Category_Collecting, Category_Groovy Stuff, Category_Horror, Category_VHS, Category_Weirdness -

Canadian Initiative GET REEL Wants to Collect, Dismantle and Recycle Over 2 Billion VHS Tapes in Ontario!? But What Happens to the Content? VHS Collectors and Media Preservationists Speak Out! *UPDATED!*

Today Tapeheads everywhere were set ablaze with analog-oriented indignation when met with an internet headline that read as follows: “Calling All VHS Tapes: Group Aims to Find and Recycle Ontario’s 2.26 Billion VCR Relics” Plainly put, this group is out to rid Ontario of its unwanted VHS tapes. The reception of this notion resulted in massive keyboard rage and a number of internet shares expressly to raise awareness of the “anti” persuasion. My ardent analog interest and predilection for preservation piqued my investigative response to all this and I, too, had some concerns raised about the incredible loss of content that is being talked about if the project moves forward as is. *UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF PAGE!* First, let’s look at the whole thing as the majority of us first saw it. The article originally ran on MetroNews.Ca and clued us in on the project which is entitled Get Reel: an initiative co-founded by Phillip Yan to help collect, dismantle and recycle the massive amount of magnetic magic in The Great White North. The article goes on to offer a couple quotes from Yan on the reasoning behind the mass analog extermination: “The whole world doesn’t really know what to do with these VHS tapes,” said Philip Yan, co-founder of the project. “These tapes are sitting everywhere in storage rooms, just amassing dust. And the big problem is that a lot of people treat them as usual garbage.”


An image of Phillip Yan with the VHS skeletons missing their magnetic flesh. What's on those Scotch dubs? That is the question! IMAGE COURTESY OF METRONEWS.CA / Photo by Gilbert Ngabo

His first quote is arguably erroneous. He is obviously oblivious to the worldwide VHS collecting culture, and the recent efforts of Yale University to help preserve a considerable chunk of the format and all of its obscure and esoteric contents. However, I do understand and agree with the essence of the initiative, which is to make less waste and create jobs (presumably dismantling VHS tapes). I would like to make this completely clear: the argument and concern is not about the good of this project (which is apparent), but about the irresponsible erasure of culture contained on these tapes should they move forward with their plan without change. As it stands, there is no plan in place to help scan and preserve any of the material on the tapes that they collect, dismantle and recycle. The preservation of that material is currently not a concern of Get Reel. This is why it should concern everyone else. To put this in perspective, let’s take a practice that uses essentially the same ideas of erasure and recycling: a process called “wiping”. It was broached online and used as a comparison by Samm Deighan (who runs the radical cult movie site Satanic Pandemonium) in the specific context of the BBC. Basically, the BBC (along with other radio and television stations) had no policy on archiving for some time, and they erased (or utterly destroyed) old material to make space for new, wiping away any trace of the past programming. That material is now lost, forever, and no one is really happy about that, and for good reason. That entire history of programming is now extinct. Learn more about the whole process and the resulting backlash HERE. I imagine (and hope) that the folks at Get Reel will be reading this at some point or another and I would like to address their outfit directly (so please forgive any redundancies): I think this project is ultimately altruistic and has the potential to do a whole heap of good. However, if there is no action taken to try and account for the material that will be lost by destroying these tapes, then it also comes with a massive disservice to posterity. It becomes a heady mix of analog ignorance and cultural irresponsibility. To destroy all of these tapes without carefully considering their content is insane. The data loss would be both mind-boggling and utterly incalculable since you can’t actually be sure of what you’re erasing. Would you blindly destroy books or records or other forms of media without paying attention to their cultural importance or influence? I think not. I can absolutely understand and fully respect the good in what you’re trying to do; I can admire it. But again, I must implore you to think about the angle of preservation before you launch your project. VHS tapes still hold a tremendous amount of unique, rare and important media that cannot and will not be found elsewhere. An example of importance? How about how visions of the primordial (and now extinct) internet were only saved by the instructional and educational VHS tapes that documented them? If these tapes were destroyed, we would lose that historically important vision of how the internet evolved. It would be lost. Forever. Luckily, VHS saved those visions.


I am not writing this article to combat this project. I am writing this to raise awareness and start what I hope to be a constructive and creative discussion. I don’t want to invalidate the efforts and result of this initiative, but bolster them. I want to voice the concerns of VHS collectors and media preservationists everywhere, show why they are legitimate, and find a way to help GET REEL not only save the planet from more waste, but also save it from a future riddled with missing pieces of esoteric video era culture. We just want you to think about it. My fellow Tapeheads, please comment below with your thoughts and ideas on this. Let’s help GET REEL find an efficient way to scan and preserve any and all important cultural data that is only available on these prospective VHS while helping the world avoid more waste. I know there are an ample amount of analog-inclined minds who would be willing to offer their expertise to the GET REEL crew (including mysefl!) to help preserve and protect the all of this analog data and culture. You can also reach GET REEL on their Facebook page. *UPDATE* Our analog-inclined voices have reached the GET REEL crew and they have listened! Here is a reply given to Tapehead Tyler Martin, a media-minded librarian and one-half of ROT YOUR BRAIN!, an outfit that does monthly VHS screenings in downtown Salem, MA. Here’s what GET REEL communicated to Tyler: "Tyler, We will look at win-win option for our society from culture preservation, recycling and employment stand point. Please stay tune for more. We are talking to a few people on that. Since you are a librarian, it will be valuable to get your input to create a process that is capable to preserve the good and recycle the rest of them. I am sure the VHS community concern the content and not the plastics." It’s exciting to encounter GET REEL’s willingness to listen and interest to work together to try and create an efficient way to sort, scan and preserve the most interesting and important material from this operation. The bottom line now is they're definitely interested in preserving some of the material; they just need to learn how to do it, and need a team of folks who can help them sort the rewind wheat from the chaff! There are a few analog-inclined minds currently planning meetings with GET REEL to help them solidify strategies and teams to help this initiative do the most magnetic good. Please stay tuned to this video-obsessed blog for any more updates and info on this project!

Groove and Groove and VHSave the World, man!

Josh Schafer

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