Culture

Were Video Stores Better than Internet Streaming?

An entire generation of young people will soon emerge from childhood without ever having gone to a video store. That inevitability motivated the above commentary from BuzzFeed, a nostalgic look back at our shared experience venturing out to find an evening’s entertainment. The narrator concludes:

But now video stores have gone the way of the American buffalo. There’s barely any left. You can’t just walk to the strip mall with friends and try to outdo each other with the weirdest looking movie cover. There’s no more chatting with the movie geek clerk about the uber-violent Japanese gangster movies he recommends, and no more Saturday afternoon trips because the weather was too ugly to play outside.

Somehow we decided it was just easier to never leave the house ever. And it’s definitely easier. But maybe it’s not better.

As the rate of technological advancement continues to increase, perhaps we will soon outgrow such “back in my day” nostalgia and come to recognize that market-driven progress is always better than the way things were. Watching this look back on the video-store culture reminds us of the myriad other ways in which yesterday becomes romanticized while the here and now lies in scorn.

As it turns out, there weren’t always video stores. It used to be that, if you wanted to watch a movie, you had to commit an entire evening to the adventure of cinema. You couldn’t just browse shelves of video cassettes or DVDs looking through a library of features culled from the history of film. Rather, your choices were limited to the latest releases, and you had to get out and see them quickly before they disappeared from theaters. Somehow we decided it was just easier to grab a video and head back home to view it at our convenience. And it’s definitely easier. But maybe it’s not better.

On second thought, video stores clearly were better than movie theaters in many situations, as internet streaming is clearly better than video stores. Otherwise, people would not choose one over the other.

That’s the aspect which such nostalgic criticism always glosses over. The fads of the market are chosen. People decide to stream movies rather than rent physical copies because, in their judgment, the experience provides greater value. Nothing prevents anyone from getting together with the now-unemployed video store clerk to get the skinny on the latest Japanese gangster flick. Nothing prevents anyone from leaving their house, if they see value in leaving it. The idea that something has been lost in the transition to a new way whithers when we realize no one is choosing the old way.

When combined with a statist impulse, such nostalgia informs calls for forcing antiquated ways upon a culture which has moved past them. Wasn’t the world a better place when Minneapolis had street cars? Let’s raise taxes and seize private property to bring those back. On second thought, let’s not.