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Sissy Killer: Silence Of The Lambs’ “Good/Bad Queer” Dynamic

24 Mar Sissy Killers Queer Coding

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It’s been 25 years since Silence Of The Lambs was released, and there have already been plenty of hot takes to go around. Recently, Jos Truitt over at Feministing posted an unflinching and thorough deconstruction of what the character “Buffalo Bill” represents to the trans community. Naturally, cis people completely lost their shit.

“How could anyone identify with a serial killer?” they lamented. Good point, it’s not like Hannibal Lecter wound up in four novels, five films, and a television series currently on it’s third season where he is the protagonist. Oh wait.

sissykillers2Dinner’s Ready.

Why is it considered ok to empathize with Lecter and not Jame Gumb? Both were brutal mass murderers known for short tempers and for mutilating their victims. Gumb was a gender dysphoric survivor of child abuse and neglect, and Hannibal Lecter was a calculating abusive manipulator that shut her off from medical care and murdered her boyfriend. So why do people root for Gumb getting gunned down yet also for Lecter’s escape and promise to kill again?

Seriously, check out the last couple minutes of Silence Of The Lambs again. Lecter all decked out like Truman Fuckin Capote bragging about “having an old friend for dinner”. He’s a triumphant anti-hero rather than a villain. And it gets worse with each subsequent film/tv depiction.

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The answer is simple: Lecter represents the “good kind” of queer, and Bill represents the “bad kind”.

While I don’t share Truitt’s particular tattoo choice (although I have seriously considered both the spear wound and the “LOVE” hand tattoo), I do have a tramp stamp of “In Voluptas Mors”, and yes it is a reference to Silence Of The Lambs. I, also, have a bit of a soft spot for the movie. A particularly fascinating element of the movie is that it features two queer codedsissy villains”, but coded in different ways and pitted against each other.

What’s that? Hannibal Lecter isn’t actually gay? That’s ok, because Jame Gumb “isn’t actually transgender”, right?

sissykillers3Meanwhile, the only definitely gay person in the movie is dead.

In the book, the infamous “tucking scene” also invites the reader to voyeuristically review Gumb’s hormone regimen, thinning body hair, voice training, electrolysis and even passing mention of breast development. This is presented with both a clinical air and a sense of disdain at the progress. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

Later in the book Agent Crawford threatens to have federal funding cut from the Johns Hopkins sex-reassignment wing and have the surgery re-classified as of non-medical necessity. There’s no telling how many transsexuals ongoing medical treatment were effectively being held hostage as an afterthought in this power-play. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

I’m sure there is also something to be said about namechecking the Johns Hopkins Trans Surgery wing as a plot point in the book, considering the actual one was shut down a decade before.

And even as Ted Levine’s lumbering, gangly tr*nny monster performance is frequently superimposed over depictions of the lives of trans folks, and the spectre of which haunts discussions of everything from “bathroom bills” to TSA clearances, Lecter represents the opposite of this stereotype. Lecter is theatrical without camp. He is effette but not effeminate. He drips with sarcasm and is impeccably refined and cultural and worldly.

The comparisons don’t stop there. In the novel, through Agent Starling’s feminist hero eyes she recognizes Lecter as “small, sleek, and in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own” in contrast to Gumb’s frequently referenced large hefty frame. In the film, Lecter is depicted as deliberately clinical and meticulously clean, a contrast to the squalor of Gumb’s living area and poor hygiene and posture. Anthony Hopkins came up with the idea of having Lecter dressed in white in order to invoke imagery of doctors and dentists and peoples instinctive unease around them. But it also positions him yet again as an virtous-appearing authority figure. Perhaps this is why we are expected to continue to take Lecter’s gatekeeping of Gumb’s dysphoria at face value, despite the fact that it’s coming from a man restrained in a strait jacket and spitter’s mask.

“He’s not a transsexual, Clarice. He just thinks he is, and he’s puzzled and angry because they won’t help him.”

