Creative Commons: PxHere

The trouble with capitalism in this country specifically is that it can see about as far as its own nose. The pandemic, which has revealed the cruelty, folly, and craven selfishness of every evil institution and person, has likewise shined that searing spotlight on the movie industry, and the industry, at every level, has stumbled about with that same blindness.

The plain thing to do is to shut everything down until the plague passes us. That is what has worked in other countries. Read a newspaper if you don’t believe me. The fact that this is inconvenient to rich people is beside the point: It is plainly the right thing to do, which means that in America, we don’t fucking do it.

Because we subscribe to thoughtless, shortsighted capitalism above all else–because once you have yours you are obligated by law to say fuck everybody else–the film industry in particular is now forced to essentially allow itself to be gutted because the individual segments of it won’t work together to weather this thing. It is as if you were faced with a ravenous zombie horde, but instead of reacting as one human being, you watched your individual arms and legs argue over which of them should get bitten by the zombies rather than, you know, work together to run away from them.

Warner Bros. has announced that it will simply issue same-day releases of its entire slate of movies for 2021 on HBO Max, the ultimate concession to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic that also throws theaters to the wolves. There is a lot to unpack from this news, starting with the fact that no mention is made anywhere of revenue sharing with theaters. Why should there be? Studios have done everything in their power over the years to extract more and more revenue from theaters, which remain the only practical model by which you can charge people to see Captain America vs. Godzilla per ass rather than per household.

Is that good for the moviegoer? In the immediate term, yes, it is. This sort of thing should have been in place earlier. I’m sorry that I don’t live in Manhattan or Anaheim, but I would still like to see The Lighthouse within some reasonable interval of when it came out. I don’t always have time to go to a theater, and there are some movies that I don’t feel like dragging four children to go see. The theatrical release is, in a time of streaming, at least somewhat outdated, and theaters have known this. It’s why, before this plague, they all started tacking on table service and bars.

At the same time streaming and video games and every other thing in life joined television in the cavalcade of things stealing novelty from the movies, theaters have been forced to make up for their historic decline in revenues through obnoxious means: Half a damn hour of trailers before the feature, on top of advertising prior to the trailers. Memberships and rewards programs to entice more people to come more often. All of it, ultimately, resulting in a less pleasant experience when you do bother to go.

Now, of course, that experience can literally kill you. I already wrote at Paste about just exactly how steamed that makes me, in light of everything.

And yet Warner’s move here pisses me off just as much. An industry with hundreds of thousands of employees, the basis for the blockbuster movie model, will simply be abandoned. Theaters will close and it will be harder to make blockbuster movies, which in turn will cause a downturn in earnings for studios who have not been able to see past the blockbuster since the turn of the century. If these same execs are dumb enough to greenlight the latest Robin Hood movie, they are absolutely dumb enough to keep trying to bet the farm on blockbusters when the model is no longer viable.

They could, instead, participate in some form of revenue sharing. But they will not do that, because under capitalism it is stupid, criminal, to consider giving somebody something for nothing. If there is no immediate benefit to your bottom line right now, you are honor-bound not to do it. The possibility that there could be mutual benefit at some unspecified point in the future is not to be considered. We must eat the fucking marshmallow NOW.

If you think everything will remain the same and the industry will just limp over the finish line, you should know Hollywood has had a big collapse once before, in the ’60s, as TV ate away at viewership, standby genres like Westerns and big movie musicals became less popular and created bubbles that burst, and as antitrust rulings brought an end to things like the B-movie due to the end of block booking (a studio forcing a theater to play a whole slate of movies). The entire swirling confluence of post-war American cultural forces led to it, really.

We’re in a time of such upheaval again, and it’s not at all unreasonable a thought, to my mind, that a mainstay of public life like the theater could come to an end as a result. Besides throwing a bunch of people out into the street who were pulling down a wage, what is that going to do? I know it seems like I’m worked up about the specific way in which I get to watch dumb movies, but this stuff does matter. What stories get told, by whom, and to whose monetary benefit are all important things–things that are part of the same cultural concerns as stuff like representation of women and minorities.

I’m happy I get to watch Dune without fucking catching the plague. But as with every other shitty thing about this shitty country during this shitty pandemic, it reminds me that it all comes at the cost of some other person or institution undeservedly getting screwed. But nobody fucking listens to me, so I guess I’ll just throw my hands up and do it.