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Fake Blockbuster in Los Angeles rewinds to a pre-Netflix era

Source image: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/dec/05/blockbuster-speakeasy-los-angeles-pre-netflix

On an otherwise unremarkable Los Angeles street corner hangs a familiar blue and yellow logo, forcing passersby to do a double-take.

The image of a ripped ticket stub belongs to ye olde Blockbuster Video, the once ubiquitous US rental chain destroyed by Netflix. But the Blockbuster on Melrose Avenue isn’t actually a store at all – it’s a pop-up speakeasy.

Upon entering, patrons receive drink tokens identical to the Blockbuster membership cards of yore. Avril Lavigne, Juvenile, Matchbox Twenty and other bards of antiquity blast from the speakers. Visitors wander the shop looking at video cases displayed on the shelves, all from the height of the chain’s success: Titanic, Mallrats, Twister.

The pop-up was developed in large part by Derek Berry of Bucket Listers entertainment, who describes himself as an aficionado of “nostalgia in pop culture”.

Rows of video cases on shelves, with blockbuster rugs and a blue and yellow theme
Inside the Blockbuster speakeasy. Photograph: Bucket Listers

Blockbuster “is having a very nostalgic moment”, riding a wave of 90s throwbacks, from JNCO jeans to Dunkaroos – the cookies that come with icing for dipping, says Berry, 40. “It’s like you have a cool parent and you don’t realize it until you’re much older.”

That enthusiasm has been building in recent years. The pop-up was packed on a Wednesday night; tickets are for two-hour windows. In 2018, John Oliver came up with a plan to rescue a location in Anchorage, Alaska: he bought Russell Crowe’s jockstrap at auction and sent it to the store to put on display.

Sadly, it closed anyway – but the jockstrap made its way to the last Blockbuster, in Bend, Oregon. The store has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News and beyond. Media accounts describe fans traveling from as far as Spain to pay homage, as a once commonplace site has become a tourist attraction: in 1989, the Post reported, a new Blockbuster was opening every 17 hours. In 2010, the company filed for bankruptcy, and the following year it was bought by the Dish Network, which closed most stores.

blockbuster sign over news articles and a jacket worn by Russell Crowe in Les Miserables
Memorabilia at the last remaining Blockbuster store, in Bend, Oregon. Photograph: Andrew Marszal/AFP/Getty Images

“I just wanted to relive my childhood,” a fan who drove from southern California told the Times. “I wanted to see if it looked the same.” The store sells Blockbuster-themed merchandise ranging from sunglasses to baby clothes and was the subject of an affectionate 2020 documentary, The Last Blockbuster, following the adventures of the store’s general manager, Sandi Harding, and featuring tributes from Kevin Smith and Adam Brody.

At the LA pop-up, each empty video case along the walls lists the ingredients of a cocktail named for the film, and patrons bring their chosen movie to the checkout counter to exchange it for the drink. The Clueless features Pop Rocks and Gushers; the Avatar contains blue Curaçao; The Big Lebowski is a version of a white Russian.

The shop is peppered with other artefacts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries – a Nintendo, Pogs, sugary drinks in those barrel-shaped plastic things. At the back is a section labeled “adults only”, offering fully grown children of the 90s the opportunity to breach a once forbidden room. (Turns out it’s a patio for casual drinking; maybe it always was?)

blue drink in fishbowl-shaped glass next to Avatar video case
The Avatar cocktail. Photograph: Bucket Listers

Nothing makes you feel old like strangers cosplaying an era you remember. But what is it about Blockbuster that summons such particular nostalgia – enough that people are lining up to pay a $29 cover charge?

The resurgence is presumably a result of the chain’s lifespan – it was founded in 1985 and survived the first decade of this century – dates that align closely with the births of the oldest millennials and the youngest members of Gen Z. Those generations accounted for virtually everyone at the pop-up on Wednesday night.

But the chain also feels like an especially potent symbol of a bygone era, perhaps because it was among the highest-profile businesses to be undermined by a tech startup before “disruption” became a cliche.

Its rapid flatlining brought the end of an American ritual. Forget the movie: the trip to the video store was an experience in itself, featuring an investigation into the current offerings, an amassing of snacks and a reliably life-affirming interaction with bored teenagers at the checkout counter.

people pose in the snow as another person takes pictures
People pose for photos outside the last Blockbuster, in Bend, Oregon. Photograph: Gillian Flaccus/AP

A trip to Blockbuster wasn’t a revelatory experience at the time, but it did mark a clear contrast with our current moment – most of all because it required a commitment: the movie you got was the movie you’d watch. No scrolling endlessly through the options before hurling the Roku remote at the wall. In a world burdened by choice, there’s something reassuring about the simplicity of a limited selection.

