Pretending movie theaters are dangerous places gives them a sense of purpose
Now that movie theaters have opened around the country, film critics are slowly venturing out of their Hobbit-holes and discovering what those of us in less restrictive states have known for nearly a year. Theaters are safe, they have always been safe, and closing them, other than for the first few weeks of the pandemic when no one had any idea what was going on, was foolish, short-sighted, and led to irrational public fears. Other than schools, no other place has been more unfairly demonized during the pandemic than movie theaters.
Exhibit A is Dan Gentile, the culture editor of SF Gate, the culture arm of the San Francisco Chronicle. Over the weekend, Gentile published his account of going to the movies in San Francisco for the first time in forever It contained the same details of my own account of moviegoing from last May: N-95 mask tight over the face like a diaper, nervous patrons looking around for signs of coughing, and employees frantically sanitizing every surface. “As I think more about shoveling popcorn past my virgin white mask, I feel the same tingle of panic I get from watching big crowds in TV shows,” he writes. “So no Pepsi for me, my yearslong streak without scanning a QR code remains unbroken.”
Bully for him!
More than the average person, film critics have spent the last year cosplaying the apocalypse. It’s been easy to do, because the industry has accommodated them. But they’ve also done a lot to help destroy the moviegoing experience. Hollywood continues to put stuff into production. Distributors have battled local governments to try and stay open, often to the brink of bankruptcy or even beyond. But the message from America’s film writers has always been the same. It is not safe, and you should not go. But that’s not true. Still, as of this writing, no one has traced one case of COVID-19 to moviegoing anywhere in the world.
Nonetheless, everyone wants to feel useful during the pandemic, even though almost no one is useful. Especially not a theatergoing film critic, whose main purpose no longer exists since there are no longer films. So critics like Gentile assume the posture of noble warrior.
“It’s led me to adopt J.F.K.’s old what-you-can-do-for-your-country philosophy,” he writes. “I try not to think about what activities I can do during COVID, but rather what I can do to stop COVID. I realize that sounds self-righteous and is a privilege not everyone has, and the seclusion has led to weeks where I may or may not have acted like a complete maniac. I’ve also bitten the ethical bullet for a few work experiences, including this one.”
It’s actually quite sad. He wants to do the right thing, to be a good soldier in the war. But whatever he thinks he’s doing, he’s not doing. He didn’t stop COVID. No one in America did. It spread in states that had tight restrictions, and it spread in states that didn’t have many. And many more people behaved themselves adequately during the pandemic than the shut-ins might think. People died, but it wasn’t because other people went to the movies.
Godzilla Vs. Kong made nearly $300 million worldwide this week, and nearly $40 million in the United States. People are either vaccinated or fed up with being told what they can and can’t do, or, in my case, both. Emerge from your foxholes. The movies are back. Let’s all of us, film critics and readers alike, stop cosplaying the apocalypse together.