The strangest thing in the supermarket

I want you to look at this, especially if you savor the random and/or the seemingly senseless in life and supermarket aisles.  For there – in the main aisle of my local supermarket, drifting between the courtesy desk and pharmacy counter  – is where I first noticed this particular DVD display stand several months ago.  I find myself drawn back to it every now and then, because it kind of blows my mind.

Just check it out.  Look at it.

Errol Morris’s ‘Fog of War’ next to ‘Paul Blart, Mall Cop’.  Recent Angelina Jolie spy thriller ‘Salt’ next to Frank Capra’s 1937 classic “Lost Horizon.”  What else can we pick out in this picture?  ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?’  ‘Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.’  ‘2012.’  ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.’  ‘Golden Boy’ (twice.)

Note that it’s a double-sided display.  Self-consciousness kept me from snapping a whole set of photos in the middle of the store, but I assure you the other side is just as varied and no less coherent.  A Seinfeld series DVD alongside ‘Why We Fight’ alongside ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’  And so on.

A stranger juxtaposition of films old and new, mainstream and niche, mundane and coruscating you could not find in one place.  Well, of course you might, in the bargain bin at your local big box store or odd-lot shop.  But the thing is, you’re not looking at a bargain bin here.  No, this isn’t one of those pits full of straight-to-DVD crap or sixty-seven discounted copies of last summer’s blockbuster dud.    The display itself is rather small and select.  There are some really good, if offbeat movies here, cheek-by-jowl alongside some trashy fluff and they’re all priced somewhere between 10 and 15 bucks.  It’s not a junk pile.  It couldn’t afford to be.  I’m proceeding on the assumption that every inch of floor and shelf space in a supermarket (like other modern stores) is carefully accounted for, rationalized.  That there’s no room for a product, display arrangement, or anything else that doesn’t pull its weight.  Everything’s there for a reason.  Isn’t it?

I can think of two possible explanations for the assortment we see here:

1.  It really is just random what ends up here.  In which case, weird.

2.  More intriguingly to me, this islet of genrelessness (agenre?) is actually the product of some canny market research on the part of…well, whoever puts together/puts out these displays (I have no idea – a studio? a third-party distributor?)  There is a higher vision at work, a foresight we ordinary people can hardly understand.  I have the vision of someone poring over surveys, focus group transcripts, purchasing data, perhaps some deep psychographic profiling of Hudson Valley Hannaford’s shoppers, honing in their eclectic film tastes –  and these is the result, this is it.  This is a fair approximation of those tastes, made concrete (or cardboard, more precisely.)

No less weird.

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