The demise of Blockbuster

I learn from the meejah that a last Blockbuster franchise, gone somehow independent, is still functioning in Bend, Oregon. The chain was founded to rent video-cassette movies in anno 1985, and was once very large. There were nearly ten thousand franchises, back when people were asked to rewind the things. They rented those cutting-edge DVDs, too, until they, too, died under the computer cloud, and such creatures as Netflix who inhabit it. The parent company has been bankrupt for years. It is now remembered fondly by a generation appropriately lettered “X,” who grew up with it; though not by me. I used to sneer in execration at the sight of these vile stores, and would mention them in connexion with the Decline of Western Civ. On a drive into Quebec, I once noted the number of old abandoned parish churches that had been converted into video rental outlets. My reaction was dismissed as “harsh.” Being also allergic to kitsch, and “camp,” I do not sympathize with any nostalgic flea-market revival of Video Age equipage. I like vampires and zombies to stay dead.

But though it be fleeting, there is hope in their demise. Things like Blockbuster come, then they go. I was making a list of once gigantic corporations that are no more; but tossed it out upon realizing that my task would require some Internet “research.” I leave gentle reader to recall once ubiquitous commercial signposts and logos, that have disappeared. But which were multinational corporations, and which mere brands, I leave to the battalions of unemployed fact-checkers. I don’t want to remember.

I mention this in connexion with my piece, “Too big to succeed,” in yesterday’s Catholic Thing (here). I’d been thinking about the life and death of vast corporations. What a Marxist might today condemn as an example of imperial capitalism, is tomorrow’s scattered corpse. This has been a feature of the “creative destruction” of our economy since the Industrial Revolution. There are companies that do survive for many generations but, more or less invariably, they are makers of specialized, quality goods, not for sale in the mass market. When a mass market is discovered for what they make, they are immediately bought out. The buyers are then eaten by larger and larger fish, until the fashion passes, and the biggest fish dies from what it has eaten. Let’s call this Multinational Capitalism 101.

And now, let us turn to “Catholic Church Inc.” — which has been struggling to hold its competitive position in the mass market for spiritualism that emerged post-War. Most memorably, as a friend who is an aged Catholic deacon recalls from the 1960s, that is when the spiritual combat with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, was mostly given up. It was replaced with a double-horned attack on Life, as we had previously understood it. That is to say, in parallel, attacks on the Eucharist, and on “old-fashioned” sexual morality.

This happened both consequent to, and following from, the transformation of the Church into a huge corporation, wherein the function of bishops unsubtly “evolved,” from leaders in prayer into business administrators. Sin we have always had with us, including sin in high places. But the adaptation of the Church to sin, as something we must “work with” to increase our market share, I would count as an innovation.

Corporations come and go. As Joseph Ratzinger said in 1969, the Church that will emerge, from what I would call our experiment in marketing, will be much smaller. It will have to return to the religion business. I think a time will come when we are down to the very last branch of the Novus Ordo, as a curiosity in some such place as Bend, Oregon — something kitsch, and camp, for a select group of oldies.

But that won’t be the end. The Church, in her old rôle as The Church, will survive, just as Christ has promised. It may well be the laity who sustain her, in despite of all the movers and shakers (and fornicators) at the top. It is only the “Catholic Church Inc.” that will have downsized, to approximately zero.