The History of Media: Visual Arts Edition Vol. 3

June 8, 2010
[After what seems like forever, but has only actually been a month, The History of Media is back with the conclusion of yet another cliffhanger (the dreaded ellipsis) and will most likely end in yet another ellipsis. If you’re just joining us, be sure and check out Volumes One and Two, which had blazed a bloody, but dignified, trail up to this point.]

The VCR's patented "dust collection" technology allowed it to look outdated several years before its time.

The movie industry, flush with success, strutted away from the battle that never was, having fended off its new drinking buddy, television. Up to its collective ears in record-breaking movie receipts, the film industry (yet again) kicked back on its gold-plated laurels and lazily watched the money roll in.

The cinema was enjoying a new Golden Age, ushered in by the advent of the multiplex, the still-viable drive-in industry and some of the finest movie making ever, in the form of Airport, Airport ’75, Airport ’77 and Airport ’79: New Moon.

But as was foretold by the harrowing ellipsis at the end of the last volume, a new enemy would rise (mostly from the East). This new invention would kill the film industry harder that it had ever been killed before.

The first commercial VCR came bundled with six technicians, each assigned a button.

Japanese electronics company JVC kicked Old Man Movie right in the throat with their VHS (Video Home System) player that promised a new era of TV and movie-dependent independence. Now people could watch television and movies in the comfort of their own home, on their own schedules.

No more standing in line at the box office or endless waiting for their favorite programs to hit syndication. The public was now in command of its mostly pre-recorded destiny, leading to skyrocketing VCR sales and not much change at all in box office receipts.

Quite obviously, home taping was once again killing an industry.

An apoplectic Jack Valenti (representing the MPAA) stormed a listless Congress, demanding that they get off their overstuffed asses and do something, goddammit. During his Oscar-worthy performance, Valenti compared the theoretical damage done by home taping to a combination of the Holocaust, My Lai Massacre and that time when he got beat up in grade school.

The television industry fought back as well, claiming that the public had no right to watch their favorite shows and movies, whenever and wherever the hell they wanted to. “What of our precious and highly annoying advertising?” they whined. “They’ll be able to skip past it, thus rendering our efforts useless. Not to mention blockbuster lineups like ‘Must See Thursday,’ which will now become ‘Can See Whenever the Hell We Want.'”

"While you were out, the VCR secretly replaced your memories with tangled masses of worthless magnetic tape."

The Positive Negatives of the VCR Invasion
However the film and TV industries greatly overestimated the public’s willingness and ability to program their VCRs, meaning that most viewing was still prerecorded movies or “live” TV. In fact, the general inscrutability of the VCR usually meant that it was regarded as a minor household diety whose mood swings and impenetrable manual were tolerated in exchange for nearly “on-demand” viewing.

Much like any diety, the VCR would periodically demand a sacrifice, devouring random tapes like “Child’s First Birthday” (priceless) or a New Release rental from Blockbuster (considerably more expensive).

Not only that but the VCR’s entropic delivery system caused videotapes to degrade steadily in a short period of time, soon reducing the act of watching an “old favorite” to a tedious bout of dicking around with tracking in a futile attempt to make the movie look like something other than scrambled Cinemax porn featuring dialogue recorded underwater.

Steve got directions to the adult bookstore, only to find he was already there...

“Boon:” Not Really a Dirty Word
Not every industry felt threatened, however. The new videotape proved to be a boon for the porn industry which was thrilled to have another delivery system. Porn theater staffers were thrilled to see their semen cleanup time drop by over 50%. Porn aficionados were thrilled to be able to “privatize” their perversions, without fear of being accosted by women’s right groups, soft news journalists or the Sarasota, FL Sheriff’s Department.

In other news, the trench coat manufacturers fought this turn of events with “Home Masturbation is Killing the Coat Industry” pickets. This movement never coalesced, mainly due to the fact that few people were willing to wear t-shirts or hoist signs with the word “masturbation” prominently featured.

Horrors! Who will gouge me for ancient "New Releases" and late fees now?

As the years went on and prices dropped, the movie industry began to embrace this “threat” as a powerful ally in its constant struggle to make even more money. They were delighted to discover that the public was more than willing to purchase something they had most likely already paid to watch in a theater. They were made positively giddy with the realization that the public would buy the same movie twice, provided one version was slapped with a “Special Edition” label and contained a cursory 5-minute “Making Of” featurette cobbled together from second unit footage and “found sound” recordings.

Movie rental businesses were thrilled as well, what with suddenly having a reason to exist and the opportunity to charge $3.99/night for a tapes that had been on the New Release wall for nearly half a decade.

Coming up next:
A veritable rogue’s gallery of industry killers, each more diabolical than the last.



    Oh, that Steve…

    You’re right, CLT. It did seem like forever for this conclusion to arrive. But I have to say that it was well worth the wait.

    This post has it all; violence (Old Man Movie gets schooled by The Karate Kid!), sex (or as Steve likes to call it, “Making love to a woman vicariously through me”), and even a subtle shout out to my favorite 80’s band, Special Edition!!

