Before there was Pfizer vs AstraZeneca or Google vs Bing or Facebook vs a sovereign nation of strung-out news junkies, there was Beta vs VHS.
The video format war spanning the '70s to '80s produced what was known back then as the "Beta loser".
This wretched creature was someone who refused to admit defeat after JVC (Victor Company of Japan) planted its flag in that prized real estate on top of the telly, which, until then, had been wasted on a rag-tag squattocracy of ceramic kookaburras, expired Christmas cards and Kewpie dolls adorned in various outfits crocheted from plastic bags once used to contain sliced bread.
Like pockets of deluded Confederates believing "the south shall rise again", some 30 years after their bitter reckoning, Beta losers (be careful when you Bing them, there appears to be some porn connection) still whine about how, compared with VHS (Video Home System), Beta (Betamax) provided a superior viewing experience and, given half the chance, will invite you to the boot of their car to reveal their collection of sturdy Sony equipment which "still works" because it's "much better quality" than that rubbish with "built-in obsolescence".
Yes, back away slowly.
Ours was certainly a VHS clan but an ignorant one with a disinterest in technology (to this day, the stereo's daunting graphic equaliser remains untouched). Such was our obvious gullibility when subject to the chicanery of a smooth-talking electronics salesman, we could have easily landed on the wrong side of home entertainment history, so it gave us no comfort to watch those increasingly desperate Beta tragics sniff around their dwindling supply of video store rentals like stray dogs, until, one day, all they had left to fight over was a tatty copy of Police Academy II and a mint edition of Roman Polanski's Pirates.
Not that I haven't been stung by the scorpion's tail of early adoption, as the long-discarded iBook for which my wife I pooled our meagre savings to acquire some 20 years ago, will attest ... DVD-ROM, you say? Well, we simply must have it!
It seems quaint now, bathed as we are in the highly suggestive, algorithmic tide of online streaming services, that society was beholden to the crude physicalities of those chunky video tapes and our kids marvel at us - the same way a scientist marvels at an amoeba under a microscope - when we regale them with our amazing true tales of the analogue era.
They struggle to understand how, if you wanted to record a TV show, not only did you have to feed a plastic slab the size of two salad sandwiches (with bread sourced from a nascent miniature evening gown) into a cumbersome and often inscrutable, often temperamental machine, you had to make sure that little square tab thingy on the cassette - which was a bit the like the sinister "void if removed" section on a scratchie - remained intact.
And if that isn't flummoxing enough for Gen-Zers whose devices must be prised from their vice-like claws before bed each night, the fact the universal workaround to the serious problem of a tabless cartridge was a piece of sticky tape, is enough to send them into violent protests of disgust and incredulity.
Similarly, because these days they're assigned insidious "profiles" and force-fed copious amounts of "high-quality" content - enough with the "showrunners" already - the children can't quite comprehend how an outing to the video store was a portal to genuine diversity and variety (not to mention a much cooler place than church to talk to girls).
While overnight releases were an expensive weekend treat and a real threat to the household budget should you not return them in time (thanks goodness for that shame/wallet-saving slot in the wall), we were able to gobble up acres of cheap "weekly" rentals in between time, enjoying a rich, autodidactic cinematic education along the way.
Somehow, we managed to play sport, ride around the neighbourhood aimlessly after school each afternoon, be rejected by teenage girls at church, do chores and homework and hold down a part-time job, as well as spend hours down at the video shop, scanning those bulging racks with our heads cocked to one side for so long we ran the risk of passing out on the emporium's squares of polyester carpet.
After our trawling was done, we'd drag home several single-use sacks of tapes, let them dehisce on the lounge room floor so to parse what to keep and what to throw back, before methodically working our way through the (often R-rated) haul which never failed to provide examples of the sublime (Cat People, Toxic Avenger, Blue Velvet, Steve Martin Live) to the ridiculous (Cat People, Toxic Avenger, Blue Velvet, Steve Martin Live).
The term is thrown around a lot these days (up there with "jab" and "efficacy"), but that video store epoch was a truly "golden age" for cinephile shut-ins and like all great moments in time, it was destined for Gotterdammerung, the beginnings of which we should have recognised when CDs marched on the scene to so ruthlessly cleanse audio tapes from our lives and boom boxes.
But before its inevitable demise, the video era was, for the briefest of moments, culturally all-conquering (Video Killed The Radio Star); celebrated (The Kenny Everett Video Show) and even demonised (Videodrome - trust David Cronenberg to find the sickest angle possible) just as the current methods of creative dissemination are worshipped and worried about in equal measure.
We threw out our VCR (video cassette recorder) years ago and it was only during a recent garage decluttering that I experienced a pang of regret because I came across a heap of movies and some tapes of footage filmed, based on the labelling, at my high school.
The thing is, I know I'll never watch them again because I'm not getting a replacement appliance and I certainly couldn't be bothered going down the whole digital conversion path.
Whatever images from my youth are frozen in those magnetic coils can stay firmly in the past. They'd be as stark a reminder of what a goose I was in my younger days as the collection of movies I thought were so bad they were good, but turns out, were just bad.
In fact, looking at those boxes of meretricious video tapes just made me want to kick myself.
All this time, I should have been collecting LaserDiscs instead.
- B. R. Doherty is a regular columnist.