DVD Killed The VHS Star

DVD Killed The VHS Star

DVDs began to take over the home video industry around the turn of the millenium. Backstreet Boys were the hottest band around. American Pie was still about a dude getting with pie. They were the dog days of Bill Clinton. Back then, a friend who was a staunch supporter of the costlier, clearer digital format, would dismissively refer to the soon-to-be antiquated VHS as “VH Shit.” You can’t really blame Sebastian; he was fourteen. He wanted to watch scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey while Pink Floyd’s Echoes played and really feel like he was there (on weed).

They say variety is the spice of life and, go figure, not everyone shared Sebastian’s sentiment. The New York Times ran a story by Kirk Semple on Monday about a particularly charming gang of hangers on. Evidently, there’s an entire subculture of Korean, Bangladeshi, Senegalese, and Latino immigrants who refuse to give up on videotape. Some claim to be old-fashioned in the face of DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming video. Armchair sociologist and Jackson Heights, Queens community leader Orlando Tobón offers some analysis: “The immigrant very much values what they did not have. And if it still works, they still use it.”

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Of course, the owners of the neighborhood rental stores could force clients into century 21 by ditching the highly unprofitable tapes, but that’s where the magic of this whole thing lies: When presented with the idea of tossing his videos, one Mamadou Sangotte, the owner of Yatt Ndyndory Video in central Harlem asked “How can I do it?”

Another store owner, Constantine Matsoukas, is similarly perplexed when he’s offered a way out of owning a collection of some 40,000 videocassettes. His response is not only an affirmation of preservation and nostalgia and art and custom, but a testament to the merit in holding on to and appreciating the value of that all-consuming stuff in our lives. Holding on to and appreciating instead of letting go and heading out on that sometimes-disappointing search for the next best thing:

They take up a lot of space, Mr. Matsoukas acknowledged, and they are hard to sell, even when he offers them at 10 for $1, which he does from time to time. The last time he tried to donate some to the public library, he said, he was rebuffed. But for him, there is no other option but to hold on. Like a patron saint of the videotape, he buys up the stock of other stores going out of business, including Blockbuster stores, most recently in October.

Mr. Matsoukas offered a practical reason for his devotion: not all tapes have been transferred to more modern formats, and among them may be a rarity, if not the only surviving copy.

But he also speaks of his videotapes as if they were old friends.

“I love movies,” Mr. Matsoukas said, his voice tinged with melancholy. “I don’t want to see a movie in any form go in the garbage.”

“They’re not living things, but it’s alive,” he added, his eyes brightening. “There’s something there. You put it in the VCR, and it comes alive.”

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2012 at 12:13 pm and is filed under Good Quotations, Greater Good. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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