Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blockbuster coda

Bill Ryan of The Kind of Face You Hate wrote something interesting on Facebook yesterday. He said he "has noticed a lot of people on Facebook expressing glee over the impending demise of Blockbuster. I wonder how they're able to reconcile that attitude with their anger over the unemployment problem. I guess they contain multitudes, or something."

Well, as someone who up until very recently would have taken a job at a Blockbuster pretty happily and who had also just written Blockbuster bye-bye, I had to take a moment to think myself.

I don't feel that glee was what I expressed, and Bill said he hadn't read my post, so wasn't referring to me.

But it is complicated, isn't it? Especially in this economy.

Mind you, the likely impending doom of Blockbuster isn't going to happen overnight, so I'm not sure Bill's point is entirely on the mark, but I do agree that it's easy to see these things in black and white terms without considering all of the ramifications involved. That really is a lot of people being employed.

But frankly, I see that as one more reason to express anger at the way Blockbuster was run.

Just fucking horribly!

And, mind you, while I'm here with some ambivalence about the fate of a corporation that I genuinely do think has had a deleterious on the art form of cinema that I love so much, because it will cost real people real jobs that they feed real families with.

But then I don't think the executives, the people responsible for this would turn the other way to avoid the spray from their piss getting on those real people or their real families. They were certainly shown no concern in terms of shifting to a Netflix or Redbox type of system, after those presented themselves as successful.

Those people are fucking scumbags. I don't believe they wouldn't have immediately boarded up every store and transferred them to either of those alternative stores if they felt that's the way they personally and their investors would profit the most from.

I said in response to Bill, "I also am lucky enough to have two cool independent stores near me," Vulcan Video and I Luv Video, "and I occasionally go in to those, when I have the money, and browse and discuss movies and such. That's what brick and mortar stores are good for. But Blockbuster didn't recognize that. They had made themselves the easiest place to pick up new releases on Friday night possible and when other companies came up with methods that were even easier, they tried to continue that trend by following them, rather than redefine themselves to match what their model could do best."

Frankly, the closing of Blockbuster being a way to eulogize the fall of the brick and mortar store is in itself wrong-headed because of this very fact. Blockbuster was never a good place to go and browse movies and chat with the staff about movies. Blockbuster always saw itself as a larger, better staffed Redbox in the first place. Or perhaps a 7-Eleven for movie rental.

Blockbuster doesn't represent anything about the movie rental business that any of us appreciate now or hold fond memories of.

I concluded there, "And that's down to those very employees, too. I know it can be disheartening to work for a large corporation like that and follow all of those rules that are too often expected to be followed blindly and to the letter rather than viewed by the intention and whether it applies in a given situation. And making too little money and given too little respect to have any reason to care about your employer. I've been there.

"But every one of the bad experiences that people note when celebrating its demise or up on is because of someone who, despite all of that, took their frustration or disinterest out on customers who bore no direct responsibility for their situation, and made it seem more tempting to sign up for Netflix or just hit the Redbox. That's certainly not all of the employees. I'm sure many - probably most - are decent people who are just earning a living, and while to movie geeks they may seem less than knowledgeable, they probably mostly think to themselves that they love movies and want to share that."

I predicted in my last post on the subject, and I'll repeat here, I think this change will be good for independent video stores and small chains. Those are the places where people can get the benefits that we all loved or wanted from the movie rental experience.

The '80s are over, for better as well as for worse, I don't expect to see another landscape filled with little Mom & Pop video shops ever again.

But I do think a few small places willing and able to provide the environment and service that Blockbuster decided wasn't necessary could, and in some places will, make a mark.


Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I don't know Bill's background, but I'm guessing he's never worked at a Blockbuster. As a former veteran of "Ballbuster's" trenches (1989-90), I can only say that any resemblance between being a CSR there and being "gainfully employed" is practically non-existent. The job is not unlike being a prison trustee.

Neil Sarver said...

I suspect you're right, and Greg from Cinema Styles also worked for Blockbuster and had a similar reaction to you.

But I do respect Bill's point, and if all of the Blockbusters were closing tomorrow and sending that many people out onto the street looking for work, I'd even wholeheartedly agree.

Tex said...

I think blockbuster's main mistake was not being willing to kick it up a notch. Which i am sure is what you were getting at. Oh and making the employees wear khakis! Boring as shit..those khaki pants. I never want to stick around any place that makes their employees look like wanna be "professionals".

Neil Sarver said...

Oh, I think the color scheme was definitely designed to keep people from feeling comfortable enough to want to hang out.

Unfortunately, once there were better ways to get movies without knowledgeable, personal service, hanging out, browsing shelves and chatting with staff were the only reasons left to go to a video store and they were unprepared to fill that need.

bill r. said...

No, I've never worked for Blockbuster, but I've had shitty jobs, and I still wouldn't have wanted to lose them before I was ready to, or chose to. My point was never that Blockbuster is awesome, or that it was a well run business. My point is simply that I don't think a person should be bitching about the economy and the state of unemployment, and then turn around and cheer at the loss of God only knows how many jobs. That's the definition of hypocrisy.

Neil Sarver said...

No, I've never worked for Blockbuster, but I've had shitty jobs, and I still wouldn't have wanted to lose them before I was ready to, or chose to.

Me, too, believe me!

And I don't think - for me - cheer is the right word for my feelings.

bill r. said...

Not you, now. But the people I was originally referring to on FB, yes.

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