There’s almost definitely a “high/low functioning” mental illness dynamic going on as well that someone may choose to explore further down the line. How does nobody ever question Lecter’s capacity to make psychological diagnoses not only without clinical observation but while also himself deemed in a dangerous enough capacity mentally to warrant institutionalization?

sissykillers4Definitely someone with authority’s best interest in mind – Everyone Somehow

It’s not like positioning the audience to arbiter Lecter as a gatekeeper of queer sexuality is limited to his interaction with Jame Gumb. I mentioned earlier his murder of Gumb’s boyfriend, named after a leftist French intellectual. In the opening to the movie Red Dragon Lecter is literally shown in judgement of Raspail’s performativity, and Jesus Christ as Lecter scowls at Raspail’s unsatisfactory ability to blow the flute I’m sure Freud was doing cartwheels in his grave. And then, in the following scene, a bunch of progressive intellectuals giggle over Raspail’s missing status and subsequently nonperson him based on the same inadequate perfomativity Lecter judged him worthy of death over.

sissykillers5He’s either decided to kill a man or poop himself.

This sort of gatekeeping, this arbitration of judgement over folks less desirable is clearly the role the unexamined audience wants from Lecter. He returns to this role over and over and over, evolving from a useful monster to a justified protagonist in his own universe, while his gruesome body count silently grows.

Maybe y’all should re-evaluate what you consider so identifiable in Hannibal Lecter.

LET’S PLAY (And Overthink): Conan: Hall Of Volta Apple ][ #Retrogaming #AppleII

15 Mar

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So first of all, I’m not writing about this game because it’s good… Oh Sweet Lord Satan No. But this game was a (incredibly vexing) part of my childhood, and it means a lot to deconstruct it. See, first of all it was the mid-to-late 1980s and I had a very serious fixation on hella buff dudes in loincloths for some reason.

conan8Let’s face it, at no point in my life was I ever heterosexual…

So anyway in one of my classes, along with the expectable classics like Oregon Trail, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, and Karateka, they had a copy of this game. I made a copy to take home.

conan7The schools copy was “cracked“, by the way. Don’t Copy That Floppy!

Conan: The Hall Of Volta is a computer game by DataSoft, originally written for the Apple ][ and ported to other platforms. It was released in 1984 alongside the second Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movie, although it has characters and scenarios independent of any canonical Conan The Barbarian storyline.

conan9One of the main characters is a bird, for instance.

It’s a pretty straightforward one-hit-death side-view platform puzzle game, one of the first of it’s kind. Adding to the replay value, there were stage-specific death messages when you game over.

conan5They were also terrible, just terrible, “puns” most of the time.

Getting through the stages takes some practice to get the timing right, but once you know what you’re doing, the game can be finished fairly quickly. Stage One gets you used to everything:

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You climb the ladders to go up, and you kill the Giant Bat (1) as soon as possible because it has access to the whole inside of the castle and has no qualm with killing you first. Once you reach the top of the castle, jump over to the tree (2) for a free life from your bird friend. Any time you see him throughout the whole game means a free life. Stage 2 introduces a new element (keys), but keeps up the same pace as the first and doesn’t have any monsters.

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You grab the key (1) to unlock the door (2). Pretty simple. You can also grab a free life from your bird friend (3) by jumping up to touch him at the end of the stage. Stage three brings in the third primary gameplay element (gems and gem holders) and is distinctly harder than the first two, the beginning of a difficulty jump that continues for the rest of the game.

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In stage three you use the teleporters (1) to get the gem (2) to place in the holder (3). Once the gem is in the holder, a bubble forms in the lava(4) that you can use to jump to the end of the stage.  Your avian friend is also here for the last time (5) to provide a free life, and keep in mind that the scorpions and ants on this level (6) are too low to the ground to hit with your weapon. The ants can also use the teleporter, which can seriously screw up any timing you were having for jumps and moving around the level.

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In stage 4, the length of time you can spend at this stage is completely random. You grab gems (1) as they randomly appear, and once you put two in the holders (2) you get access to the key (3) to open the door. Extra weapons (5) appear on the stage randomly as well, and you should keep an eye out for (6) the fall-away white parts of the platforms as well as the middle platform that periodically rises from the geyser beneath it. You can also snag extra gems on this stage if you’re patient, which makes the next level slightly easier.

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Stage 5 is a bastard. No way around it. Basically the best way to go about doing it is standing right around where pictured in (1) and shooting the dragons (2) until you get a key and gemstone for the door(3) and holder (4) on the top level. It might take a few tries to get it where you weapon comes back and you don’t lose it. With the gem in the holder, you get access to the other key (5) which you can use to unlock the door out of the stage (6). Hopefully the absurdly overkill number of gems (7) on the bottom level are clue enough that it’s a trap.

