Every business based on a physical location selling us media products is having a tougher and tougher time of it. We’ve grown used to saying goodbye to local record stores. Video stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video are finished; even LA’s classic Rocket Video is on its last days. Borders is dissolving as we speak, surely Barnes & Noble is facing some tough decisions. We even heard recently that this was the lowest box office summer since 1997, and seen small theaters fold and multiplexes with huge, empty lobbies.
Part of the problem, surely, is that these places either a) feel like sterile dispensaries of product, in the case of the large chains, or b) serve a small niche very well and loyally, but just can’t pull a sufficient profit when faced with the low-priced, conveniently distributed digital version of their products. A chain store may be able to stay afloat on volume, but doesn’t inspire loyalty. A beloved local shop inspires loyalty, but can’t maintain volume serving their small following. No matter how much we enjoy books, or comics, or records, we can’t spend enough to keep their lights on. And so we, as lovers of culture, stand to lose both.
I recently heard about a seemingly wonderful place that may offer an alternate solution, as well as some hope. The Bookshelf, an independent outlet in Guelph, Ontario, pulls a sort of hipster hat-trick (an appropriately Canadian metaphor): it’s a book store, an independent art-house cinema, and a gourmet bistro all in one.
Now I haven’t been to Guelph to check it out — if you can believe it, Ontario college towns aren’t in my regular travel calendar. Nor do I know how well they’re doing business-wise. But there’s a bit of magic about this.
Instead of struggling to serve one slice of the local cultural appetite well while still making a living, they’ve found a few closely tied, overlapping segments to serve in one place. This lets them sell tickets, paperbacks and meals to the same community. By offering more in one place, they’re forced to use the space smarter, which means curating their selection more personally — one of the only remaining reasons to keep going back to a physical store run by real humans anyway. And by offering more of the things that specific community loves, they give that community more little reasons to love them and keep coming back.
Personally, I’ve had similar fantasies of a book club/comedy venue/beer bar. An intimate, not-too-loud place to celebrate the written and spoken word with a pint to ease the ensuing conversations. Of course, those may just be my own eccentric tastes overlapping in a venue that would only do a good job of serving me and a few of my nerdiest, brew-lovingest friends.
i’m working on a review of sorts of the movie catfish, which we saw an early screening of a few weeks ago. well, not a review exactly, but some thoughts on how it’s been marketed, and how that effects the film itself. (will update here when it goes up.)
but between catfish coming out, all the buzz around the upcoming facebook movie and its relative veracity, plus the joaquin phoenix is-it-a-hoax-or-not hip hop documentary currently making festival rounds, we’re in a strange time for film. it seems to be that all at once, a bunch of people struggling for ideas on how to make an interesting movie came up with the same answer: playing with the idea of what’s real and what isn’t. but not in a usual suspects way, in which the doubt is all contained and resolved within the film. no, that’s been done already. now we’ve moved on into meta-narrative trickery to be provocative. it’s not enough to wonder what’s real or not within the film, but whether or not our reality as we understand it is really real.
the reasons for this may have something to do with the fact that at the end of the day, we like a good story even more than we like the truth. in a decade where the truth is always relative (political spin, marketing ubiquity, carefully managed internet image vs real self — it’s true, i’m actually a 14 year old girl), we’d rather see something that’s extrapolated and exaggerated into something interesting than something that’s accurate. plus, with this new twist of meta-controversy, we get to be part of the story by debating its “truthiness” after the fact.
would it be fair to say that we live in a post-truth era, where there’s nothing you can totally believe, so all we have left to hope for are tricks that are fun to participate in?
[quick footnote: i was very proud of coining that idea of “post-truth”, then googled and found it’s a book from several years ago. maybe i should read it instead of posing rhetorical questions on a blog.]