Haunted Valentine to the Video Graveyard

Lurking in near-distant memory, the bygone video store.

You shall know it by the blue awning above the doors, which typically read “BLOCKBUSTER VIDEO”. And with a whiff of cleaning agents through the air-conditioned breeze, in you went.

Imagine this—winding reels of magnetic-tape encased inside this thing called “the video-cassette”. It played in a boxy thing called a “VCR”.

Back then. . . . . . there was no such thing “as playlists”. Or optional subtitles.

Your video tape was a mass-produced item replicated and packaged over an assembly-line with stacks of them piled everywhere, warehouse-side.

What you see is what you get.

Each video tape playing the exact same thing out of each identical box. Clunky, linear—your movie “played straight through” from beginning to end. You could expect a certain order of content.

First—black silence.

Then the FBI Copyright Warning—PIRATES, BEWARE!

Maybe some previews. . . . . . some ads? And the movie itself.

Other than the fast-forward button, YOU WERE STUCK.


You may as well be sketching on a Cuneiform clay tablet with a stick and baking them in some ancient Mesopotamian kiln when you think of the implications.

Making your own tapes “was another story”.

Each piece of footage, say—you taped-off of t.v. had to appear in a front-to-back sequence, AS YOU DID THE PHYSICAL ACT OF TAPING. If that magnetizing strip did not pass over your video-tape, then nothing was saved.

Nothing. Nada. END OF STORY.

Just a little history lesson. . . . . . are your eyes glazing over, yet?


As for yourself– what else was a teenager going to do on a Friday night—trapped in the arm-pit of civilization and seeking R-rated validation?

“R”. . . . . as in RED-MEAT. Or REAL. Or REVELANT to the modern manly condition.

Namely, you had the ole’ video-store ball on Friday night, heading down to the place that rented you wish-fulfillment.


YOU HAD ESCAPE from sheltered, milquetoast existence—being a fevered, middle-class brat with romanticized megalomania and a nattering, Bette Midler-type mother with a credit card.

This, as the marquee of circling popcorn lights sat as an open invitation “to pay the cover”, down at the video emporium. Your local doorway “to glitz”, a thousand video boxes of lazy purview.

The poster and video-box art “did half of the convincing” as you cavorted among “the sizzle” and were sold “the steak”.

A crazy, twisted mirror reflection of your fantasy life and the unverbalized American underbelly.

Usually, the worse the movie the more outrageous and overstated the box. . . . . wallowing in a sea of retarded sexuality and violent revenge. All your hopes and aspirations.

And to say, “one was disenfranchised”, let the scene speak for itself.

If you wanted a rubber, slit-eyed monster with a gruesome grin of sharp teeth, the box wouldn’t lie to you. Even if this low-budget feature “didn’t have much else going for it”, you couldn’t mistake “what you were getting”.

A monster, as promised. A gimmick? Maybe some naked boobs.

The producers will unmistakably bring you a beast. Just not necessarily a high-quality product, but the monster featured prominently on the box SO THERE COULD BE NO MISCONCEPTION THAT YOU WERE GETTING WHAT YOU PAID FOR.

(– And maybe less)

Present the clerk your video card. More titles were coming out all the time.

Even as said viewer settled into the sweet shores of weekend like shuddering, orgiastic release. . . . . .

“This was the time, this was the place”.  Laying down your worries and cares and pent-up stresses.

Now the VCR did the work FOR YOU— It was here that “the division of labor” dropped us in a magnetic funnel of leisure and how we collapsed, glassy-eyed, like a pile of dead, rotten fish.

Whatever one’s beleaguered station in life, you didn’t want to be morally or intellectually challenged, confronted, or made to think. The hardest question you should ask is how many toppings to put on your home-delivered pizza as you ordered over the phone.

The party and good times BROUGHT TO YOU. Here we are now, entertain us!

And where there’s a crowd there’s always a marketing opportunity. The brightest, foremost minds in advertising had your attention, a captive audience in the brief moments before the movie—and roughly reckoned your demographic as part of the teeming millions.

