vhs life

(photo credit: Allan Foster)

My family never owned a lot of movies growing up. We had The Lion King, of course. And I had my own copy of the 1986 Transformers movie that I watched so many times, it literally started to wear out.

There were a few other titles in there as well mixed in, but for the most part, we didn’t buy movies.

Instead, we used the VCR to record them off TV (saying that makes me feel ancient). It was perfect, really. All the naughty stuff my parents didn’t want me to see was cut out, and it was practically free. You just had to pay $2-3 for a tape that could hold 2-3 movies.

We had cabinets full of those that I watched constantly.

Then, one day, I was wandering around a Montgomery Ward in some mall somewhere, definitely too young to be roaming by myself, when I saw something I had never seen before.

And It. Changed. Everything.

It was a DVD player playing the Mortal Kombat movie on a very large TV. Of course, I had seen the Mortal Kombat movie many times by that point, but this DVD-sorcery blew my pubescent mind out of my bowl-cutted head. The image was so clear and crisp. No scan-lines. I could skip scenes instantly. With a press of a button, the language could be changed to French, leaving like “Sacrebleu!”

In that moment, VHS tapes, these rectangular plastic boxes I had known my whole life, were dead to me.


I had seen something better, and it was the only experience I wanted from then on. Soon, I would own a PS2, the first DVD player in our house. That Christmas, I received a VHS movie from one of my siblings, and it was very awkward to pretend I was remotely excited about it. Because I loathed the thing.

As DVDs quickly infiltrated the movie rental stores (which existed at the time), it became heartbreaking when we had to choose the VHS version because they didn’t have the DVD in stock.

Unsatisfied with the rental situation, I started buying DVDs regularly. Maybe even excessively. I reached a point where I was pushing 200 movies.

Then something else happened

Blu-rays came out as HDTV prices started plummeting. The era of High-Definition was in full swing, and overnight, my cherished DVDs looked like muddy, grainy garbage on the screen before me. All of those movies I had gathered, that I had loved, felt mediocre. When I watched a blu-ray, all I could think was this is how this movie was meant to look.

It’s everything it was supposed to be.

Watching anything else felt like I was settling.

There are moments in life that ruin your old ways

It’s not uncommon that shortly after a mountain-top moment, a person feels a sudden wave of disappointment and sadness. You touch greatness, you get that feeling of fulfillment, and then it’s gone.

And the life you had known up to that point feels so inadequate. Because now you know there’s something better. Now you know that you can and should do more.

You want to. More than anything. But you feel stuck, burdened with these outdated dreams and obligations, stuff that up to that point, you thought you wanted. You are buried under a pile of metaphorical DVDs and VHS tapes.

Some people stay there, playing the same old grainy, blurry moments of life over and over again as they grow bitter and jaded inside. If they go long enough, they may even convince themselves that there’s not a difference between where they are and where they could be.

But it’s a lie.

They’re settling for this VHS life when there’s something so much better.

And I want the best

I’ve had moments, especially in the last couple of years, where I’ve gotten that glimpse of something new and wonderful, and I think this is it. 

This is how my life was meant to look.

And then I wake up the next day, and I realize I still have all of these “DVDs” I’m stuck with, and it’s going to take time to trade up. It’s a process. It’s a journey. Sometimes, the longing to get there is unbearable, and I feel so unsatisfied with everything.

It beats me down to the point where I just want to settle for where I currently am. To say it’s good enough and rest.

I can’t, though. I’ve seen something greater, something I can’t deny.

And I can’t go back.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, there’s really only one thing you can do. Keep running forward, chasing the high-definition dream.

Maybe I’ve carried this metaphor a little too far…