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Almost over… To get through stage 6, you need to kill the floating eyeballs (1) until the ladder (2) appears that gives you access to cut down the chandelier (3) that will smash the power generator (4) allowing you access to the door to the final stage (5). Also, you can get your weapons restored on the bottom level (6) if you need to.

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Final stage, and there is quite a bit going on. Your bird friend is in a cage (1) captured by Volta (2). Volta has some sort of device next to him that spits out gems and then turns them into green and purple magical bolts. Basically you wanna hit the green bolts with your weapon, which turn back into gems, and place them in the holders (3). With three gems in the holders, your bird friend goes free, throws Volta into the lava pit (4), and then flies you to the door at the end of the stage (6). If any of the bolts reach the lowest level, they can release one of the dragonflies captured there (7) which travel back and forth on that level. Also there is a pit in the middle of the stage (8) which drops you back to stage 6. Good if you’ve run out of weapons, not so great for any other reason. After this stage is the ending.

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For some reason, the Apple ][ ending features a knight in full armor instead of the barbarian. This is possibly a throwback to the first draft of the game, when it was called Visigoth. You can also see initials of the game designer and programmer snuck in the background as well (bottom left in blue and on the right in green). Later versions included a character much more recognizable to the theme of the game.

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This ending would have no doubt better satisfied the “burly barbarians in loincloths” fix I desired so much as a child “for some reason”.

conan19Seriously, who the fuck did I think I was fooling back then?

Fabulous Youtube Playlist Of Packed Club Dance Floors 1986-1987

5 Mar

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Wound up stumbling across this awesome playlist of packed 80s dance clubs. And just wow. Some of them take a few watches just to try to catch everything going on. Seems like a lot of the places were New Wave-centric, because the crowd seems more goth/punk than one would expect. A lot of gangly guys in eyeliner and oversized jackets doing lopsided Napoleon Dynamite dances, a lot of regrettable hairstyles, but also some really amazing style… and some seriously hawt mohawk action going on.

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LET’S PLAY (And Overthink): Bubblegum Crash For The PC-Engine.

4 Mar

A couple weekends ago I finally beat Bubblegum Crash for the PC Engine, and that was kind of a big deal for a few reasons. The game was part of my massive vintage game collection (that I sold to pay for my move to Portland), and not only had I never beaten it but I never got particularly far on it either. You know, because it’s a “digital comic” text adventure entirely in Japanese.

bubblegumcrash2It was also the only reason I hung onto my “Purple Barney” converter so long

Thankfully, about a year ago a fan-translation ROM of the game surfaced. Playing through the whole thing, the translation is fantastic, with very little ambiguity or awkwardness. Which is good because the game includes plenty of that for itself. The game opens up with mysterious armored battle suits breaking into a bank. You start out playing Nene Romanova, one of the vigilante Knight Sabers, who finds out about the robbery because her day job is boring. It’s worth noting that the entire Bubblegum Crisis franchise does a pretty tenuous sexual politics balancing act between showcasing four relatively self-actualized woman protagonists (a business owner, a rock star, an actress and… a traffic cop) that are kickass robo-suited vigilantes behind the scenes but also making them ditzy, irrational, and surprisingly helpless on occasion.

bubblegumcrash3Then again, for 1980s Japan, this *was* progressive.

So anyway you go inside to talk to Leon McNichol and Daley Wong and let’s just stop there for a second because Daley Wong. Seriously, even for anime, having such an unapologetically gay male character in the mid-1980s that wasn’t, like, dying of AIDS or otherwise weighted with hubris was really badass. Even though it doesn’t come up at all in the game, they even made sure that looking at him, you just know.

bubblegumcrash4You’d be sassy too if you had a 10-inch… neck.

Like other digital comic adventures, you have a series of commands you can use on the right side of the screen. One of the things that is endlessly frustrating if you don’t have a walk-through handy is that there are separate commands for “Talk” and “Listen” (bottom left and middle left) and many interactions require you to alternate between them in a non-intuitive (read: seemingly random) manner to keep the conversation going. Anyway, you find yourself investigating the bank and immediately the fourth wall between yourself as player and Nene finds itself broken. After a brief glance in their direction, Nene resolves that the nearby garbage bins aren’t worth searching and are gross anyway. Well, turns out you can *force* her to investigate them anyway. Doing so doesn’t even find anything, except a vague sense of horror at a player/character contract the game allowed you to violate.

bubblegumcrash5The fuck kind of game is this?

