They say Twitter can’t really change your mind about anything, and maybe that’s true. But it can certainly solidify your thinking, pulling you off the fence about a questionable issue and setting your wishy-washy opinions in stone. Take, for example, me and this cursed video:
I had been wavering, for weeks before this video crossed my timeline, about if I was going to go back to the movies. As you may have heard, the theatrical chains are strategizing (like many, many industries hobbled by the novel coronavirus pandemic) about when to reopen, despite the continuing rise of the death toll and no shortage of new hotspots; “It’s time for the country to reopen,” we’re told, as if merely announcing it makes it so. And thus, we keep hearing release dates for Tenet and Mulan and Saint Maud, and we keep hearing about when the major chains – Regal and AMC and Cinemark, specifically – will reopen to accommodate them.
Regal was to lead the way, planning to reopen their doors beginning this Friday, but they pushed that date to July 31 when Tenet pushed its opening by two weeks (for the second time). But make no mistake, they’re raring to go – with those three giants even going so far as to file a lawsuit for the right to re-open in New Jersey, claiming that if the state is allowing places of worship to reopen, theaters should be allowed to as well, and insisting that the current closure is, among other things, a “violation of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.” As Screen Crush’s Matt Singer notes, “Freedom of speech is enormously important, but I’m not sure that’s really what’s under threat when you keep people from buying a ticket to see Mulan at AMC.”
Since one of the most dangerous things you can do in the current environment is sit in an enclosed space with strangers for two-plus hours, you might call these exhibitors willfully ignorant. You might even call them irresponsible! But one must also grant that the (perhaps overly optimistic) 12-18 month timeline for a vaccine could shipwreck the theatrical exhibition business entirely, so it’s understandable that they would want to find a way to return moviegoers to their auditoriums, albeit as safely as possible.
In the weeks leading up to their announcements, we heard talk of what that would look like. Complete automation of ticket purchases, to reduce person-to-person interaction. Controls of reserved seating to ensure social distance between moviegoers. Temperature checks at the door. Deep cleaning of theaters, and gallons of hand sanitizer for patrons. Reduction, if not elimination, of concessions – since one has to move or remove a facemask in order to consume food or drink. And, of course, the required wearing of facemasks, universally accepted as the most scientifically safe method of reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Well, turns out, not so much.
All three chains enjoyed a rather public face-plant when they announced their reopening plans, which did not include a facemask requirement; AMC CEO and president Adam Aron really stepped in it by telling Variety, “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy… We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary.” By the next day, the chain had changed its mind, mandating mask usage, as did Regal. (Cinemark has not, merely stating that they “strongly encourage” guests to mask up.)
But even after the chains’ Dril-style “Sorry, Im sorry, Im trying to remove it” turnabout, the significance of the original decision – and its explanation – lingers. In the hours between the announcement and the reversal, Alamo Drafthouse chest-thumpingly tweeted, “We will require that guests wear masks at the theater,” and then, in parenthesis, as if trying to accomplish the Twitter equivalent of muttering under one’s breath, added “(except when eating/drinking).”
That, you see, is the problem. Theaters don’t make their money from ticket sales; they only pocket a small percentage, especially for hot new titles like Tenet. They make their money from concessions (which is why that box of popcorn and one-liter cup of Coke is so egregiously overpriced), so if admissions are reduced due to social distancing and concession stands are shut down because of face masks, they have no financial incentive to reopen at all.
So you’ll have outs like Alamo’s – where the full entrees and alcoholic beverages of their menu could conceivably allow a patron to remove their mask for the bulk of a film’s running time – or dodgy language like AMC’s, which requires “that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theatres” (italics mine). They will find ways to allow you to take the mask off your face. Because if they don’t, they can’t sell you things to put into the big hole in it.
None of which probably matters anyway, since the basic public health consideration of putting a piece of fabric over your mouth and nose has somehow become the most fraught political issue since the Watergate break-in. AMC’s Aron was silly to call their non-requirement policy an attempt to steer clear of a “political controversy” – by trying to dodge one, he made it one – but he’s not wrong that it has become political, because this has become the dumbest goddamn country on the face of the earth, and our drooling, shit-for-brains president and his (literally) mouth-breathing followers have decided this is the hill they’re going to (literally) die on.
So rather than just wear a mask over their garbage-spewing mouths, they’re going to scream about the founding fathers and communism and Bill Gates, and even if they go to the theaters with a mask-only rule, they will gleefully ignore it. They’re the same kind of rude morons who wouldn’t put their phones away during movies, or wouldn’t stop talking at full volume during them, and remember how well it went when you, or your fellow patrons, or even theater employees politely asked them to show the tiniest bit of consideration? Right, well, multiply that times ten, because now it’s not just about themselves; it’s about pleasing their big orange daddy.
And thus, as I watched the video of that boomer dipshit assaulting Wal-Mart employees so he could buy his Funyons without the insurmountable burden of a few inches of cloth on his big, stupid face, I realized I wasn’t going back to the movies anytime soon. I love going to the movies – obviously, I mean, this is my job – and I miss them terribly. But I flashed the idea of reckoning with anxiety and fear of going to the theater, subjecting myself to the rough equivalent of a TSA screening at the front door, and then having to deal with guys like that, bobbing and weaving through lobbies and auditoriums and braying about how us libs can’t take away their FREEDOM. And that’s when I realized I’m waiting this thing out.
One day, it will be really, truly safe to go back to the movies, and I look forward to that day. Until then, I’ve got a nice, big TV at home, and over a century of movies that I don’t have to leave here to watch. I’m pretty well versed in that history, but there’s still plenty to discover. And even better, I already know that the belligerent assholes in my living room aren’t gonna get me sick.