And so the friendly ghost of Blockbuster continues to haunt us. In a weird moment of cognitive dissonance, last month saw the launch of a sitcom about the store, starring Melissa Fumero and Randall Park.

It’s streaming on Netflix.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/dec/05/blockbuster-speakeasy-los-angeles-pre-netflix

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Elon Musk ‘doesn’t seem like’ right person to own Twitter, says co-founder

Elon Musk “doesn’t seem like” the right person to own Twitter, the social media platform’s co-founder has said, adding that improvements to morale and content policies at the business have been reversed under its new proprietor.

In an interview with the Guardian, Biz Stone said positive changes he had helped oversee in recent years had been unwound by the Tesla chief executive.

Stone said running social media companies is “not really a win-win situation … it’s always tough”, because “50% of the people are gonna be happy, 50% of people are gonna be upset with you”.

“You have to be OK with stuff that you just don’t like or don’t agree with being on there,” said Stone, adding: “Otherwise, you should just go buy a magazine or a newspaper or something where it’s OK to have a specific leaning.”

Asked if Musk was the right owner for Twitter, Stone said: “It doesn’t seem like it right now, but I could be wrong.”

Musk has come under fire for temporarily banning journalists from the platform and reinstating previously banned accounts such as those belonging to the former US president Donald Trump and the self-proclaimed misogynist Andrew Tate.

Stone, who co-founded Twitter in 2006 with Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass and Evan Williams, returned to the business in 2017 at the behest of thenchief executive Dorsey to “guide the company culture, that energy, that feeling”. Stone said improvements during his four-year stint, particularly in morale and overseeing content, have been lost under Musk.

“We made a lot of improvements in those areas. And that’s all gone now.”

Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey in 2008
Biz Stone, left, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in 2008. Photograph: Zuma Press/Alamy

Musk has rowed back on a pledge to establish a “content moderation council” that would have overseen big content decisions and account reinstatements, instead relying on more arbitrary methods such as user polls hosted on his own Twitter account. He also fired approximately half of Twitter’s workforce within days of buying the business for $44bn (£35bn) last year.

Stone added that employees should not have been named as part of the release of the so-called Twitter files, a series of internal documents detailing decisions such as the suspension of Donald Trump.

“When that happens, people get a lot of harassment,” said Stone. “It’s really bad.” Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, was reportedly forced to leave his home when Musk posted tweets misrepresenting Roth’s 2016 academic thesis, “Gay Data”.

Stone said the concept of Twitter would survive, regardless of the company’s current financial struggles. “I don’t know that Twitter as a company is going to succeed for ever but the idea of Twitter I think will be around,” said Stone, pointing to the success of alternative platforms such as Mastodon.

“It would only matter that Twitter the idea continued. And that’s happened. That seems to be happening already. Mastodon seems to be winning the open-source, decentralised version of Twitter. People seem to be going there.”

He added: “I don’t know the future. I don’t know what’s gonna happen and maybe things will be great in a year and [it] had to go through this trial by fire. But, right now it does not look good, I would say.”

Stone spoke to the Guardian as he confirmed he is joining the board of Chroma, a Swedish startup in which he is also an investor. Chroma creates an audio-visual experience for mobile phone users, describing itself as “a world of sound experiences in a pocket” where users can change what they see and hear.

Describing Chroma’s work as “soundplay”, Stone added: “It’s a new way to interact with sound and to play with sound.” Last year Chroma collaborated with Venezuelan musician Arca to create Lux Aeterna, an app that creates an “ever-evolving, boundless audio-visual world”.

Stone said his investment philosophy is simple – “do I like this person” and “do I think they can pull off this thing I would use myself?” He adds: “If those two answers are yes, I’m usually in.”

Referring to Chroma’s CEO and founder, Andreas Pihlström, he said: “I like working with Andreas. He is a really talented designer.” Stone’s co-investors in Chroma include Evan Sharp, the co-founder of digital pinboard platform Pinterest, and Ben Silbermann, the co-founder and CEO of Pinterest, where Pihlström worked as a creative director.

Stone, who has also invested in the messaging service Slack and Pinterest, added that he never thought of Twitter as being successful when he co-founded it in San Francisco.

“I tell young people – if you’re doing something to try to get rich, it’s probably not going to work. You should do something that you’re just really enjoying working on and then you actually have a greater chance of becoming wealthy.”

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US economy grows strongly but interest rate rises starting to slow momentum

The US economy maintained a strong pace of growth in the fourth quarter as consumers boosted spending on goods, but momentum appears to have slowed considerably towards the end of the year, with higher interest rates eroding demand.

