Borrowed DVDs

The discs were supposed to be indestructible. When CDs first came in (yes, I remember when) that was one of their biggest selling points. You couldn’t scratch them like an LP, or really do much to damage them in any way short of snapping them in two. I remember television hosts spreading peanut butter and jam on them and then scraping it off, wiping them down, and slipping them straight into the CD player. Technology!

DVDs shared this same magical power. VHS videotapes wore out on replay and were damaged by excessive pausing or rewinding. Anyone who rented a copy of Under Siege from Blockbuster in the early ’90s knew what that looked like when the girl jumped out of the cake. But with DVDs you could watch a movie as many times as you wanted, and freeze the action and play it back at any speed without any diminishment in quality. You could probably even spread peanut butter and jam on them too.

Of course now we’re living in the era of non-tactile media, streaming our music and movies directly onto our tablets and TVs. Or at least some of us are. I still borrow DVDs (no, not Blu-Rays) from the library and I also have a pretty extensive library of DVDs at home. Call me a Luddite or behind the times but I like the technology.

I also take care of the DVDs I borrow. I follow standard procedure in carefully removing the disc from its case, pressing the button in the center to release it and then only holding on to it by its edges. From the case to the machine and back again. That’s it. Such a disc may be indestructible, but why test it?

Well, discs aren’t indestructible. Which is something you soon find out when you borrow them from your local public library. While I have never had a problem with a DVD freezing or skipping on playback with a disc from my personal library, with borrowed discs it has become usual.

Now in itself this isn’t too surprising. We tend not to take care of things we don’t own but are just enjoying temporarily. People can be shit in that way. What never ceases to surprise me, however, is just how badly these discs have been treated.

I mean, while not indestructible the fact is you have to work hard to damage a DVD. When I remove a DVD that has frozen and flip it over to take a look at it I am shocked. What on earth are people doing with these things? They look like they’ve seen a tour of duty in a soldier’s backpack. They are scratched all over, as though they’ve been used as pucks in a game of air hockey or coasters in a bar. I’d like to say I’m joking but I think in some people’s homes perhaps they are being used to put drinks on. Because . . . what else can explain the state they’re in?

This truly puzzles me. Books get damaged because you take them everywhere. They get stuffed in bags and taken to the beach and are randomly tossed around. They have food dropped in them, and fall into tubs or sinks. Some people dog-ear pages to mark their place, or underline passages and make marginal notes. I can understand all that. But how do you do this to a DVD? I didn’t think there would be as many opportunities to be so destructive. Are they being used as coasters? Hung from trees and windows to keep the birds away? It seems weird.

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