Rental Advisory: A Redbox Etiquette Primer

Where indecision and impatience intersect.

It happened again.

It always happens this way: I’ve got somewhere to go, but I need to drop off a movie at the Redbox across the street. It’ll only take a minute, I tell myself, but of course, it never goes that way. It’s always a good 10-minute wait, because I get stuck behind the dopey couple that can’t decide what to rent. They’ll peek over their shoulders every few moments, and I’ll try to keep my patience, but it seems like a long wait just to drop off a movie.

If you’ve rented a flick from a Redbox, you’ve been through this experience, too.

You’ve also probably used the noun Redbox as a verb, as in, “Yeah, we’re going to stay in and Rebox it tonight.” Movie rental stores are shutting down across the country as vending machines and subscription services like Redbox and Netflix, respectively, become more popular. It’s important we understand what this change means to our culture and how it affects us. It’s also high time we develop some language to better define just what the hell is taking place now days when you go to rent a movie.

I’m all about instant gratification, so I don’t subscribe to Netflix. That’s some other blogger’s cross to bear. I want to focus on the Redbox experience and what I’d like to call “Redbox rage.” (Copyright that — it’s going to catch on.)

Redbox rage occurs any time there is more than one person at Redbox machine whereby an individual will feel extreme impatience and the discomfort of being rushed in consecutive order. It starts when you saunter over to the Redbox, but someone’s already at the machine, scrolling through every movie available, reading synopses, comparing movie lengths, deeply questioning their desire to see another movie featuring Jennifer Aniston or Seth Rogen. They might be with a significant other, which springs the possibility they’ll discuss what each has seen, what they would like to see, why one is stupid for wanting see something, why the other is more stupid for not remembering having seen it in the theaters on a date, and the ordeal is finally settled 23 minutes later when they select the one movie you were hoping to see, which just so happens to be the only copy that was available in the machine.

Then, it’s your turn.

Your judgment and grasp of alphabetical order are clouded by your outrage at how anyone could take so long to be pick out a movie, as if it were a health insurance plan. Second later, you feel someone behind you as your paging through the options. They’re sighing. They’re shifting their weight from foot to foot, arms crossed as they bite their lips. Suddenly, you don’t recall ever seeing a movie your entire life and you have no idea what you would like to see. The person behind you, they’ve got their Blackberry out now, and they’re texting frantically, possibly ordering an abduction or assassination to shorten their wait. You remember the one movie you wanted to see, and it’s checked out. Nothing else looks good. You dash away from the machine apologetically, sweating, completely flabbergasted.

And that’s Redbox rage. You’re the protagonist and then the antagonist. You’re the thrown punch, but then the resulting broken wrist. It’s a miserable experience that, at best, results in a movie you wanted to see. But more times than not, it’s a choice that felt rushed and was ultimately regretted.

This never happened at traditional movie stores. There, the only worry you had was returning movies on time to avoid foreclosure-threatening lates fees and having to banter with the cashiers who, more times than not, were elitist movie snobs with their endless Indie cred. Otherwise, you could spend all your sweet time browsing up and down the aisles, stumbling upon the movies you’d forgotten you wanted to see or movies you never knew existed. It was a more peaceful process that bucked the idea consumerism need be so streamlined. We’ll fondly remember the era of movie rental stores as simpler times.

We know Redbox isn’t going anywhere. I propose the following rules to lighten the experience and erode feelings of homicidal rage. Here is what I suggest be accepted as Redbox etiquette:

  1. If you’re selecting a movie and someone is behind you, check to see if they only intend on returning a movie. If yes, allow them to do so. If no, thank them for their patience but be mindful they’re waiting.
  2. If you’re in line to select a movie, use the time to consider what you would like to rent and what you might rent if your first option is unavailable. Allow the party ahead of you time and space to make a decision without feeling rushed. Remember, you’ll be in their shoes soon.
  3. If it’s a make-or-break trip to the Redbox, and you need assurance the movie you want is a) there and b) waiting for you, visit the Redbox Web site prior to your visit and reserve it.
  4. If any of these rules seem impossible or even difficult to follow, subscribe to Netflix.

I’m interested in your thoughts. Anyone have any nightmarish Redbox experiences? Amendments to my Redbox etiquette proposal?