This weekend, I found myself considering throwing away all of my VHS tapes. I don’t mean home videos, but videos that I have purchased over the years, the content of which may be a film or a comedy series. I know lots of people who have thrown away their tapes and have given very little thought to having done so. Yet, I find myself sat before a VHS tape of The Matrix wondering if I have sufficient resources to determine its historic value.
Now, aside from any discussions about the artistic merit of the movie - which, incidentally I think is reasonably good, given its target audience and production company. In fact, I have referenced this film in articles I have written about the nature of reality. It is one of the richest examples of popular culture in recent times which asks us to grapple with the nature of our reality and our capacity to determine its state.
But, this isn't really the point of my enquiry. Instead, I want to be sure that I am not failing to recognise the value of this tape, before I throw it away. I want to make sure of this for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I accept our capacity to determine and objects historic worth can often be limited by our temporal relationship to it.
The classic example here is the parent who determines that their child no longer needs the toys that they grow up with and throws them away because they have no value anymore
At some point, they conclude that we cannot carry around with us all the things we accrue over our lifetimes and simply get rid of things. I know enough people who have chastised their parents for having done this, protesting that their parent failed to take into account their memories as a child and how they are wrapped up in these things, even if, for some years they had neglected them. Nobody could have foreseen the likelihood that they would become objects of sentimentality, perhaps because we are surrounded by so many objects.
Now, this video does not mean a great deal to me. I should be clear about that. I cannot remember when I watched this video tape, although I remember having seen the film. And so already we are into some difficult terrain here, because there is nothing inherent to the purpose of the object that is tied to its format. After all, The Matrix can be accessed via all kinds of other channels of film distribution these days. It is not like a childhood toy which, even though it may be mass-produced, is played with and held and taken places, which imbue it with sentimental value.
In this case the tape itself has no inherent unique value; it is entirely replicable and its value is held not in the casing, but in the playing of the content, which requires a piece of technology that I no longer have.
In this sense, the tape has no functional purpose, but what concerns me is that I may be failing to recognise that there is some quality to video that gives this particular format historic worth. I am also mindful of the fact that, despite years of digital music production, live streaming CDs, and the like, we have witnessed a regrowth of the vinyl collection. In this sense, the technological improvement of the platform, through which the content is experienced, is not something we can take for granted. Many people feel that vinyl album sounds better than a CD.
Similarly, I can't be certain that a VHS video lacks unique, valuable properties, which are pertinent to the value of the experience. I presume that a high-definition copy of the Matrix will be far better than the video. But then, perhaps I will also, in the future, seek out more low-fi film experiences, to remember how things used to feel in the past, in a time where we were not overwhelmed with digital content readily available at our fingertips.
Perhaps, one day, I will feel the desire to play a tape and to put myself through the experience of having to rewind or fast forward to the points of interest as part of the pleasure or film watching. Having said that it sounds ridiculous that anyone would bother when they can stream and move back and forth through a film as quickly as they would like.
It is difficult also to talk about the video tape as having historic value because of it being in a format that no longer exists. Conceivably, we are all surrounded by historic artefacts we just fail to recognise them as such.
And so, this box of old videotapes may be a treasure trove of artefacts, which, in 50 years from now, may seem especially valuable. They may not be valuable in terms of the history of humanity. After all, the more important versions of these tapes will be stored by the British Film Institute or some other organisation which has a role in preserving a history.
However, like a Super 8 video projector tape may have historic value, I may find myself 30 years from now playing these tapes to grandchildren or great grandchildren, so they can feel what it was like to watch film in this format. Again, having said that, it sounds ridiculous that anybody would bother.
Yet, history teaches us that we often fail to appreciate the value of something when we are either too close or too far from it. Right now this awkward looking tape which has sat dormant for at least 15 years already and who's design seem not to have any properties that confer value still speaks to me and says "not yet".