In praise of videos

Recently, I started a video collection. Owing to my current drive to Buy Lots of Self-indulgent Crap, I frequent the charity shops of Haringey quite a lot, and on my first video purchase venture I secured Fight Club, Abigail’s Party, Midnight Cowboy and Alfie, three of which I had never seen, for the princely sum of £4.

I happen, you see, to have a newish and little-used TV with a built-in video player. This is just one of the hand-me-downs I recently inherited via a family bereavement thanks to my mother’s house-clearing efforts (there is something in our DNA which prevents either of us throwing anything away if there is any possibility that we, or other people, or a charity, or possibly just a dog really down on its luck, could make use of it). So I thought, maybe I’ll pick up a few videos, since they’re cheap…

And videos are brilliant! Really – they’re available in shoals in every secondhand outlet in the country for a pittance (it actually costs more to have a video tape rendered into DVD format than it does to buy a videotape), they’re pretty much indestructible so long as you don’t actually suspend them over a flame and attack them with a pair of garden shears, and – this is really great – if, if, if like you miss a bit, you can wind it back to the exact moment and watch it again! No more impenetrable chapter headings, or trying to detect from a flickering sequence of jerky stills where you want to pick up the story! No more rubbing them on your jeans to make them work! No more sudden square green bogies on the screen! Ok so videos do wear out after about ten years, but hey, how many of those films are you still going to be regularly rewatching after ten years – and for those you do, at these prices you can replace the lot with your lunch money.

Best of all, you get the fun of not knowing what you’re going to watch that evening. Just walk into a charity shop or log onto ebay and ask yourself, do I feel lucky? Going to Blockbuster is rarely as exciting – they never have the older or obscurer stuff for a start, and going to an online rental store just blows all the fuses in my brain. Who on earth originated this nuts idea that being able to watch whatever you want whenever you want was a good thing? Whatever happened to delayed gratification? Seriously, videos are the future.

This has been on my mind today because of this CiF article by the lovely Jeremy Seabrooke:

Just as the age of heroic labour – the Stakhanovite idea of selfless dedication to the building of Communism – perished, so heroic consumption – that equally selfless dedication to sustaining capitalism – has also had its day. Stakhanovites were so called after a coalminer in the Soviet Union in 1935 who exceeded his work quota by 14 times the fixed level, producing 102 tons of coal in six hours. This became a kind of “spontaneous” official policy in the construction of socialism.

How laughably old-fashioned this now sounds. And how swiftly things that appear immutable can change. It should be our ambition to ensure that the work of predatory individuals upon the fruits of the earth comes to appear as archaic and futile as the sacrifice of human energies in the Soviet Union to release the resources which, according to Marx, “slumbered in the lap of social labour”.

Yes, some of his rich-bashing rhetoric elsewhere in the article is as old-fashioned as the soviet Marxism he scorns. And no, a girl who has just spent £200 on ebay (hey, thirty items of clothing, though! A whole summer wardrobe! Last year’s, alas, no longer fits…) can hardly claim to be wholly anti-consumerist.

But he is playing with an interesting idea in this piece – that consumerism in the sense of shiny newness and having the socially acceptable “best” of everything is not fixed for all time as a cultural trend. To replace all your perfectly good videos with DVDs may, in a couple of hundred years, look like the height of self-indulgent folly – probably, in that particular case, because data of all kinds will be as freely available and co-operative as open source software by that stage.

Even allowing for the idiosyncrasies of fashion in media, the model holds good for all areas of consumerism. People will look back and wonder why the hell we bought so much new Stuff – furniture, clothes, kitchen equipment, DVDs whatever – when it was not only using up the oil supply but also much cheaper secondhand.

Was it not, after all, William Morris himself who said:

Have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be from an e-bay seller with a 100% positive feedback score.


  1. Basically, what you’re saying is that everyone’s going to be living like Yorkshire folk?

    * has been dressing daughter in SEVENTH hand clothes on occasion *

    We all claim it’s because we’re better at being green and recycling, but really it’s because we have limited funds, and what funds we have are better spent on BEER!

  2. I would like to point out that, whilst I agree with the general thrust of what you have said, the marvellous work of the RT means that my steadily replacing 100 odd videos with DVDs is in no way a foolish endeavour. Not at all.

    But yes, generally, second hand stuff is much more fun to buy anyway.

  3. Nothing wrong with Yorkshire folks…….my dog comes from Yourkshire and he is the best!

    I agree second half stuff is fun to hunt for and sometimes the quality is great!

  4. Oh yes, videos are fantastic. On my charity shop raids I have been picking up the classics for my daughter: she won’t be watching any of this Pixar nonsense (well, she will because she’s a spoilt little madam, innit, but) — she’s the proud owner of a VCR and a collection of around thirty videos including Aristocats, The Raggy Dolls and original Thundercats and Transformers. She’s going to be the love of some retro geek’s life someday.

    (and I know you posted this over a month ago but I have been neglecting my blog reading almost as much as my blog writing – mea culpa!)

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