We’re Going Live to Tape

19Oct10

Via ClintJCL on Flickr

It's the wrong kind of tape, but you get the idea.

Signs silently waved by the sides of my car as I drove back to campus. It was the familiar assortment of roadside signposts that dot any city right off the interstate: “2 for 1 Hamburgers,” “Best Western,” “Slightly Irregular Suit Jackets, 50% Off.”

It’s September 2005, and I made began making the final turn toward the tree covered stretch that led right into the campus, when one sign caught my eye and yanked my head right with it, like a trout snared on a hook.

“Family Video,” the sign said. “VHS Liquidation Sale, All VHS $2”

My memory is immediately blank following that, and doesn’t resume until I was standing in the video store holding several stacks of VHS tapes, nursing a sore wrist (from either the jerk of the wheel or from punching the door on the way in) and seeing my car lounging across four separate parking spots outside, two of them handicap-only and one for expectant mothers.

There’s something interesting about the VHS tape that doesn’t really transfer to the world of digital media, like DVDs or DVRs. VHS tapes force you to stick around for the long haul. You pop one in, and you ride straight through the movie. Unless you have the patience to fast-forward for several minutes to a particular part you like, it’s the local line for you and this film.

Blank tapes, specifically, allow for a real treasure trove. TV DVD burners never caught on as quickly as VHS recorders did, and the advent of DVRs means that all stuff recorded off the television are located on some hard drive somewhere that can be quickly managed, categorized and logged.

But, there’s nothing better than finding an old unlabeled tape that you used years ago to record something from television, because it’s like cracking open a time capsule. Not just from the show itself, but from the commercials, the overlays, the jingles, the graphics, etc. We’re so used to seeing stuff on television the way it is now, thinking that it has always been that way that it’s such a novelty and oddity to see how we were consuming television five, ten, twenty years ago.

It’s little things that we take for granted now, like:
– Before the multiple offerings on cable required immediate branding of what you’re watching, networks didn’t need that logo in the bottom corner.
– Pre-9/11 news networks lacking a news crawl at the bottom of the screen.
– Commercials for major products and companies informing you that they’re NOW ON THE INTERNET!
– Credits that aren’t “squeezed and teased,” but rather a full end credits run. In fact, squeezing the credits is a bit of a novelty now, too. Many networks now overlay them during the opening titles of the preceding show.

A DVD of that footage could exist, but there’s something more appealing about the bulkiness and antiquated way to play a VHS tapes that really lends credence to the fact that what you’re seeing on that tape is history, a snapshot of the attitude of the time and a look at the culture through television. Someone physically recorded this via their tape player, and you’re holding the proof, as opposed to clicking play on a YouTube clip, which just exists somewhere in the ether.

I used to wake up every morning before I went to kindergarten in order to set my VCR to record “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in order to watch it when I got home.

I had recorded and rerecorded over that tape so many times that anything put on was distorted and grainy, but I really wish I still had that tape. Sure, I could just buy the episodes on DVD, but that’s too simple and clean, a perfect and freshened up transfer of that childhood show.

Instead, I want the real deal, tatters, image degradation, warped sound and all. It’s not a cleaned-up snapshot of my childhood, but rather the accurate snippet.

Blips, blebs and all.

Just as it should be.

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One Response to “We’re Going Live to Tape”

  1. 1 Lisa Dubya

    I really like this one. Great job.


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