For 13 weekends in a row, box-office receipts have been down compared with a year ago, despite the blockbuster opening of the final "Star Wars" movie. And movie executives are unsure whether the trend will end over the important Memorial Day weekend that officially begins the summer season.I haven't been to a movie at a theater since the release of Cold Mountain, a movie I hated. But I rarely watch movies at home either. I did catch most of Star Wars II the other night when my wife, daughter, and future son-in-law popped it into the DVD player. (I'd never seen it before. The effects were wonderful, the plot predictable, the acting horrific, precisely what my daughter said about the most recent film after seeing it a few nights ago.) Like many people, I think, I just don't feel like taking the time to sit down and watch a movie, at home or away.
Meanwhile, sales of DVD's and other types of new media continue to surge.
Given the increase in DVD sales, it's clear that people are still interested in movies. But they don't seem very interested in leaving their houses to watch them.
Part of that may be that you can turn off a movie you don't like when you're at home and it's easier to swallow the lower price of a dud you rent from Netflix than it is the cost of a ticket bought at the local theater.
But I also think this reflects a deeper and ongoing trend in our society. It's reflected in the continuing move out to ever-distant rings of suburban housing away from core cities. We are increasingly isolating ourselves from others, eschewing community for individual fiefdoms in the burbs.
Years ago, I became familiar with a county whose natives seldom left its narrow confines and whose new residents wanted nothing more than complete isolation from the rest of the world. The suicide rate and cases of depression were uncommonly high. More than 70% of the population had nothing to do with a church, presumably because that would entail encountering others. A friend of mine, a compassionate and insightful man, observed, "I don't know how to describe the culture of that community except to say that it's weird, Mark." I think that he was right.
We are communal creatures. We need each other. Living in community can be a challenge, but when we do, we encourage each other and we keep one another honest and accountable.
"Going to the movies" is a lot more than sitting silently in a dark theater. There's the traveling to the theater and there's the post-movie conversation. There's the fun of sharing gasps of horror and tears of empathy and joy with strangers.
Fortunately, movie theaters aren't the only places where we can experience community with others--there are worship celebrations, small groups, parties, ball games, concerts, not to mention intimate conversations with family and friends.
But I suspect that even within our homes, people often watch movies in isolation, not sharing the experience with others. If this keeps up, our hyper-individualistic culture could start to get really "weird."
When one looks at the troubled youth that my friends in Education tell me about all the time or the general increase in anger and coarseness in our culture, along with the elevation of individual "rights" over against communal responsibilities, I think one has to say that isolation and the weirdness it spawns has a firm and disturbing foothold in our culture.