“Hello friend…..”

It assured you of a couple of things, namely “you’re fine just the way you are”—your untroubled right to curl up upon your favorite spot on the couch “and take it easy”.

It flattered “your rather obvious station”. A mature and discerning viewer, obviously….. the weekend video warrior reveling in the overthrow of responsibility, there in one’s greedy, splayed-out inertia.

All the wishes and aspirations of your subject, in that “lowest common-denominator sense” mirrored through this controlled media presentation. Phrased in a straight-forward way as any simpleton could understand.

Marketing psychology: establish “viewer sympathy” like an experiment showing gorillas a film-strip of other gorillas plucking bananas from the tree and unpeeling them, frolicking in nature.

That could essentially be described as a bored, lonely viewer “plugged-in” to a kind of “Publishing Clearing House” grand prize winner mentality—hapless you “WINNING BIG” in the delightful virtual shopping mall one part “Wheel of Fortune” luck and Donald Trump glitz, perhaps the average man’s conception of how a rich, successful, and fabulous person lives.

Lots of gold and glib “personal success stories”, more hot air than brutal application. How sweeter “the easy answers” spoon-fed to the perked-up viewer. Just “a man off the street”, no special study or preparation invested, roused to meet “the gimmick” via touch-tone phone.

Happy associations….. for who wanted to be told “life was HARD”?

Many social philosophers would argue THE SYSTEM WAS MAD.

The society of the spectacle, military build-up as wars always raged somewhere across the globe. . . . . the masses crowing into stadiums for sporting events.

Just some were trillionaires in the upper reaches of Wall Street even while bums slept on cold, windy corners and America’s debt-clock climbed to astonishing levels of insolubility….. I could not say.

Hard questions for another time. . . . .

Propped-up, a lazy little shit in a nice middle-class household. Don’t expect me or anybody “morally-justify it” but dammnit—if you liked low-impact entertainment at the end of a hard week, the video store was the ticket.

We don’t pretend to be moral philosophers….. crushing a beer-can against your noggin.

As if you could really be caught expecting expecting us “to write the great American novel” or much else wholesome, hardly crawling out from in front of the t.v. THE ENTIRE EVENING.

A noble endeavor. . . . .

THEY HAD YOU “PEGGED”, all right.

Like a spoiled kid who’d order a pizza and feed it to his dog who snarfs it up, wearing a pathetic little party-hat.

It was “better not to think about it”. . . . .  the realities of telemarketing and retail.

Enough people had to minimally “call-in” in order to make the offer, “justifiable” as it fit into the grinding economy.

More sucking, hungry squid-mouths than “easy morsels” out there as the industry clamored for your attention. Fighting your “sales resistance”, pay either by Visa or Mastercard.

How winners “were few and far between” and what that said about the odds of your fantasies ever being fulfilled. The answer was all there in “THE FINE PRINT”, as if all of life “wasn’t a negation” already.

No matter where you go, “THERE YOU ARE”.

It was the little square television screen, set to “Channel 3” and about “as cable-ready” as it would ever be, which meant NOT. There with the clunky rabbit-ear antenna.

You kind of “had a feeling”—looking beyond the bright, naively-styled realities behind show business that novelties and gimmicks couldn’t really hold out against “endless, dead time”.

Making out “the true way of things” beyond this illusion of tired, daytime life and the ole’ idiot-box.

You wanted to feel “you’re a part of something”….. even as the video never claimed to be overly-challenging or said “it was anything else”.

The consumer never liked to be told, “no” but was entitled to nothing, really.

Wishes, aspirations—running outside in the suburban yard to yell into the night, the pent-up energies of someone “too young to understand, really”.

You can’t buy love BUT IT IS FOR RENT.


Haunted Valentine to the Video Graveyard

Beetlejuice– THE DIRECT ANCESTOR (1986)

Beetlejuice– THE DIRECT ANCESTOR (1986)

Beetlejuice– THE DIRECT ANCESTOR (1986)