“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.”
I wasn’t joking with yesterday’s image-of-the-day. Try as one might, there’s no way to avoid Coca-Cola while traveling through Chihuahua, Mexico. In addition to the plague of sugar-infused, diabetes-inducing shit-water, this image also points to another serious problem south of the border: stray animals.
Stray dogs are common in the small towns in northern Mexico. There are few services to spay and neuter these animals, so they wander, wild, through the cities, rummaging through trash bins and begging from the arrival platform at the train station. It’s a different experience altogether. Local children are taught to keep these animals away, and for good reason; feral cats and dogs are unpredictable and they carry disease. On the surface, it seems cruel and awful to watch five-year-old children kicking dogs in the face, but what they’re really doing is making sure they don’t touch the feral animal and expose themselves to illness.
Beyond the poverty I’ve seen in Mexico, it’s the necessary neglect of wild dogs that breaks my heart.
If you’ve never traveled to Mexico before, let me just say this: Coca-Cola has won the soda wars with our neighbors to the south. Sorry, Pepsi, but you have lost. You can’t travel to a single town in Chihuahua without seeing the Coca-Cola logo emblazoned on billboards, grain elevators, street vendor carts, store fronts, public walls, and personal apparel (t-shirts, sweaters, baseball baps, backpacks).
While I can’t confirm this, I’m confident that the average Mexican drinks more soda than water. The native Tarahumara, including the smallest children, seem to be sipping from Coca-Cola bottles more than water bottles. And this makes some sense, even though it’s tragic; a liter of Coca-Cola is actually more affordable than a liter of bottled water. Just like us Americans, diabetes and obesity have become serious health issues for an ungodly number of Mexicans, and the affordability of soft-drinks (and the lack of clean water) is likely the culprit.
Today’s photo is but one example. You cannot escape the red-and-white logo. Outlandishly, it’s everywhere.
I was a freshman at The University of Arizona back in 2001. The whole of downtown Tucson has completely changed in the years since then. University Boulevard was a third-world country; the old brick buildings at the intersection of Park & University were a shelled-out scene reminiscent of 1980s East St. Louis. The only missing set-piece would be an arrangement of chopped cars on cinder-blocks. The old drug store was razed that year, piles of bricks and construction equipment lined the streets, and the sound of jackhammers provided the background music audible from my eighth story dorm room in Coronado Hall.
Downtown wasn’t entirely different. Congress Street, the main thoroughfare, had it’s own share of problems. The Screening Room still had events every weekend, Hotel Congress was a hub for live music & adult beverage, and The Grill – open twenty-four hours – always had coffee, beer, and tater tots for the restless insomniac artist. The scene was markedly different in the light of day, though; many of the storefronts on Congress were shuttered and vacant, rents were low, and a series of businesses seemed to play musical chairs with commercial space.
A lot has changed since then.
Today’s ‘photograph of the day’ is an old market just south of Tucson’s downtown area on 6th Avenue. I don’t have a lot of information about the old business, but I’m guessing it was one of the many bodegas near Barrio Viejo that eventually fell into irrelevancy. The structure appeared to sit vacant during the entirety of my tenure in Tucson, the ten years stretching from 2001 to 2011.
Revitalization hasn’t just hit Congress and 4th Avenue – the old KY Market has been purchased by a gentleman named Danny Vinik and converted into a multimedia space for his company, Brink Media. I worked for the company, briefly, but I don’t think I possessed quite the skill-set, and the project I was working on didn’t seem to be too tremendously focused. The people that work there, however, are some of the most brilliant web developers, graphic designers, and videographers I’ve ever met. I was happy to be a part of the operation, short-lived and fruitless as it may have ultimately proved to be.
I have a lot of pre-restoration photographs of downtown Tucson, and this is one that has a little bit of meaning for me. Progress happens, and I’m happy knowing that the building is finally being put to use; one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had works there today. But I also selfishly enjoy the rustic aesthetic of abandonment. Maybe I just have sour grapes that the whole time I lived in Tucson, the whole of downtown was like a pile of rusting beer cans in the desert, and now it all seems to have sprung to life – you know, now that I’m not there to enjoy it.