 Most of the game involves investigating broken pieces left behind by the unfamiliar robo-armor of the criminals that performed the robbery. This requires going back and forth to various computer vendors, sleazy hackers, and military factory workers for bits of information. Eventually Nene just says “fuck it” and HACKS INTO ONE OF NATO’S DATABASES… WITH A POLICE HQ OFFICE COMPUTER… THAT SHE LOGGED INTO WITH HER POLICE BADGE. You know, as one does.

bubblegumcrash6Sure, ok, fuck it why not.

Shit, why not just tell rando homeless street hackers about your plans, as a police officer, to bypass NATO security? Nah that would be so impossibly reckless oh wait she does that too…

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While Nene is busy breaking international treaties, the bank robbers strike again, acquiring a total of 5 billion yen. Further investigation reveals they are also raiding the safety deposit boxes for the pieces of a top-secret super AI. At this point, Nene finally decides hey maybe this should actually be an actual Knight Sabers game…

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Oh wait nevermind, this just means you hang out in Linna Yamazaki‘s apartment while she takes a shower. At this point of the game, in another strange fourth-wall breaking moment, you can peek in on Linna in the shower if you are persistent enough. Not you as in Nene, you as in the player. The game talks directly to you the whole time.

bubblegumcrash10Yeah, like Gamergate would be concerned about a woman’s privacy.

After some story exposition, you find yourself playing as Linna. During this interlude you head to the stock market to hear buzz about Zone Co, the company that manufactures the stolen Super AI. Then you get sexually harassed in an alley be the same guy that harassed Nene earlier in the game. And then you call Nene. And that’s pretty much it.

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Nene then uses the police computer she already committed international espionage on to stalk and harass an old man into telling her more about the Super AI. Because apparently Internal Affairs isn’t a thing for the AD Police. And then this happens-

bubblegumcrash12Oh, Leon. You suck so hard.

Priss (who suddenly becomes a thing in this game) then pursues the escaping battle armor with her motorcycle, which moves about as smoothly as trying to play shuffleboard with a Christmas ham. I cannot emphasize how awful the controls are or how infuriating this motorcycle stage that just appears out of nowhere is.

bubblegumcrash13At least it looks cool when you die. Which you will. A lot.

Once you manage that (takes surviving through three to seven stretches of road) this ridiculous bullshit happens. It’s a 3/4 view grid board game where you chase the mobile suit and manipulate the board to trap it. Seriously tho, apparently somebody thought this was a good idea, and worth adding/keeping in the game. They took the time to program a top-view movement engine, and created these cartoony RPG sprites in a style that appears nowhere else in the game. For this. I’m half-convinced parts of this game were just bullshit unused shovelware hobby projects they had lying around that they inserted the BGC characters into and shoehorned in. Look at this and try to convince me otherwise.

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Then, after investing so much energy into keeping her motorcycle intact through the chase, Priss just shoves it right up Armor Suit Guy’s ass.

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Then we go back to following Nene around, showing some of the pieces of what was left of the armor suit to various folks until she gets a note from Sylia Stingray, which she immediately misinterprets.

bubblegumcrash16Oh God shut up, Nene.

At this point, finally, after what is likely around two to three hours of gameplay, the four Knight Sabers get together in the same place and this thing turns into something that actually kind of looks like an actual Bubblegum Crisis/Crash game. Sort of.

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The remaining part of the game is in Stephen Lab, and if you die you have to play the whole thing over. The gameplay here is like a standard first-person RPG maze game. It’s a three floor maze where you have to trip three levers to get the main service elevator (which takes you to the final battle) to work. While wandering through the maze you will be attacked by the traditional boomers from the series as well as more men in armored battle suits. With each battle all chars HP starts at full, so you don’t have to worry about that, but other than that the fight themselves is like a bare-bones RPG. You’ll wanna switch out characters to keep them from dying. Also, Nene has a “Scanner” tool that will increase your defense while weakening the enemy’s attack, so you wanna use that each battle. Other than that, all four characters have the ability to use physical combat or shoot, which you will also alternate for effectiveness.

