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Ordering your video store

Roger Beebe has posted a fascinating, polemical explanation of the thinking behind the way he physically arranged his Gainesville, Florida video store. He takes educating his visitors as an obligation of the layout. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s a pedagogy to this arrangement, and it’s clearly making a case for a certain kind of engagement with the cinema and with film history. The prevailing first-order logic is one of national cinemas as a way of thinking about large groups of films together. Within those national cinemas, there’s a decidedly auteurist bent, privileging works by significant directors (toward the start of each section) followed by non-auteurist works from those regions. US films get further important subdivisions based on the mode of production and circulation; they are subdivided into Sub-indie (underground, avant garde, etc.), Independent (following the standard nomenclature of that fraught area), and Hollywood. Hollywood is then subdivided further between auteurist works (with a breakdown stretching from Woody Allen to Robert Zemeckis) and non-auteurist works that are then subdivided by genre.

An additional strategy—and this may be more ideological than pedagogical—is the arrangement of sections from the front of the store to the rear. The store has a narrow central corridor with small alcoves of videos along each side. We consciously front-loaded the store with documentaries on one side and our Sub-indie section on the other. The more mainstream Hollywood fare is pushed much further back in the store, forcing anyone seeking out those titles to run the gauntlet past all of these alternative cinemas.

Roger makes reference to Everything Is Miscellaneous throughout, a book about which he has at best mixed feelings. He understandably takes it as an unabashed, “boosterish” argument in favor of the multiple categorizations and sortings that the digitizing and networking of information enables. But, I disagree with part of his interpretation of the book. I did not intend to argue against careful organization of physical goods (the prologue waxes enthusiastic about Staples’ store layout) or against the value of expertly curated collections. Rather, we benefit on the Web from having expert curations as well as curations by multiple, multiple experts, both professional and amateur. Mortimer Adler’s Great Books would have been a welcome addition to the Web, but it would have been only one of many “playlists.” The fact that Adler’s list would have had to compete with those of UnNamed_Teenager at Amazon is a serious problem on the Net, but it’s balanced by the unavoidable harm done during the Reign of Paper by the impact Adler’s list had on which books were actually printed and placed in libraries.

Of course, I’m responsible for not having communicated my intentions adequately.

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