So it goes.
We all know who was victorious; the war was won almost a decade ago. There was a time, though, when two forces were vying for market share in what would become the next physical home media format. In the end, it all came down to movie studio support and the consumer electronic industry. What many people don’t know is how hard-fought the battle actually was, and the fact that a little black box developed by Sony Computer Entertainment dealt the most significant blow.
The seeds of the burgeoning format war began much earlier, but those seeds only began to take root in the summer of 2005. A discussion began around this time to develop a unified format, and the format war began in earnest when HD-DVD approached the BDA (the Blu-ray Disc Association) to combine efforts in developing these new technologies. When Toshiba and the HD-DVD camp insisted on too many changes to the format developed by the BDA, nascent cooperation transformed overnight into outright competition.
Paramount and Warner – two studios who had initially expressed interest in HD-DVD – were the first major entities to frustrate the competing formats by abandoning exclusivity, opting rather to release titles in both formats. Netflix also chose ambivalence over risk, announcing intentions to make titles available in both formats. At this stage, Universal Studios was the only major studio that remained solely in the HD-DVD camp.
Both formats were showcased at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. HD-DVD appeared to have a significant time advantage, with an earlier release date by a two-month margin, but many tech-industry insiders lauded Blu-ray’s substantial capacity advantage. At the end of this run, there were a handful of malfunctions with both formats upon their initial release. HD-DVD hardware was recalled and Blu-ray titles presented atrocious film transfers and had significant audio playback issues. Replacements were ordered and film transfers had to be re-coded and discs replaced. These seem to be minor and forgivable missteps with first-gen products, but neither format gained significant foothold.
The true game changer? Gaming consoles.
In November 2006, Sony Computer Entertainment released the Playstation 3. Consumers balked at the $499 price-tag, the highest ever seen on a gaming console. They were also skeptical about the Playstation’s abilities as a Blu-ray player. Keep in mind that playing movies on a gaming console was a new and foreign concept. Playstation’s Blu-ray player ultimately proved to be the most affordable at that time, and out-performed other hardware options. The X-Box 360 – Microsoft’s competing console – required a $199 add-on to achieve what the Playstation had accomplished at the time of its release. The Playstation 3 outsold Microsoft’s add-on five-to-one. The impact of the Playstation 3 influenced the format wars magnificently.
During the lead-up to the Consumer Electronics Show in 2008, the two formats still appeared to be somewhat evenly matched, but many rumors abounded that major studios were preparing to drop the HD-DVD format. Just before the show, Warner dropped HD-DVD. Toshiba did not fire back in defense of their flagging product, but instead canceled their showcase altogether. After the Consumer Electronics Show Netflix, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart, all within a week of one another, also dropped HD-DVD.
The Playstation 3 and its owners are responsible for Blu-ray’s victory. Playstation 3 owners were buying Blu-ray movies. Their purchases accounted for a small fraction of home movie purchases, but it was enough to convince major movie studios that the Blu-ray format had the greatest potential. Additionally, the BDA was willing to offer anti-piracy features like BD+ and region coding, industry-protecting features that were left unaddressed by Toshiba. The intent of BD+ was written specifically to prevent unauthorized copies of Blu-ray discs and the playback of Blu-ray media on unauthorized devices. This technology, even today, has proved to stem the tide of pirated high-definition media compared to older formats like DVD.
Certainly, the competition between red (HD-DVD) and blue (Blu-ray) motivated improvements on the winning format. Many pieces of hardware, and a variety of major movie studios, preferred to remain purple during the competition, but one would inevitably win-out. Toshiba mounted a noteworthy effort, and forced the BDA to focus on transfer quality and authoring, intellectual property protections, and price reduction on hardware. Gamers and home-video film geeks responded to the BDA’s improvements and adopted the Blu-ray format, eventually closing the chapter on the debate between HD-DVD and Blu-ray.
Never underestimate the power of gamers. The video game industry has surmounted Hollywood in earned revenue, and the interactivity of game-based story-telling is catching the attention of a larger and larger number of consumers. This gaming industry, at this particular point in time, isn’t just ahead of the curve. It is the curve.