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After sludging through the generic “dungeon” of Stephen Lab you fight the leader of the battle armored criminal gang, and it is actually kind of boring as shit. To be honest, after wanting to beat this game for like 20 years, I feel a bit ripped off by how corny the ending is.

bubblegumcrash19seriously that’s it

Like, I think there were elements here that could have made a much more solid game. Literally everything taken care of in the digital comic scenes could have been accomplished as a standard RPG if they’d just developed that aspect. As they were, the RPG elements did offer a challenge and a change of pace, but one that wears off quickly because the elements were so rudimentary and lead to dreary repetition.

That said, it’s an interesting eclectic conceptual grab bag. The graphics are mostly rendered gorgeously and it stays true to the source material. However, the gameplay is clumsy and non-intuitive. Depending on how much of a fan you are of the source material, the latter may be forgivable to an extent. I just happen to be one of said fans, so your mileage may vary.

So Basically Fuck That #Buzzfeed “25 Toys Of The 80s Now Worth A Fortune” Article.

12 Aug

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This thing is not worth $1000. This bothers me *way* more than it should you.

So like yeah I know, this isn’t the first time Buzzfeed done an article like this (although the last time was way less over-inflated and ridiculous).  But like, I’ve owned (and still own; see above) like half the things in this recent list of nostalgic toys, and lemme be the first to pop your bubble on the dollar signs that may have rang up in your eyes.

Because the whole list is completely full of shit. Wanna know how I can tell instantly? Well, because of this:

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In case you’ve literally never been on eBay before, what we’re looking at is a Buy It Now price on an item that is not up for auction (hence the 20+day time left and no mention of bids). NONE of the items in the list are up for auction, in fact. These price tags tell us literally nothing. Believe it or not, you can ask for literally any amount on anything you want to sell on eBay; the price tag police aren’t going to beat down your door over it. But you know what happens when you ask for such an absurdly high price?

buzzfeed4^literally the same auction from the article

But don’t despair; it’s not that your precious childhood memories are worthless. They’re just… not worth *that* much. There’s all these shows on reality television now about collectors having their obsessions vindicated with tons of moolah as some sort of eccentric business acumen, but that’s really not the case for the professional (or even semi-professional) collector.

So here’s a more accurate view of what these things are worth on eBay right now:

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See, this is the SOLD price of a similar item (unboxed working Teddy Ruxpin with some of the books). That’s… not a bad chunk of change, to be honest, albeit around 10% what the article would have you believe. Here’s some of the rest:

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And damn if the article didn’t undersell this one:

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Now keep in mind, in the spirit of the article I’ve only been posting the highest price bid (or accepted) on the items in the condition shown in the article. THIS IS NOT THE AVERAGE PRICE. This is, very likely, more than you will get unless you have an established eBay account with tons of good feedback.

So don’t get your hopes up kid, but you still might make a few bucks.

But before I let you go, lets get back to that Garbage Pail Kid I mentioned owning. Buzzfeed says:

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whereas reality says:

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HOLY FUCKING RAT SHIT I’M PUTTING MINE UP FOR SALE OH SHIT WAIT. That shit is a PSA10. Lets be generous and give that card I’m literally holding between my fingertips in the open air a PSA5.

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Actually, that’s still not too bad. Maybe I will try to sell some more of this stuff.

How To Buy Happy Meal Toys Like A Suspected Sex Offender.

19 Apr

So like, you’d think I’d be excited to hear about a policy like this:

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I mean, gendering toys is pretty much bullshit and forces unnecessary social pressure on children, especially those that don’t fit neatly into the roles society wants for them. So on one hand it’s cool to see that mentality being moved away from. Realizing, however, that this policy is not in place for the benefit of gender-non-conforming children, but to spare mostly heterosexual men in their late 20s/early 30s from having their sexuality challenged makes me kind of nauseous. Even more nauseous than McDonalds usually makes me feel.

I frequently find myself bothered by feminine things repurposed through the lens of heterosexual masculine sexuality. Take “guyliner” for instance. No seriously, take the entire concept of “guyliner” and throw it down a well and fill the well with cement.

ponytoy8Why yes this is some creep’s actual police mugshot.

