PM Pick

The video-store clerk as icon

One of the first jobs I ever had was as a video store clerk, so perhaps I should be sad that video stores are in danger of becoming extinct. But this post by Tim Cavanaugh from the libertarian journal Reason's blog reminded me that there's nothing positive you can say about them -- they inhibit choice, they are inconvenient, they sometimes surreptitiously edit what you see, they subject you to the scorn of clerks (like the young me) judging your choices in entertainment (adult or otherwise). Cavanaugh writes to refute the idea floated on the Boston Globe Ideas page that indie video stores were like indie bookstores, places where nonmainstream folks could share their tastes, and with their disappearance we lose another place for"underground empire" impresarios to hang out. But as Cavanaugh points out, any tips you might have yielded from the video store, you can get online much easier, with the extra bonus automated efficiency. And the things video stores process -- the videocassette or DVD -- aren't romanticized. No one will ever rhapsodize over the feel of having a DVD in the palm of one's hand, the way some revel in the objecthood of books. There's nothing about the medium itself that lends itself to preservation; no one makes coffee-table tomes of video box art they way do with album covers (Though Cavanaugh points out that video-box blurbs constitute a poetic genre all their own, with its own unique relation to truth.) The video store for many people is a place associated with decision-making paralysis and relationship tension -- Netflix makes such choices faits accomplis.

What we will lose is the video-store clerk as icon. Video store clerks, for some reason, held a special place in shorthand language of film, where it was a convenient job to assign to the character who was meant to be a hipster nerd (as in Scream or Nicole Holofcener's Walking and Talking or even Egoyan's Speaking Parts). It gives movies a chance to be self-referential, which seemed an irresistible trend. Glamorizing the video-store clerk was a way to glorify the idea of knowing a lot about films -- it was good publicity for the industry as a whole to suggest that encyclopedic knowledge of movies was a way to build meaningful cultural capital. (I think this a main reason why the culture industry went postmodern in the 1990s; maybe if I ever finish reading Jameson's book, I'll know for sure.)

My time as a independent-video-store clerk was decidedly less glamorous then the Boston Globe or 1990s films make it out to be. In my patch of suburbs, there wasn't much underground empire culture; the store's foriegn-film section consisted of maybe 35 titles, some of which were American films set in foreign locations. I was a nerd, for sure, but not a respected or knowledgeable one (unless you count my thorough knowledge of dialogue from such films as Stripes, Just One of the Guys and Fast Times at Ridgemont High as knowledge). There were no rap sessions with customers about Godard and Trauffaut; no discoveries of obscure Asian directors or exploitative genre films; no script writing with my clever clerk pals. Instead, much time was spent figuring out how to get away with watching movies in the store that had profanity and nudity in them and answering questions from irate customers about why all the copies of Dirty Dancing were always already checked out. I remember fighting with coworkers about who got to take which movie posters home: I really wanted Room with a View -- that's the kind of nerd I was -- but ended up with a choice between Romancing the Stone and Fright Night. This seems somehow representative of my entire experience of youth.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image