Akshay Seth: A Eulogy for Blockbuster

By Akshay Seth, Daily Film Columnist
Published January 30, 2014

I remember pulling as hard as I could, little 11-year-old fingers digging into little plastic grooves on either side of the videotape case. That yellow-blue ticket stub mocked me, egging me on. It was calling me fat, weak — undetermined, even — in its own, inanimate way, but no matter how hard I heaved, I couldn’t weasel the damn tape out of its pliable shell.

That was the first time I said “fuck you, Blockbuster” out loud.

Pause. Before dismissing middle-school Akshay as yet another surprisingly foul-mouthed Indian child, let’s get one thing straight: Jim Carrey and “The Mask” were hiding behind the plastic confines of that godforsaken Blockbuster ticket stub. Anyone would’ve been upset. To make matters worse, it was Saturday, and I knew scrutinizing my father’s unwieldy attempts at hurling a bowling ball in the vague direction of 10 unsuspecting pins could never top the sensation that accompanies watching a putty-faced psychopath going chick-chicky-boom on top of a police car (it’s very nice … so full of spice!).

I digress.

Like Blockbuster, the stubborn videotape case is gone — adrift behind an ever-expanding cloud of technological advancement, and a eulogy for listless evenings spent trying to sneak glimpses at the nonexistent adult video section is long past due.
Growing up, my family didn’t have much. Most weekends were spent at home, and though it never really mattered what we were doing — whether it was playing videogames or crowding around our bulky TV for NBC’s latest miniseries version of whatever Stephen King story they deemed worthwhile — I lived for trips to the local Blockbuster.

I loved films. No other form of art made me sit, mouth agape, and think the way movies did. The first time I remember crying with a smile on my face was after watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and seeing the melancholy triumph in Roy Neary’s eyes as he left Earth, and his mundane life behind to stake his existence on abnormality.

All those shelves, lined with uniformly-dressed videotapes and DVDs, were challenges. I was only allowed to check out one, maybe two, a week but even if it ended up being the last thing that ever happened in my life, I was determined each and every one of those tapes would see the whirring insides of my VCR. There was a romantic anticipation in strolling through this labyrinth of cinema, eyes darting from one ledge to the next, looking for those perfect two hours of Saturday night. There was more anticipation in knowing I’d be back in a week, able to tick another entry off of the imagined bucket list of titles in my head.

Before long, I transformed into the obnoxious cretin-child who enjoyed screaming things like “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” when asked how a math test went. Ezekiel 25:17? No problem. Horrible Henry Callahan impressions? Check. “Braveheart” level declarations of freedom? #YOLO.

In a blur of magnetic tape, my cinematic schooling was well underway, and Blockbuster was the cool young professor smoking joints between lectures/screenings.

Then it all changed.

One fateful Sunday afternoon at the local McDonalds, between mouthfuls of McRib, I spotted the strange red contraption. It could’ve passed for a weirdly flamboyant ATM, but the wall of movie titles next to it screamed otherwise. Could it be? Did I not have to beg my parents to take me to the Blockbuster anymore? Was Ronald McDonald Jesus?!?!?

If I could’ve had it exactly my way, another, blue-yellow version of Redbox would have sprung up out of thin air that very moment. Or more realistically, teleportation technology would finally be tweaked to let me zap over to the closest Blockbuster. But alas, we live in an imperfect world. Casually walking through shelves of titles was soon replaced with standing stone-still in front of a glowing red interface, quietly mouthing arguments about which movie was most worthwhile.

I thought about Blockbuster less and less, until finally, it faded from my conscience altogether, and the only person to blame was Blockbuster. The stupid company refused to compete with the new kids on the block, exposing the chinks in armor that would eventually lead to its inevitable demise. I missed the cool young professor, but the coolness had long disappeared. Age had taken its toll and embarrassingly, he wasn’t even attempting to hide the marijuana usage anymore.

For the second time in my life, I said, “fuck you, Blockbuster” out loud, only this time, there was an added interjection of, “get your shit together.”

Blockbuster never got its shit together. Soon, Netflix would forever change the game, and even though the old man attempted to throw his hat in the ring with Blockbuster Now, it was too little, too late. After bankruptcy-plagued years of irrelevance, the video store wheezed its last breath and keeled over, DVDs and videotapes bleeding out of its bloated corpse.

It was a slow, ugly, cancerous death, but I’ll never forget you, Blockbuster. You were my first teacher — the first medium for my appreciation of film. Without you, I probably never would have felt the need to learn how to ride a bike. Without you, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

So for the third and final time in my life, I’ll say it out loud: “fuck you, Blockbuster.” The added interjection? “You lived a good life.”