March 14, 2010
Precious DVDs subject to theft?

There are times and things that I don't understand. I know some things and think I understand what they mean, but there are other things which I don't understand or know what to think about them.

When I watched some of the Academy Awards ceremony this year, I found that, as I expected, I had not seen and frequently had not heard of the movies and people who were nominated and who won awards. I rarely go to movie theatres or buy new DVDs these days. I had seen Up and Avatar, but I had not seen or heard of Precious, Hurt Locker, or the movie for which Sandra Bullock won her award. I had heard of Julie and Julia, but haven't seen it. I don't even remember the names of many of the other movies whose creators were honored at the awards.

*UPDATE* 3/20/2010 - OK, on a return visit to the same Blockbuster store I now see that there are two or three other movies which are also kept behind the desk (the new release in that vampire movie series is one of them), so maybe it has more to do with how popular and recent the release is than anything else.

Even so, I learned a little about some of the movies by watching the awards ceremony. I learned that Precious was a movie staring mostly (exclusively? I don't know) African-American actors and it told a powerful story of some people who had some painful experiences, mostly focusing on a mother and her daughter, or so I gather.

Thinking about the good movies I hadn't seen, I decided to go to my neighborhood Blockbuster and rent a DVD. I looked over the movies and other recordings and I actually finally settled on renting the first DVD from the TV series Bones. (Hey, I can watch about five hours of story from a show I've enjoyed, even though I've only seen a few episodes as opposed to just a couple of hours or so of a highly regarded movie, many of which appear to be about very painful or even frightening situations. I'm just not up to something that challenging at the moment. Sorry.)

In the course of browsing through the store, I noticed an odd thing. Whereas most of the movies in the store were kept in relatively familiar DVD cases on the shelves (although their cases have a locking mechanism which the store employees will only remove when the DVD is rented), the DVDs for Precious were not on the shelves where the movie was displayed. While for some movies this just meant that all the copies were currently being rented by someone, this was different. There was a note in front of the Precious placards along with an open and empty DVD case. The note said that the Precious DVDs were kept behind the desk and customers could ask for them there. This was the only movie in the store which I could see was handled in this way. I asked about this when I checked out and was told that they had been having some security problems with the Precious DVDs being stolen.

This reminded me of other stories I had heard from my wife. When she worked at one of the public libraries nearby, they had had problems keeping certain items in the collection. Sometimes it was just a matter of people losing or for whatever reason refusing to return what they had checked out, but this was true of random books that different people had borrowed. One thing that they consistently had trouble keeping in the collection was the Bible. (This really makes no sense since there are many organizations which will gladly give a bible to anyone who asks because they want to share their faith with others, so why should anyone steal a bible? Crazy.) Another book that they had a lot of trouble keeping a copy of was the Encyclopedia of African-American History. This wasn't a case of people losing it or deciding to keep it after checking it out because this was kept as a non-circulating reference item so that it should always be available when someone needed it. People (presumably different individuals) repeatedly stole these books (a quick search of Amazon showed multiple, multi-volume works with this title, I'm not sure which particular publication was being stolen from the library) which could not be checked out.

So what does this mean? Are these examples of some of the most ill-conceived conspiracies of all time as white racists/atheists attempt to keep people from seeing things that African-Americans/Christians should be particularly proud of? This makes no sense since these materials are readily available in many locations, and unless the groups behind these 'conspiracies' intend broad efforts to eliminate all copies of these works then it would just be wasted effort. Any copies stolen will soon be replaced and the thefts will have accomplished virtually nothing.

If not that, then what? If it isn't a plot by people trying to suppress particular books/movies, then it seems likely to me that these are examples of people being so particularly interested in them that they want to have a copy of their own. I can sort of understand that line of reasoning, but what makes these particular items subject to this treatment? I guess with the encyclopedias it can be understood somewhat because the first publications I noticed at Amazon are priced at hundreds of dollars, so some families could not afford to buy them, however much they wanted them. But a DVD? This is readily available for less than $20 and can be rented for much less than that.

And who would these people who are particularly interested in these items be? I find it difficult to believe that people who are opposed to Christianity would be that interested in getting a bible. As much as I want to support multiculturalism and diversity, I find it hard to believe that people who are not themselves African-American would be so powerfully drawn to media that focuses on African-Americans and their lives that they would feel compelled to steal them. Thus, I find myself thinking that the people who are stealing the bibles are likely to be Christians or people who are interested in learning more about Christianity. Similarly, I think it likely that the people who have tended to steal Precious are African-Americans.

So what does this mean? I know that Christians are routinely taught not to steal (however poorly that lesson is learned). I am certain it is no different with African-Americans. I refuse to accept that these odd instances can say anything in general about the trustworthiness of the overall populations of Christians or African-Americans in this country. But is there anything that can be said? I suspect that even raising this question will lead some people to claim that I am trying to promote racist/anti-Christian attitudes.

This is a situation in which I think that the older, more general systems of forums or news groups might work better at generating discussion of a question like this than the modern blogosphere (or is that also passé ?). In a forum or newsgroup it is possible for an individual to start up a discussion at will. My nearly defunct blog was never read widely and I doubt I've ever been read by some of the people whose writings I look to to learn about racist/sizeist/sexist/ageist/prejudiced attitudes in general, but I intend to link to this post in hopes of getting someone to address it (I'm talking about the various writers at Alas a Blog, if you read this and haven't recognized yourselves). Fortunately, Ampersand encourages us to link to our own writings in some of his comment threads, so maybe this can get noticed and I will eventually find a thoughtful response there to my confusion on this topic.

*UPDATE* 3/20/2010 - On a return visit to the same Blockbuster store I now see that there are two or three other recent releases which are also being kept behind the counter. I guess this is a policy that they base on the demand for the title rather than anything else.

Posted by JoKeR at March 14, 2010 09:29 PM