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The Dank Abyss Of Social Media and The Movies

One of the things that really annoys me is when someone on social media is somehow forced to expound that they are “super” excited over something that for the most part is inane. Social Media is filled with people who insist on being the center of attention. It is like sitting on a pier filled with thousands of squawking seagulls. First of all, I have little or no interest in what you are excited about …even less about what you are “super” excited about. It is like everyone tries to supersize their feelings. Once though you have read 84 “super” excited" in one day it really loses all meaning. If someone was to say “Hey, I am starting a new job that I am pleased to get but frankly a bit worried because I do not want to screw up”. That I can get behind. It is an honest and frank statement.

Honesty is something Hollywood rarely ever engages in. It cannot. It has built a juggernaut that must be fed. Every year it has to be fed more and to be frank Hollywood really expects the theater owner to do most of the feeding. Now do not get me wrong Hollywood has been expounding of the qualities of the movies it releases since the beginning. The problem is that social media has mimicked all its tricks. At one time when the large movie ads came out, you would get excited when an ad blared “picture of the year” and you would dutifully run out and see it. Now motion picture advertising is adrift and is a stinky sea of “super excited” and “ so pumped” that being noticed is becoming a problem. Digital pollution has set the boat of truth adrift and many folks who have not been given the discipline of cognitive and discerning thought will more or less believe anything they read. The other side of the coin is that it has arisen in our society, a corrosive cynicism expounded by people who really could not be bothered and not willing to do the work.

There is still much joy in going to a movie. Yesterday I was grocery shopping and saw a fellow wearing an Artcraft sweatshirt, I told him that I liked his shirt and for the next five minutes he expounded on the Don Knotts classic comedy “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”. There is a prominent physician from the town I live in who absolutely is smitten with the “Ma and Pa Kettle “ series. As opposed to Social Media, these are uncontrived opinions, drawn from personal experience and personal joy. Instead of making Social Media a tool for cross-communicating personal passion, it has become a clouded mess focusing on manipulation and bullying. If you take a look at the work done by Cambridge Analytics in both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 American election, you will see how easily all Social Media can be manipulated. Gen Z’s are moving quickly to video-enabled Social Media like Tik Tok because of its truer documentary form.

As a result, Social Media is being discounted heavily by consumers that are looking again toward more reliable forms of communication and opinion-making. Social Media when used well evokes a true passion and truthfulness. Within the business of exhibition Hollywood has weaned away theaters from being engaged with the content to just patting the exhibitor on the head and letting them know they are not to engage with the marketing of the movies. Most theater owners have taken this to heart and have evolved away from showmanship.

A lot of theater owners, small town guys who love what they do and love the movies send me notes saying, “hey the big circuits are never talking about movies, they are always talking about everything but movies” Having been at many a trade show I would agree with them. I decided to think a bit about this and began really to drill down on why this is. 

When I had my first job at a theater, I was an usher. I usually was supervised by an assistant manager, who in turn was managed by a manager who in turn was managed by a district manager. All these people were professionals. They were sent press books by the studio, they made decisions, they placed ads, they were invited to screenings, they could have input on what pictures would play and when. At one time the theater manager, after the mayor, was the most important person in town. At a moment’s notice, he could whip out a pair of tickets out of his back pocket and grace someone with an evening’s entertainment. It was a solid career path and one that held respect in society.

Suddenly that changed, less and less as the circuits became bigger did the manager retain much autonomy, to a point where now they are responsible for cash management, supervision, and maintaining inventory. It is not the same job in an industry where centralization and rapid growth depleted much of the cachet and nuance that it once had. Movie circuits got too big and lost the localized flavor that at one time was its strength. Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg increased the number of theaters from 600 to 900 for the release of “JAWS” and the beast of far too rapid growth took the movies in its mouth and began to shake.

Social Media then gets used as a tool for movie promotion, but again it is left to the shotgun like studio marketing with national campaigns when in reality Social Media should have been used to ignite local audiences.

The movie-going experience was diluted and for the past twenty years, there has been a steady erosion. Social media adds to this by giving soapboxes to thousands of would-be critics, people who had access to a keyboard but zero knowledge regarding the tradition of the movies. Art, all art, is based on both inspiration and precedent. Social Media with its immediacy and its callow awareness of the outside world dumbed down the movie-going audience, where for the most part few have an understanding of what has happened before 1997. The year 1997 was not a stellar year for movies with probably the best picture being “As Good As It Gets” and the box office leader was “Men in Black”. The movies stumbled and all those critics sitting in their parent’s basements started spilling their digital undereducated venom all across the internet. One of the most dangerous things about Social Media is it can give shallow people a quick shot of false self-importance. It never lasts and they quickly start typing and seeking substantiation from people they do not know. For the insecure, Social Media can be a fatal form of fleeting Oxycontin.

Social Media as we have learned from the last two election cycles can easily be the subject of manipulation and abuse. Theater owners must realize that a garden of sun-blocking weeds has sprung up and the only true way to chop through is to place theater managers in place who are passionate about movies and who can develop relationships with the local community. It seems that once people can attach Social Media to a place and a face then it can become a far more precise instrument. Again the key ingredient in revving up the movie-going tradition and experience is to advance community.

Our society has just been through a dangerous course of moving towards narcissistic individualism. One of the few benefits of COVID, it brought back and brought back in a big way the idea of the collective experience and the collective community.If its strategies can be brought to bear and implemented on a local basis then I truly believe movies can have a strong chance of a resurgence.

Social Media should always be a tool for an engaged showman to advance their product to local and focused audiences. The hands-on that keyboarding expounding this local message should be a showman, someone who is genuinely passionate about the product they are selling. Social Media can only truly be effective if the messaging is truthful and filled with passion.

I am excited by the trend to move to the local, but not super excited.