The Show Must Go On
Here’s the weird thing about change: most of the time, we don’t notice it happening until it’s already happened. Smartphones are an omnipresent feature of life, and the fact is that if you don’t have one, you’re operating at a fairly huge disadvantage. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that they were looked at as frivolous and hardly necessary.
Once in a while though, change kicks us in the teeth. Our good friend the coronavirus has seen to that, and right now things are changing very quickly. As I write this, I see that there’s very serious talk from staunch conservatives about sending checks to every American adult.* I also see that Tax Day has been pushed out to July 15, and that talk of social distancing has gone from politely worded suggestions to hardcore stink eye.
Are you familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? If not, it’s a motivational theory found in psychology with five tiers of necessities we need as human beings. From lowest to highest, they are:
- Physiological needs such as food, water, and warmth. The basics.
- Safety needs such as a roof over your head and a door that locks. The need for law and order.
- Love/belonging needs such as a significant other, family, and friends. This is the “no man is an island” need.
- Esteem needs such as the feeling of accomplishing goals and a degree of social prestige.
- Self-actualization needs such as creative expression and striving to meet or exceed your potential.
I mention that because, in the midst of this pandemic, we know that the world will be changed once things calm down. What does that world look like? We don’t know, but we do know it’ll be based on a similar hierarchy of needs. We’ll have to work out the baseline stuff first, such as a vaccine for the coronavirus, economic aid for the millions who have lost their jobs, and a healthcare safety net to handle medical issues. I’m sorry, medical issues beyond the ones we already have.
But what happens after all of that has been resolved? What does normal life look like? When do we go back to the movies? And…well…that’s a good question! I don’t know, but I do know that the post-coronavirus world looks very different from the world we remember three weeks ago. I have a feeling that the process of viewing motion pictures could go in a few directions.
The first possibility is that global quarantine proves to be a deeply traumatic process. So much so that social withdrawal becomes the norm, and the idea of gathering in a large, dark room with several hundred strangers would be met with bitter laughter. In that case, watch streaming services get even bigger than they already are now. You want to watch Avengers: Infinity Cashgrab? You’ll do it on the Disney+ app and nowhere else. The seventh Mission: Impossible movie streams on Netflix. In that case, we’d also see a massive acceleration in the death of movie theaters. Movies essentially become just another television show, only longer.
The next possibility assumes the opposite response from us. Once a vaccine has been developed, we embrace public spaces again—with a degree of caution. Movie theaters re-open, but seats are removed in order to enforce a degree of social distancing. Ever see a movie and you’re stuck sitting next to someone with some profound body odor? The good news is, they’ll now be at least six feet away! In this case, movie theaters might look more like nightclubs. If you’re on a date or out with friends, you’ll reserve a table and a small cluster of seats.** Reserved seating becomes the norm everywhere.
But what if you yearn for a movie on a big screen, but there’s no way on God’s green Earth that you’ll set foot inside a movie theater? During warmer months, look for the return of drive-in theaters and community movies. Can the wicked COVID-19 penetrate your car door? I think not, punk-ass bug! The nostalgia factor of bringing back drive-ins is strong, and technological advancements mean superior picture and sound quality. The bad news is that drive-ins, by virtue of what they are, alienate people who don’t own a vehicle. Movies shown on inflatable screens in parks could be a good way to boost a feeling of community.*** Though what happens in autumn and winter months? If you have any brilliant ideas, I’d sure like to hear ‘em.
There’s two other larger points we should consider. The first is the general teetering-on-the-edge of apocalypse feeling we’re dealing with right now. As much as I adore Mad Max: Fury Road, I have zero interest in playing the home game. Keep in mind that pandemics are a tragically normal aspect of human history. The 1918 influenza outbreak commonly known as the Spanish Flu**** infected 500 million people, a quarter of the world’s population. You know why we’re talking about it 102 years later? Because people survived and civilization soldiered on.
The second is the incorrect assertion that thinking about movies is shallow, particularly right now. There’s nothing wrong with missing the communal experience of a film, the excitement of seeing The Hulk demolish robots or the intense emotion found in art. Since everything is uncertain right now, it’s only logical to adopt a “What about…?” mindset. After we figure out our finances and stabilize our homes, we’ll move through our own hierarchy of needs and we’ll realize that we’re going to need entertainment.
We’ll have it. A few years from now, after all the dust has settled, a group of people will be talking. One of them will mention the Great Pandemic of ‘20 and say, “Can you believe how wild that shit was?” Another person will start waving their hands, exclaiming, “Nope, nope, nope, too depressing, don’t want to hear it.” The levelheaded member of the group will interject with, “You know what? Let’s catch a movie.”
And they will.
*It ain’t socialism when Trump does it, huh?
**You also might have to provide proof of vaccination.
***Though these movies would strictly be crowd-pleasers. You’re not going to see a double feature of Antichrist and Hereditary at your community center. I mean, probably not.
****Fun fact—that outbreak actually may have started in Haskell, Kansas, and troops mobilizing for World War I unwittingly brought the virus to Europe. Maybe keep that in mind if you’re tempted to blame “dirty foreigners” for pandemics.