Now, I’m not saying that guys shouldn’t wear eyeliner, because holy shit that’s hawt yes please. The thing is, until the mid-2000s or so, around the time “metrosexuality” (something else I hate) became a thing, wearing makeup for guys largely betrayed a social vulnerability/had a counterculural element. There’s a great scene in the 1982 punk rock travel documentary Another State Of Mind where Mike Ness puts on his trademark sloppy eye makeup. He acknowledges that vulnerability, even pointing out and shrugging off the assumption that me might be considered gay. He’s a punk kid, trying to freak people out… it’s kinda adorable to be honest.

But then around 2007-2008, after this douche started making the rounds, the dynamic around it changed. You wind up with dudes in the club mascaraed out to the nines and feeling compelled to constantly overcompensate to not seem gay or whatever, and queer folks like I was pre-transition find themselves having to reiterate “No, see I’m not into pickup artist bullshit, I’m actually queer. I have sex with dudes and whatever.” Just seems so unnecessary on all fronts.

So anyway, I’m not here to talk about makeup (for once). I’m here to talk about sweaty men buying tiny horses. To talk about their strategies and their compulsions.

bronyhat2.pngTo talk about their terrible taste in hats.

And before you get locked into some sort of misconception, this isn’t about adults buying toys, or even about adult heterosexual men buying girl’s toys. I’m a grown ass adult that buys toys with exactly zero reservation. Just a few years ago, I was ordering Happy Meals to get that cool Devo-looking “New Wave Nigel” guy from their American Idol toy collection (especially since Devo was suing them over it).

ponytoy3Seriously, this little fucker is adorable and I regret nothing.

Thing is tho, I have never found any compulsion to try to navigate/rationalize it through some sort of gauntlet of heterosexual male identity. This is where I think the metrosexuals and the bronies and such are kind of fucking it up for all of us. Not satisfied with existing in some sort of grey era of social presentation, these folks have to turn enjoying feminine things as a straight male into this hideous sexualized gender monstrosity. Seriously, read this thing. There’s this unnerving level of calculation and compulsion to it, this sort of forced awkardness under the attempted tongue-in-cheek tone that makes even basic actions seem fetishistic if not sexualized.

ponytoy4Like, ewwww.

Again, I buy toys from both sides of the aisle myself even now, but I don’t approach it with the sweaty-palmed awkward anxiety of a man forced to go door to door disclosing his sex-offender status to his neighbors. The only thing that tutorial got right was the line “McDonalds workers don’t care about some 15-30something walking in to buy cartoon horses”. They seriously could have definitely left it at that, rather than suggest flashing MLP fan art, which seems like a hell of a good way to get arrested.

ponytoy5SERIOUSLY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T FLASH FAN ART IN PUBLIC

Anyway, when all is said and done, the article makes it seem so damn difficult. Just to test this theory, I went to the McDonalds near my job to buy some ponies. I went ahead and bought two, because fuck the police.

ponytoy6ponytoy7Whatever that look on my face is, I’m pretty sure it isn’t pride.

Both ponies are now on my desk at work. Mission accomplished.

And whatever, I’m sure there was at least one person there totally thinking “wow what a f*gg*t”. Point taken, way to point out the obvious. Better than having people wonder if I was gonna take the ponies home to fuck them.

Photos Of A 1984 RedBox Machine “Video Vendor”.

17 Feb

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I kind of love old vending machines. I also kind of love fake wood paneling on electronic devices. I also love finding things that most people might be unaware of or forgotten to have even existed. So naturally an intersection of those things would really grab my attention. This machine was found while poking around that abandoned putt-putt golf course I posted about earlier. I also found this gorgeous thing right next to it:

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I honestly have no idea what it is about wood paneling, ridiculously ornate fonts and inappropriate art deco but whatever it is, you got it baby.

Anyway, so this other machine was apparently some sort of VHS vending/rental machine, manufactured in the early 1980s by Essex Engineering out of Connecticut. All Google could find me about the thing was this 20 year old New York Times article. Apparently it would take credit card information and time stamp rented tapes, then charge the amount for rental time when the cartridge was returned. Kinda fancy for 1984.

The window was yellowed out with age, but it looked empty. Really curious about what titles it would have held the day it was shut down.

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