Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store

Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store

Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store

Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store

Synopsis

Videoland offers a comprehensive view of the "tangible phase" of consumer video, when Americans largely accessed movies as material commodities at video rental stores. Video stores served as a vital locus of movie culture from the early 1980s until the early 2000s, changing the way Americans socialized around movies and collectively made movies meaningful. When films became tangible as magnetic tapes and plastic discs, movie culture flowed out from the theater and the living room, entered the public retail space, and became conflated with shopping and salesmanship. In this process, video stores served as a crucial embodiment of movie culture's historical move toward increased flexibility, adaptability, and customization.

In addition to charting the historical rise and fall of the rental industry, Herbert explores the architectural design of video stores, the social dynamics of retail encounters, the video distribution industry, the proliferation of video recommendation guides, and the often surprising persistence of the video store as an adaptable social space of consumer culture. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, cultural geography, and archival research, Videoland provides a wide-ranging exploration of the pivotal role video stores played in the history of motion pictures, and is a must-read for students and scholars of media history.

Excerpt

A number of commercials appeared on television and the internet in the winter of 2010 claiming that the video rental store had entered the home through cable “on demand” services (figure 1). Paid for by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, which represents a consortium of cable providers, these spots used the video store as an analogy: “The video store just moved in. Rent new releases instantly, without leaving your home. Movies on demand, on cable.” Each of the ads began inside a video store and showcased the comic banter of two clerks. One was a redheaded teenager, the other an older man who sported a sweater and a beard, perhaps a manager. In one ad, the younger clerk suggests an unconventional reorganization of the shelves to include such genres as “Hot Actress” and “Explosions.” “What about Foreign Films?” the manager asks, only to have the teenager reply, “I said that—Hot Actress.” In another ad, the manager educates the teen clerk about the power of film comedies, and in yet another he delivers a lecture about family films. Commands from a computer terminal interrupt these moments of friendly repartee, however, requesting a recently released movie, including Avatar (2009), Tooth Fairy (2010), and The Wolfman (2010). The older clerk exclaims, “Push the button!,” and the younger clerk hits a large Play button on the wall. A green laser emits from the video store, and the camera follows it into a nicely furnished living room where a family watches the movie begin on their large television set.

These commercials demonstrate the complex and sometimes contradictory processes of technological, industrial, and cultural change. On the one hand, they invoke the video rental store directly, representing it as a public space where people discuss movies and where consumers have the power of choice over movie content. On the other hand, they displace actual video . . .

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