Sunday, May 26, 2024

Op-Ed: Coming ‘Too’ Soon?

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California is looking to re-open movie theaters as early as this Friday. Why? Because we live in a nightmarish hellscape from which we can never awaken. To be fair not all theaters are doing this, just the major chains such as AMC. 

In all seriousness, to a degree, this decision makes sense. Shutting down a theater for an unknown period of time during a worldwide pandemic required days of deep cleaning, inventory flushing, and multiple phone calls to vendors to put a hold on orders. Opening doors for business a few months later when the reality of the situation has in fact not changed one iota is going to require some time to get things ready. 

People are itching to get out and stretch their legs after months of quarantine. But the itch to open so early is puzzling. If only because, how do I put this…nothing is out right now! 

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the hold out of hold outs, comes out July 17. Though Derrick Borte’s Unhinged starring Russell Crowe comes out July 1st to help ease theaters ease back into things. But as I’ve stated before the circumstances of the country are arguably worse than what they were when the theatres closed. COVID-19, unless you live in New Zealand, one of those silly countries with a functioning government, then the virus, global Black Lives Matter protests, and a sense of a sort of soul-crushing ennui are rampant among the populace. 

Opening the theaters now isn’t only pointless it is flat out dangerous. California’s Department of Public Health has set out some guidelines but there’s nothing really different from when they were open before the shutdown. Social distancing will be enforced, which they were before the theatres closed. Theatres closed off every other row in an effort to keep people apart, even having ushers pop in periodically to make sure no one was violating the terms of the new social contract. But now it may have to be every second or third seat, plus having ushers standing by to make sure everyone leaves in an orderly fashion, releasing rows at a time. 

The last one is particularly hilarious because, speaking as someone who works at a movie theater, and as someone who has spent most of his life in them, movie theater patrons (I include myself) are absolute monsters. If you’ve ever had a toddler throw a tantrum because you told them they couldn’t have any more sweets than you’ll have some idea how the average guest behaves when told to follow a rule or guideline they perceive as “stupid”.  

Guests will be asked to wear a mask at all times when not eating or drinking. This will not end well. Guests get offended when we ask them to turn off their cell phones. Having an usher politely ask to put on their damn mask so they don’t spread the plague is going to be a real barnstormer. 

If it seems like I have almost no faith in the common decency of the average moviegoer it is because I don’t. I have worked fast food for nine years, retail for another seven, with some other jobs in-between. During that time, I’ve learned the one unifying constant in all the universe is that customers are feral demon children who cannot be reasoned with. 

I’m not even a little bit joking. 

Times are tough. Theaters are hurting, big. AMC is fretting about how it may not make it out of the pandemic. Theaters are worried and rightly so. 

On top of that theaters are going to have to face the fact that working at a theater is now considered something of a risk and may find themselves facing the fact that many of their employees do in fact, not get paid enough to deal with Grouch McGroucherson and his indignant libertarian horseshit. Businesses are so eager to return to normal if only because they want to get back to normal before that normal changes. Except it already has. 

Say, some theaters do open this Friday. Best case scenario they play whatever movies they played before the shutdown. But they won’t be able to play as many movies, because every house will not have the requisite capacity of seats to equal a profit. Multiplexes are designed for a diversified portfolio of sorts. But with COVID-19, they will have to play fewer movies more frequently to recoup the lost seats. 

We haven’t even gotten to the likelihood of operation hours being cut. Which would be another death of a thousand cuts. Theaters being open for fewer hours means less time to show the already halved movie roster. Bit by bit theaters are going to have to drastically change just to show a movie or two and stay afloat. 

Let’s not kid ourselves, the wage aspect won’t change. For some reason, people love going to the movies but only so long as the people who work there need three jobs to survive. Granted it’s the same for almost everyone else. I have many friends who work a vast variety of jobs and I can say confidently-no one is getting paid what they’re worth-much less enough to live.  

Oh, and they are going to have to jack up ticket prices-again. At least this time I can understand why. Again, less time to show fewer movies equals less money than what they were making before the shutdown. Until we get a widely available vaccine, the term “full capacity” will likely disappear into myth and legend.

You might be asking, “Why are they doing this?” Is it all just to satisfy Nolan’s over-inflated ego? No, it’s to satisfy their own greed and shortsightedness. Theaters have been fighting adaptation for almost a decade now. The times they have tried to change has been with hilariously stupid and cringingly awful ideas. Remember the whole let’s make the theatre a giant playland, complete with a ball pit and whatever kids movie is playing at the moment, anyone? 

Hilariously, or perhaps, not so hilarious, theaters aren’t alone. Everyone seems to be opening up, only with plastic dividers, but with no real vision or plan for the future. COVID-19 hasn’t gone anywhere unless you’re from New Zealand, and much of our existing hours is an amalgamation of social upheaval and tumultuous mood swings, with one feeding the other.  

Like it or not going to the movies is not going to be the same as it was before the shutdown. No matter how much the big theater chains may wish it. Whether they open this Friday or a few weeks from now, the change has already happened. The old normal is dead, they just haven’t gotten the hint yet-as usual. 


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