Do you think you'd like that? Huh? Motherfucker?
Because that's exactly what you're doing when you rent from them. Bit by bit, they get a little further up your ass. What the hell am I talking about? Read on. (Or not. I'm well aware that this article is terribly out of date, as Blockbuster closed up shop a while ago.)
Blockbuster Video is part of an enormous media monopoly that controls a great deal of what we get to watch. The company's president, Wayne Huizenga, bought the small, originally three-store chain in 1984 and blew it up into the most successful rental chain in the world by using the profits from his previous company, Waste Management Incorporated, one of the largest corporations of any kind on earth, and a notorious toxic waste pollutor with quite an impressive litany of crimes and misdemeanors under its belt, conceived in the American tradition of never letting fair play, the public, one's own stockholders, the law, or the ecosystem get in the way of a truly egregious amount of money being made. WMI has used its massive wealth to run roughshod over enviornmental concerns worldwide, and has even managed to squeak out of a probe indicating its ties to organized crime by suing the City of Hollywood over the contents of the report and forcing the city to settle out of court due to the massive costs of fighting the suit, resulting in the literal burning of every copy of said report.
Blockbuster Video is every bit as domineering as its predecessor, forbidding its employees from talking to the press for any reason without specific corporate approval. Owing to its weighty prescence in the multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry, Blockbuster execs are often shown advance screenings of upcoming films to determine if the film is something that they would actually want to stock, or if perhaps they might feel better about it if this were cut or that were removed, all before the general public ever gets to see the theatrical release. Controversial films like The Last Temptation of Christ get eschewed from the rental house entirely, presumably to make more space for decent family films like The Matrix, Rambo, or Knife-Wielding Rapist Kills Copious Teenage Girls at a Slumber Party part III.
In fact, it can be shockingly difficult to actually find a movie at a Blockbuster store. For all their apparent volume, four out of five times I'm incapable of locating any copies of the title I've got in mind. If you're in pursuit of something that didn't make a killing at the box office, is foreign, or, God forbid, in black-and-white, you'd be better off shopping at Fred's House of Yams. And if you're one of the crazies who for some inexplicable reason wants to see the entire image when watching a film, you're barking up the wrong tree at the wrong cat on entirely the wrong continent.
Blockbuster recently announced their intention not to stock any DVD movies that did not include a fullscreen, pan-and-scan version. The public outcry over this bonehead decision caused the behemoth to back off this position slightly (and it's very heartening to see that the number of folks who think that widescreen versions are removing the top and bottom of the picture for no apparent reason are decreasing in number,) but their fallback position is only incrementally better: to only stock widescreen versions if no other version exists. If a fullscreen version is made, Blockbuster will stock copies of that version alone. Since the vast majority of videos and DVDs are sold to rental stores-i.e. to Blockbuster in the overwhelming majority-this sends the very clear message to the manufacturer that widescreen DVDs are not very profitable. If you like widescreen DVDs, renting at Blockbuster equates to paying someone to cheat you out of actually finding any. There's an online petition urging the company to get its head out of its ass and its dick out of yours, which you can sign. Then quit renting from them anyway. They're still screwing you on fees and selection, regardless.
What's the answer? Local video stores, ones who have to compete with the corporate giants by underselling them. There's one not three minutes from my house that rents DVDs for around $1.50 less than Blockbuster, has a selection in both DVD and VHS that is far superior, and carries widescreen copies of every DVD. Chances are, there's one near you, too. Renting from local businesses not only helps the local economy and gives you a better deal, it gives you a better chance of having a choice at all. If Mr. Huizenga's people don't mind threatening to kill New Orleans city employees for investigating overcharging on the company's part, then they certainly don't care if we're all reduced to watching badly-cropped releases of Muscleman on an Exploding Plane-Special Edition, either.
-by Matt Murray, political agitator and fullscreen hater.
Editor's note: Several years hence of writing this article, Blockbuster has backed off of its retarded "anti-widescreen" stance, apparently because the human race isn't quite as stupid as they (or even I) thought.