Netflix has killed video libraries.  Now they want to own your longing for them.

Netflix has killed video libraries. Now they want to own your longing for them.

Do you remember video libraries? by Netflix Blockbuster is kinda hoping you don’t. The series, created by and co-starring Brooklyn nine-nineMelissa Fumero, is set in the last Blockbuster Video in America, tucked away in an unremarkable strip mall in suburban Michigan. The moment, as the first episode references to Midsommar and TikTok make it clear, today is a time when the takeover of local businesses by national conglomerates seems almost over, but the show seems oddly stuck between eras. It’s a network-style sitcom, made by Universal and released on a streaming platform, built around praising the kind of business – not just video stores, but anything that involves people share a common experience, rather than one specifically tailored to them – which Netflix helped kill.

Maybe some of these companies deserved to die, at least by the rules of winner’s capitalism. And it’s naïve to think that a significant number of consumers might voluntarily choose a suboptimal experience — higher prices, smaller selection, less than infinite returns — simply to shop at a store whose owner lives in the same zip code. But the result is a national terrain where you can drive for hours and see the same logos parade over and over again, as if the world is stuck in a loop, and there’s less and less reason to inhabit these transitional spaces more long as necessary. . While scouring the local landscape of Spirit Halloweens and Jiffy Lubes, the owner of the latest Blockbuster, Timmy Yoon (Randall Park), muses, “I don’t miss the places. I miss people.

It’s hard to laugh Blockbusterself-awareness when every moment you watch returns to Netflix benefit to.

Of course, you can’t have one without the other. Without gathering places, people will stay in their circles or turn to virtual communities that provide psychic sustenance but starve the places our bodies, whether they like it or not, inhabit. But this slippery distinction is a clever way to Blockbuster to dodge the retrograde feel of a show set in a video store that many people no longer have the technological means to play, let alone the inclination to rent. Although Blockbuster’s employees include obligatory movie nerd Carlos (Tyler Alvarez), who has his heart set on being the next Tarantino, it’s just a place to work for most of them, one last fork on the road to failure. Eliza (Fumero) is a middle-aged mother whose greatest achievement is getting into Harvard and leaving after one semester; Hannah (Madeleine Arthur) is a homeschooled weirdo trying to work up the courage to apply for community college; Tyler is studying for a degree in accounting because he can’t stand telling his immigrant parents he wants to make movies; Connie (Olga Merdiz) doesn’t even really need this job, but she’s so bored and lonely that she’ll take any reason to get out of the house. They are fluent in the language of the films – at one point there is an intense three-way discussion about the plot of Don’t tell mom the babysitter is dead– but they’re what industry analysts called platform agnostic, before not caring where you watch what you watch became an article of faith. And it’s not clear why any of their customers are renting DVDs of movies they could easily stream – the show isn’t even set in one of the rural areas where the discs are still popular due to inadequate broadband service. Maybe the customers are just lonely too.

Blockbuster is adept enough to point out the obvious ironies of its existence early on. In the first scene, a customer apologizes for not having come for three years: “I do Netflix”, he admits, “like everyone else”. At the end of the first episode, Timmy gives a catchy speech (from independence day) about the community taking back control of “every big corporation that’s ruining this country,” and Melissa points out that Blockbuster itself was once the behemoth crushing local stores, proudly named for movies that meet the lowest common denominator . But it’s hard to laugh at that awkward shade when every moment you watch benefits Netflix. It’s not enough that they kicked video libraries out of their business and then abandoned the culture they destroyed to stage a buffet of algorithmic mediocrity. Now they also want to possess your desire for this time.

Timmy’s office is decorated with posters for Tremors and The thing, two box office flops that became canonical classics thanks to their re-release on videotape. There was a time, hard to remember now, when Netflix seemed like it could amplify this process, rather than creating a world where older or lesser-known titles might as well not exist. Back when Netflix’s business shipped discs in red envelopes, they were like a national video store that had a copy of everything, even the obscure stuff that your local art house couldn’t. not lay hands on. It Could Take Months For This Damaged Peter Brook Record The mahabharata make its way to your mailbox, but it would eventually get there. But the more those envelopes went through the mail, the more we got used to everything that happened to us, and the idea of ​​taking a special trip just to be able to watch a movie – two trips, in fact, one to choose a record or tape and another to return it – slowly became not only inconvenient but intolerable. In addition, the stores were filled with people, hold the line, argue over late fees, or grab the last copy of a movie just as you were heading to the shelf. And Blockbuster employees weren’t usually the ones you wanted to engage in long conversations about which Fellini movie to watch next. The only time I rented from Blockbuster was when I needed to watch a recent studio release of the genre they stocked 30 copies of, squeezing out space for the smaller or more difficult movies they don’t could anyway carry only the censored version.

Towards the end of the season, Timmy, struggling with the failing fortunes of Blockbuster, tries to focus on his remaining main attraction. “Maybe the store doesn’t just rent movies,” he thinks. “People gather here. We offer an experience that does not exist anywhere else in the world. It is special. We have to share that. It looks like it’s focused on a boutique model, one where the shell of a dead hobby is wedged in like a simulacrum of itself. (The real “last” store that inspired Blockbuster rented itself like Airbnb during the pandemic.) But the real Blockbusters weren’t places to gather, and they deliberately erased places that were, so even in nostalgia we can’t remember that depersonalized chain stores that replaced them. Netflix May Have Pulled The Trigger That Killed Video Libraries, But Blockbuster Loaded The gun.

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