    (Well okay, technically they called themselves “New Edition”, but I always thought there was something a little off about the way they dressed themselves.)

    A ridiculously enlightening/hilarious hybrid of a post, CLT. Can’t wait for the next installment, nor can I wait to hear what happens when Steve looks up directions to the nearest “Prostitute/Undercover Police Officer”.

    • Bschooled –

      It was forever, internetally(?)-speaking. I’m glad you returned just in time for the ellipsis conclusion.

      I love your definition of “Steve’s” favorite activity. I’m having it made into a bumper sticker and handing it out at various events that need to be made more uncomfortable, like “Steve’s” third wedding and “Steve’s” 32nd job interview.

      (I’ve put “Steve” in quotes because there’s a little of us all [especially the men] in Steve and definitely not because there’s a little “Steve” in all of us [especially the women] no matter how much Steve wishes that were true.)

      Special Edition, New Edition: it’s all the same thing. They just took progressively shorter tour buses as their career wore on/down.

      Thanks for the smashingly good comment, bschooled. Welcome back!

  2. This post brought back more memories than a Don Mills post on Sputnik and the Marshall Plan. Ah, the early JVC VCR. I owned one for twelve years and didn’t figure out how to program it until five years later. I got seven more fairly reliable years out of it before it expired and was forced to upgrade to CDs and DVRs. I remember it fondly even though by today’s standards it is an antiquated piece of crap.

    It’s sentences like this that keep me coming back for more and more (y más!):

    “…tedious bout of dicking around with tracking in a futile attempt to make the movie look like something other than scrambled Cinemax porn featuring dialogue recorded underwater.”…hahahaHA!

    I guess one could say: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). At least from the perspective of ‘industry killing’.

    Hope you plan on writing a book, screen play, magazine article…something with well deserved remuneration down the road. Not sure a member of the Screen Writers Guild could write this masterfully.

    • I suppose to really conjure the ghosts of technology-past, I’d need to mention the videotape rewinder that was often sold as a stand-alone accessory and often took the shape of an exotic sportscar or something equally unrelated.

      They should have followed the original cassette and went with two-sided tape. No more rewinding. (Or, at least, much less of it.)

      Thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m not sure how many magazines are looking for tech articles that bandy about phrases like “dicking around,” but I’ve got to believe someone out there is right up my proverbial alley (hopefully loaded with proverbial cash).

  3. This was a trip down memory lane for me too, it seems like it was only yesterday I had those 6 spiffy gentleman over at my place on a Sunday evening rolling in that big ole VCR for family film night, although we would often have to call in a 7th for ‘head cleaning’ duties (God knows what Bschooled is going to make of that one…)

    • Hahaha!!!

      That was quite a night, if I pretend to recall correctly. Head cleaning, knob adjustments, um… rewinding… eject…

      Goddammit. VCRs are nothing like farming. I think bschooled going to have to sort out the many layers of innuendo here. After all, she’s got to get that kid to camp somehow.

      Thanks for the great comment, r2s.

  4. This was another Pulitzer worthy post CLT. And as soon as they start handing out Pulitzers for Best in Blog…I’ll be stuffing my ballot box with your name as well as a few pipe bombs. Sorry about the bombs but it’s fucking hilarious when they go off in the face of an East Coast elitist hack in a tux…

    You also reminded me how grateful I am everyday of technological advances especially as they affect my porn consumption. I can’t tell you how many times the girlfriend came through our front door just as I was frantically trying to cut, burn or rip a piece of VHS tape that always got stuck in the VCR when I was trying to pause, rewind, or slow mo the ‘money shot.’

    These days hiding porn is just as easy as closing a browser window, deleting cookies and praying to the God of The Hun that you didn’t pick up a virus.

    • Thanks for your support and excessive violence, Scott. I’m sure Spain’s lax extradition laws will aid you in finding a new home somewhere in Brazil.

      The VHS was incredibly clumsy but incredibly popular. Like Chris Farley. Or Linday Lohan. It could always be counted on to NOT be doing something it was supposed to be good at when you needed it most. Like cutting off the scene halfway when you paused it, so all you could see was some interference and what looked like it might be a thigh.

      Thanks for the comment, Scott. If you think your computer’s a little infested/infected, try spraying a little bleach on the motherboard. That’s supposed to kill off nearly anything.

    • Dude, with all the spy technology out there today and the desire of women to use it to bust their men masturbating, you have to do way more than delete your cookies or close a browser. Not only do you have to have programs that purge your Internet activity, or block the monitoring of it, you have to run a God damn bug & camera sweep of your house once a week!

      All this, just so you can choke your chicken without worrying about being put in front of the domestic equivalent of a war crimes tribunal. It’s a complete sexual double standard. Women can masturbate any time they want by just wiggling in their chair, or by walking around with some Ben Wa balls up their vag, and that’s all “innocent fun”. A guy tries to relieve some stress by rubbing one out to The Rodfather, 2001: A Face Odyssey, or American Fistery XXX and he might as well be murdering the puppies of starving orphans.

    • Hahaha!!!

      Those are great titles, so much so that I’m almost tempted to run a search to see if they actually exist. If they don’t, they will soon.

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