If you were to visit the Stir Crazy coffee shop on Melrose and La Brea in Los Angeles, you might have your delicious mocha served to you by a friendly kid in a beat-up old T-shirt that reads “Corporate Coffee Still Sucks”-a riff on the old Sub Pop Records motto “Corporate Rock Still Sucks” (which was made famous when Kurt Cobain wore the T-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone, shortly before both his death and Sub Pop’s signing of a huge money distribution deal with a major label). It’s one thing that Gen X seems to be able to agree on. Hack stand-up comics everywhere riff on the fact that there’s a Starbucks on every corner; even Mike Myers threw some anti-‘Bucks gags into the sequel to “Austin Powers.” The argument is that no major coffee chain could possibly capture the atmosphere of a local mom-and-pop java joint.
People get pissy about bookstores, too, and again Hollywood is quick to jump aboard-witness Nora Ephron’s romantic “comedy” “You’ve Got Mail” from last year, which tackled the subject of Barnes and Noble and Borders moving in on charming independent book-tiques.
Why, then, are many of these same people so reluctant to raise a stink when their local video stores start falling victim to corporate competition? There are a number of reasons, but they can not be ignored any longer. Texas-based mega-corporation Blockbuster Video has instilled a few new policies that signal the end of the freedom to choose which store you’ll go to when you want to unwind with some Jiffy Pop and that new Van Damme fist-fest.
Although Blockbuster stores have been quietly decimating the competition (by positioning themselves in every town in the country) for some time now, they didn’t break out their loud, big guns until very recently. Last year, Blockbuster introduced the heavily-advertised “It’s here…guaranteed” campaign, which promised that the store would pick up enough copies of any given smash (like “Armageddon” or “She’s All That”-yes, “She’s All That” did indeed do “Boffo B.O. “) to insure that no hit-hungry shopper would go home empty handed.
Thoughtful of them, no?
Well, no. Because not only did this maneuver place the competition in a tough place (videos start to cost less the more units are purchased, and no small store can afford THAT many copies of any given tape), but it left Blockbuster themselves facing the reality that if they were spending that much on huge quantities of the hits, they wouldn’t have enough money left over to stock up on copies of the art house fare. The result? If you live outside of a major city, and you want to see Errol Morris’ acclaimed documentary “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control” (a title my local Blockbuster chose not to order), you’re simply going to have to suck it up. Hope they run it on cable someday.
It’s Blockbuster’s newest campaign, though, that has really been throwing a wrench into the competition’s business. The “Blockbuster Exclusives” series debuted earlier this year, offering shoppers certain titles that would not be available at any other types of stores in the country. The first title was Adrian Lyne’s adaptation of “Lolita,” which had already debuted on Showtime after it failed to secure a theatrical distribution deal. The Jeremy Irons-starring pedo-fest was an interesting and arguably ironic choice for a flagship “exclusive” title, since Blockbuster has long fancied themselves a family-friendly chain (they refuse to stock titles rated NC-17, like “Bad Lieutenant” and “Henry and June,” but in one of Blockbuster’s grander hypocrisies, they’ll carry anything that hasn’t been rated by the MPAA-hence the shelf of soft core smut peddled by Playboy). But the fact of the matter is, the film had already garnered major publicity, and, for whatever reason, people wanted to see it. To do so, they had to go to Blockbuster.
It would seem that this sort of monopolizing would be in direct violation of the oft-cited Sherman anti-trust laws that were passed in the early days of film distribution, but Blockbuster manages to get around any legal trouble by arguing that they haven’t controlled the product since its inception. They can’t possibly be monopolizing the title, they say, since everyone had a fair shot at buying the film’s rights when they were made available (a ridiculous assertion). Recently, though, when a segment of the mom and pop competition found it’s own loophole, Blockbuster was quick to release a legal team to squash them.
Reports from a few different independently owned video stores in the L.A. area have the owners battling the Blockbuster goons over the fact that they purchased copies of “Lolita” in Canada to rent out from their stores. Seemingly just to prove a point, Blockbuster is seeking legal action.
Film fans everywhere should be raising hell about Blockbuster’s ridiculous new policies, as they pose a legitimate threat to the mom and pop stores that provide an outlet for good films you may never get a chance to see anywhere else. Otherwise, you’re looking at a whole lot of “She’s All That”… and that’s all she wrote.