAdam and Sara Armour.
Behind The Desk 112: Requiem For A Blockbuster But Not “Requiem For A Dream” (Because Blockbuster Would Not Stock The Theatrical Version)
The long national nightmare that was Blockbuster Video Wow-What-A-Difference Be Kind Please Rewind is officially over. Earlier this week DISH announced that the final 300 Blockbuster stores would close. It’s a bittersweet feeling because I was a Blockbuster employee for some formative high school years.
Like most teenagers that gravitated toward pop culture, I wanted to be surrounded by movies and music. I worked in an independent video store my freshman year of high school, a movie theater my sophomore and junior years of high school and Coconuts, a now-defunct CD/VHS store that made its employees wear yellow polos like very sad flight attendants and Blockbuster video, a soon to be defunct VHS/DVD/satellite TV store that made its employees wear blue polos like very sad Jet Blue flight attendants during my senior year of high school.
It’s easy to wax nostalgic about the good old days behind the video store counter, judging people that had to see the new Julia Roberts film the day it came out on VHS, feeling superior to adults with things like a family and a lack of film taste. It’s also pointless because even back then I kinda knew it was better to really care about seeing the new Julia Roberts film and than knowing a lot about film compared to other 17-year-olds.
Working at Blockbuster was not fun. It wasn’t horrible, but it was far from my gigs at the independent video store. That store had porn. I was 15 and ran a side gig renting out porn by the hour to other high schoolers I did not enjoy. $5 per hour for any tape, 4 hour maximum. If you were late I’d call your parents. I never had to call any parents. I watched the rerun of the previous night’s “Daily Show” (Craig Kilburn era) while I checked in tapes. I also read The Onion on a daily basis.
I worked at Blockbuster because they shut down all the other independent video stores within the five miles of my home. Blockbuster isn’t the enemy, they had a better business model. The independent stores didn’t care about things like quality selection or informed clerks or customer service. Blockbuster didn’t care about quality selection or informed clerks or customer service, but they had better lighting and carpeting and people in blue shirts. Blue shirts always win.
The Blockbuster gig did not include porn. Blockbuster was a family friendly company so it didn’t even offer NC17 titles. I had to buy “Requiem for a Dream” from a separate store in order to see the version director Darren Aronofsky made.
The Blockbuster gig did include book sales. We were told to try to sell a self-help/autobiography of the Blockbuster CEO expertly places at the checkout counter. The store sold zero books.
The Blockbuster gig did include satellite television. This was kinda great. In 2000, 2001, there wasn’t much on demand programming. The satellite TV let me watch Radiohead concerts I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see. I watched as many concert as possible (it’s impossible to view a film when you’re tasked with tasks, concerts are perfect for when you’re supposed to be doing work) until Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” video came on. The video is great and exactly what an 17-year-old me wanted, animated tales of losing limbs and more. But the manager didn’t like it, said it was disturbing and lewd and demanded that we change the channel. I proceeded to say, “Huh?” and was told to vacuum the store.
The Blockbuster gig didn’t include reading. I was a student. I was told I could do homework on breaks. I was not able to do things like use books to gain knowledge because I was consistently told my 15 minute break was over after 5 minutes and go vacuum. I would vacuum and then read The Onion. I was told to stop reading it because the paper was deemed disturbing and lewd by my manager.
I’m not sad to see Blockbuster finally die. I’m not happy. It sucks when anyone loses their job. But what really sucks is The Onion won’t be read by any clerks in any video stores.
After 25 years of printing truth and beauty, The Onion will cease print publication this December. It’s difficult to rationalize eulogizing something in print with something online. Maybe the teenager behind the counter no longer needs to hold paper to feel like they’re reading something disturbing and lewd their manager hates. I guess that’s what tablets are for.