Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing

By Caetlin Benson-Allott | Go to book overview

3 Reprotechnophobia
Putting an End to Analog Abjection with The Ring

A little more than a year before Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) premiered in US theaters, Ina Rae Hark observed that “a generation of viewers now exists for whom the consumption of movies at home on video has always been the norm.”1 These were viewers born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when VCRs and prerecorded videocassettes were acculturating film and television viewers to the pleasures of pausing, fast-forwarding, rewinding, and recording. From time-shifting to tape dubbing, VCRs radically increased viewers’ access to film and television history and the entertainment industry’s fear of piracy. For almost as quickly as video recorders entered US homes, Universal Studios and The Walt Disney Company sued the Sony Corporation for an injunction against selling these devices. Needless to say, Universal lost. The legal history leading up to Universal v. Sony (1984) has been well covered by other scholars, as has the ironic reversal of fortune whereby the Hollywood studios that once opposed the VCR started to make more money from VHS sales and rentals than from box-office returns.2 For a time, we know, VHS was the best friend the film industry ever had … and then they made a new best friend. In 1997 all of the MPAA member-studios joined the DVD Forum, a multi-industry organization to promote digital video discs (DVDs). Not only were DVDs cheaper to produce, but also their improved resolution and bonus features encouraged viewers to repurchase their extant video libraries on the new platform, a platform more difficult to copy than VHS (or so the studios hoped). In short, the MPAA members had lots of reasons for planning VHS’s obsolescence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but viewers had fewer reasons to play along. Most viewers had no particular aversion to VHS, no reason to question their relationship to the platform. Then in October 2002 DreamWorks SKG gave them reason to dislike their VCRs, a

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