Ode to VHS
Like vinyl records and our fathers before us, we too have come to lament the passing of a legend. Though it has been several years since VHS tapes have passed into obsolescence, it is important to remember and cherish our times with video tapes, for though their cartridges no longer reside in the corporeal world, their spirit lives on for eternity in our memories.
VHS did not have an easy life. Even in its infancy, VHS faced adversity at the hands of Betamax. Sure, Betamax had better resolution and picture quality, but we knew in our hearts VHS was the right choice. What good was picture if your tape only lasted an hour or two? Monday Night Football is four hours, minimum. VHS saw the need and made tapes that could record for ten hours. Ten hours! Who among us is capable of doing anything for ten straight hours? This decision ultimately spelled doom for Betamax and allowed the VHS, humble in victory, to carry on unabated.
Of all the wonderful memories of VHS, there are certain things that I will always remember and always miss. The intimate connection with movies so familiar to video tapes has been lost with movies since the advent of DVD's, things that the younger generation will never experience and never appreciate. Our children will never know the consternation of peering through the little windows in the back to see if the tape has been rewound, nor the frustration of paying the two-dollar rewind fee at the local video store after your sister watched the movie and put it back in case without rewinding it. Our children will never sense the anticipation that came every time a tape was played, the rush of excitement when the black screen appeared and those weird phone-dialing tones came through the speakers, signaling that you managed to set up the VCR correctly. Our children will never know the heartbreak that came when you discovered that one of your kids accidentally hit the record button, completely wiping out "Weekend at Bernie's" with two hours of Eureka's Castle. And our children will never know the toil of finding a show in the TV Guide, programming the VCR (which itself required a Masters in Electrical Engineering), and searching through stacks of unlabeled tapes in an effort to avoid recording over someone else's (or yours) shows.
I will miss the squiggly lines that appeared when first playing a tape, always causing a moment's apprehension that maybe the tape was damaged or scratched. I will miss the reflex training that came with being able to anticipate the start of the movie and press play precisely at the end of the previews. I will miss the warbled audio the occurred at random spots for no apparent reason. I will miss the increasingly fuzzy pictures that came with repeated viewings, eventually causing the characters' eyes to blur together into a Cyclops. I will miss spinning the tracking knobs indiscriminately in order to fix the picture, even though no one had any idea what they actually did. I will miss the deafening static at the end of the tape, jerking you violently out of a sound sleep on the couch. I will miss wrenching the movie out of the VCR as black tape spewed out of the slot like a demonic spaghetti monster. I will miss carefully winding it back into the cartridge with surgical precision. I will miss watching movies recorded from TV and never knowing how they ended because someone taped over the last half hour. I will miss watching a movie fade to black, seeing the first six seconds of a Mentos ad, and then the movie abruptly resuming ten minutes into the story because someone forgot to press record after the commercials were over.
Progress is inevitable, but is it always for the best? It is true that VHS is a bit clumsier and bulkier than the chic, slim DVD cases, but dammit, you could read those VHS labels from Cuba on a clear day. VHS tapes rarely had special features; the movie was the special feature. If a movie took up two tapes, it was because it was a long-ass movie, not because they couldn't fit all the pointless interviews and production art that no one looks at on the first disc. In a day and age when children can Tivo before they can tie their shoes, there will always be those of us who look back on older times with wonder. A time when joy came not in the impersonal stream of ones and zeroes, but in a thick plastic container and black magnetic tape, when watching a movie required prior planning and forethought, when you had to work for your entertainment! But all the same, our reliable friend the video tape stood by us, watching as we grew up, always there when we needed a laugh, or a scare, or a touch of romance. VHS, we salute you for your years of faithful service. We will never forget you.
Farewell, old friend.