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Methods for consuming media seem to pop up as quickly as they are discarded, but some antiquated technologies leave a permanent imprint on a generation’s collective consciousness: the sound of a modem dialing, the skipping of a scratched CD or the act of perusing VHS tapes under the overbright lights in a video store.
Even if you threw away your VCR, you can relive the rental experience at the Museum of Arts & Design as part of its “VHS” retrospective, through the end of August. “VHS changed everything,” says Jake Yuzna, the museum’s manager of public programs. “It laid the groundwork for people to think about film in a different way; they could watch, edit, duplicate and share whenever they wanted to. That mode of thinking eventually produced things like YouTube.”
It also produced entire industries aimed at the individual viewer, such as the at-home exercise tape. Beginning with Workout: Starring Jane Fonda, released in 1982, these tutorials grew into a multimillion-dollar economy and fostered a new breed of celebrity: the fitness guru. “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” (Thu 21, July 12, 19; 7–9pm; BYO yoga mat) pays homage to those flamboyant figures who conquered middle-class living rooms with Lycra and leg curls. Led by performance artist and yoga instructor Jeffrey Marsh, the sessions will feature a sampling of aerobic routines once taught by trainers both iconic (Fonda, Richard Simmons) and just plain odd (O.J. Simpson). Participants are encouraged to fully embrace the kitsch by layering on sparkly spandex, headbands and leg warmers.
Additionally, the museum will convert its sixth floor into a functioning video-rental store (Aug 2–18), where visitors can select titles to watch on TVs in the museum or—if they still own a VCR—at home. Yuzna has also programmed a six-week film series (through July 20) that highlights the rise of VHS in the late ’70s and ’80s. Screenings mine the direct-to-video market, which begot “trashterpieces” such as Tales from the Quadead Zone (July 6 at 7pm) as well as a cult following for so-bad-it’s-good filmmaking, a tradition still alive and well in midnight-movie showings. New York artist Videomixx will splice together bootleg concert footage, rare music videos, old documentaries and other analog flotsam to create a visual homage to the mixtape, another beloved-but-outmoded form of media (Video Mix Tape, June 29 at 7pm). The result, says Yuzna, is like someone fell asleep on the remote control.
FEEL THE BURN! “VHS,” Museum of Arts & Design, 2 Columbus Circle at Broadway (212-299-7777, madmuseum.org). Tue, Wed, Sat, Sun 11am–6pm; Thu, Fri 11am–9pm. $15; seniors and students $12; members, high-school students and children 12 and under free. Thu, Fri 6–9pm pay what you wish. Film screenings $7–$10. Through Aug 31.