A fascinating byproduct of the lockdown fever that has gripped the world is that people suddenly seem to care about movie theaters. Pleas are being made to save them, and celebrities (‘blue checks’/’verified’ to you Gen Z-ers out there) are imploring governments to intercede and save them with infusions from the money printers.
My question is, simply, where all these people have been for the last several years as prognosticators and consumers have lauded the concept of streaming at home as a way to save oneself the hassle of traveling to a theater. Netflix created binge-watching. Amazon Prime became the UHF station of the internet, broadcasting the low-rent fare that filled so many Saturday nights in the past. Disney bought studios to enter the game with enough content that people didn’t even notice they were shadow-editing things like Daryl Hannah’s butt.
My circle of acquaintances, and the world at large, would discuss was how great and convenient it was to stream things and not have to pay a ton of money to go to the theater. Those of us with full-fledged families and other obligations could never keep up with the amount of content they consumed. But we enjoyed the convenience, as well as skipping the need for a babysitter to catch a movie.
Tickets were getting too expensive. Concessions were a rip-off. Movie theaters were going the way of the dodo.
“We all” spent years prophesying the demise of the movie theater as a concept.
Thanks to the economic impacts of lockdowns, movie theaters are in the serious trouble we predicted was coming in 5 or 10 years.
The pearl-clutching and breathless shouts now asking that movie theaters will survive rivals any now-cancelled melodrama of the 1940s. People are rushing to Amazon to buy fainting couches so that they can recover more quickly from the shock of the theaters’ troubles because either no one is allowed to go to them, or they’re so freaked out they won’t even step outside to get the mail.
Setting aside all the other issues and the fact that I’m completely aware that people lose jobs because of these things, I’m downright puzzled. I don’t lack empathy, either, as I work in an industry where every week is a thrill-a-minute scramble to try to stay ahead of the curve.
But for every cry out to save movie theaters, I think of the fact that so many of those voices had stopped clamoring to go to them. For every MCU movie that’s brought in billions, there were plenty of others released that saw their box office returns stagnate.
In other words, sure, people showed up for “events” so that they could remember YOLO and not worry about FOMO. People who didn’t even really care about Star Wars: [Don’t Say Episode VII:] The Force Awakens showed up so they could talk about it with their friends.
So forgive me if I view your cries to spare the theaters with a skeptical eye. Like every other restaurant you’ve watched go out of business or bookstore collapse in the digital era, “we” all helped this moment come.
Now that we’re forced to reckon with it before we expected, some suddenly discover they don’t want the world to change in that specific way. It’s like the lamest mid-life crisis in history.
Besides, all that will happen is what’s happened before. The mega-corporations will buy up the small chains, reinvent the process to maximize profit, and then control another sector so that the Bezos Class can keep moving down the path to turn our world into a real-life depiction of The Space Merchants.
And whining about it won’t change that.