Watching “The Last Blockbuster” reminded me of my own love for my local video store chain, Hollywood Video, and how we tend to idolize corporate products especially from our youths.
There’s a strange duality of how these products offer comforting and formative experiences while at the same time being products of cold corporate cultures whose only goal is to make money at any cost necessary, often upheaving lives, destroying competitors and, when all the money is made, abandoning the communities they had become a part of. It definitely gets into the notion of how, just because a company makes something you like, it doesn’t make them an inherently moral entity — in fact, most corporate entities seem to operate in a selectively moral reality that is fluid based on their ability to make money.
I’ve been to a Blockbuster or two in my life, though as I said before, Hollywood Video was my local chain. And I still view the Blockbuster experience as an inherently positive thing, from its smell, to its layout, to the overall experience of picking up movies in physical cases, reading the backs, and actually taking time to make an informed choice on what to watch that has been completely destroyed by Netflix’s endless scroll.
And all that is good stuff, but it also doesn’t change the fact that Blockbuster was no angel, being a savage corporate entity that spread quickly — at one point a new Blockbuster was estimated to open every 17 hours — often driving locally-owned video rental stores out of town, and like many corporate entities, when they eventually left, their lasting legacy in many places were people out of jobs and empty storefronts.
As someone who grew up at the end of the 90s, all of the 2000s and some of the 2010s, this duality pretty much applies to everything I hold close to me growing up, as pop culture basically was my culture. That doesn’t mean it’s not OK to look back fondly at things like McDonalds playgrounds, LEGO Bionicles, Transformers, and corporate video stores, it just means that there’s another, adult side of these things that I didn’t really understand or care about at the time, and to be honest, many people are still willfully ignorant of where many of the things they like come from and what corporates cultures produced them, because it makes them uncomfortable (i.e. how iPhones are assembled overseas; how most of our clothing is made; how any meat product is made in the United States).
It’s definitely an issue I think often about — how the “sausage gets made” per se either changes or has no impact on how we view things that we like. Sometimes such knowledge reaffirms our love for things we buy, like if it’s touted as locally made, or the business is family-owned (though it’s worth noting that either label does not automatically mean something is ethically-made). Sometimes bad practices are enough to get us to boycott a product, and sometimes they’re not — in which case we just push that knowledge to the back of our minds, and carry on with our lives.
But like anything in life, this issue is not so much black and white as it is shades of grey. It is possible for a product to have an inherently positive impact on those who consume it, while also have it be produced under nefarious means. Bad people can produce good things, and vice versa.
It’s a big reason why when I review a film, I try to review it on its own merits alone, and I don’t expect excellent filmmakers and others in the industry to necessarily be good people, and I don’t see Hollywood as a moral entity. Like any other corporate entity, they exist solely to make money. But it is also true that those in the industry — companies included — that cross certain lines of respect and that do terrible things don’t deserve financial support, and boycotts and public outrage against such parties are completely justified.
Idolizing corporate products, especially from one’s youth, reminds me that two seemingly contradictory things can both be true; It is true that those things had an inherently positive impact on your life and the memories you have with them are genuine ones that should be treasured; but it is also true that the production of those things and the corporate culture that created it might not have been altruistic, and was responsible for its fair share of human pain.
I think people spend too much time trying to fit things into binary labels or good or evil, when most things are more complicated than that.
With all this said, I think supporting the last surviving Blockbuster in Bend, Ore., is an inherently positive action, as it serves to preserve the Blockbuster experience — which many look fondly upon — for current and hopefully future generations. Imagine taking your kids in 2040 to that store, have them smell the Blockbuster smell for the first time, and be completely confused by what a DVD and VHS tape is.
And it’s also run by a family, with the large corporation that ran Blockbuster dead and gone; it’s nothing but a trademark that Dish Network owns and one small video store.