It’s the end of an era, many will proclaim: Blockbuster Video is closing the last of its retail stores and its mail operation. And, while people losing their jobs is terrible, it has to be said that Blockbuster going away is very much a great thing. Here’s why the era ending was actually a miserable dark age.
Blockbuster was, for a long time, much more than a video store: It was a gatekeeper. As the company put mom and pop video shops out of business, that gave it a stranglehold on the lucrative home video market. It’s not true that Blockbuster edited videos as it saw fit, but, in fact, they did something worse.
Essentially, Blockbuster served as a de facto enforcer for the MPAA. If a movie got an NC-17 rating, Blockbuster wouldn’t carry it, meaning that, essentially, any filmmaker who didn’t toe the line and do what the MPAA wanted to was screwed; home video is where most movies make their money. Combine this with the fact that most theaters at the time had policies against screening NC-17 or unrated films, policies that are only now finally starting to wear away, and that meant that, essentially, the MPAA got to decide what most of America could and could not watch.
That was a pretty serious setback for many filmmakers, and the MPAA has never been shy about using their power to order filmmakers to do what they want: Just ask, say, Matt Stone of South Park fame. Blockbuster was happy to be party to that, and furthermore, since none of those movies with, say, all those icky gays or documentaries about foreign people got any marketing, they also didn’t rent, thus ensuring America was safe from any movie that might require it to think.
It came back to bite them in the end: Netflix is singularly uninterested in working with the MPAA or enforcing its policies. And Blockbuster tried, and failed, to steal Netflix’s model in order to continue doing what they do. So, yeah, it was a part of our childhoods, for many of us, but make no mistake: It’s better for film, and us, that it’s gone for good.