Gross domestic product – the broadest measure of economic health – increased at a 2.9% annualized rate last quarter, the commerce department said in its advance fourth-quarter GDP growth estimate on Thursday. The economy grew at a 3.2% pace in the third quarter. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP rising at a 2.6% rate.

That could be the last quarter of solid growth before the lagged effects of the Federal Reserve’s fastest monetary policy tightening cycle since the 1980s kick in. Most economists expect a recession by the second half of the year, though mild compared with previous downturns.

Retail sales have weakened sharply over the last two months and manufacturing looks to have joined the housing market in recession. While the labor market remains strong, business sentiment continues to sour, which could eventually hurt hiring.

Robust second-half growth erased the 1.1% contraction in the first six months of the year. For all for 2022, the economy expanded 2.1%, down from the 5.9% logged in 2021. The Fed last year raised its policy rate by 425 basis points from near zero to a 4.25%-4.50% range, the highest since late 2007.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity, was the main driver of growth, mostly reflecting a surge in goods spending at the start of the quarter. Spending has been underpinned by labor market resilience as well as excess savings accumulated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But demand for long-lasting manufactured goods, which are mostly bought on credit, has fizzled and some households, especially lower-income, have depleted their savings. Business spending also lost some luster as the fourth quarter ended.

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US activist investor who accused Adani of ‘biggest con in corporate history’ dares Indian group to sue

The US investor targeting Indian conglomerate Adani Group over what it claims is the “biggest con in corporate history” has dared the company to sue, given it would open the coal producer to further scrutiny.

Hindenburg Research’s report has already wiped billions of dollars of value from the sprawling empire of Gautam Adani, the world’s third richest man, and drawn in the contentious Carmichael coal and rail project in Queensland.

Hindenburg said in a statement that Adani had not responded to any of the substantive issues raised in its report that accused the company of engaging in a “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme”.

“Instead, as expected, Adani has resorted to bluster and threats,” the statement said.

“Regarding the company’s threats of legal action, to be clear, we would welcome it. We fully stand by our report and believe any legal action taken against us would be meritless.

“We have a long list of documents we would demand in a legal discovery process.”

Activist investors like Hindenburg typically take a short position in a listed company they believe is heavily overvalued and has poor or fraudulent business practices.

Founded by Nate Anderson, Hindenburg is a US activist fund named after the 1937 airship disaster that looks for stocks that could crash. It has accused Adani of loading companies with debt that puts the entire group on a “precarious financial footing”.

The battle comes amid a large scheduled fundraising attempt by Adani Enterprises, the company’s listed flagship, in which Adani is seeking US$2.5bn from investors to fund capital expenditure and reduce debt.

Adani has threatened to seek “remedial and punitive” action against Hindenburg over what it said was a “maliciously mischievous, unresearched report”.

“Clearly, the report and its unsubstantiated contents were designed to have a deleterious effect on the share values of Adani Group companies as Hindenburg Research, by their own admission, is positioned to benefit from a slide in Adani shares,” Adani Group’s legal head Jatin Jalundhwala said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement said Adani was disturbed by the “intentional and reckless attempt” of a foreign entity to mislead investors and the general public and sabotage the public offering.

Adani has previously said that allegations in the report had been discredited and rejected by India’s highest courts, and that Hindenburg had not attempted to verify information with the company before publishing.

The Hindenburg report cited a series of transactions tied to Adani’s Australian operations that it alleged may have allowed Adani to avoid disclosing large asset impairments to investors.

Located in Queensland’s coal-rich Galilee Basin, the Adani project exported its first coal in late 2021, drawing opposition due to the fossil fuel’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

That project went ahead after the Queensland government struck a royalties deal with the miner that allowed it to defer payments, although the full details of the agreement have not been made public.

The Queensland government’s resources department said media questions about the report should be directed to financial regulators.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which declined to comment, would typically assess the report to determine if it should investigate.

The Greens industry spokesperson, Penny Allman-Payne, said the Hindenburg report raised concerns over Adani’s actions, prompting questions over its right to operate in Australia.

“This should give Queensland Labor serious pause about its reckless and misguided decision to get into bed with Adani, and should call into question the company’s future in Australia,” Allman-Payne said.

More than US$9.4bn (A$13.2bn) in value was wiped off listed companies in the Adani network on Wednesday after the Hindenburg report was published. Those same companies fell further in early trading on Friday, after Indian markets were shut on Thursday, creating selling momentum.

The billionaire US investor Bill Ackman said in a tweet he found the Hindenburg report to be “highly credible and extremely well researched”. He acknowledged the hedge fund he leads, Pershing Square, had not done any independent research into Adani.

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