Earlier this week, I complained errantly on twitter, as I am wont to do, about my local cinema’s increasing of prices to £11.80. (Which, for those of you in America, comes to $17.51 for a standard 2D ticket). I was mostly baiting a few friends of mine in the US, who are always consistently surprised at the prices my local cinema charges, but the incident got me thinking about my relationship with film as a product.
It’s something I try usually try to ignore; whenever I consider a film critically I tend to think about it in terms of themes, or narrative construction, or just simply how it made me feel, and never in terms of whether it was worth the money. Over the last couple days, however, I’ve been snowballing thoughts about the commercial side of the situation to the point where there’s enough to write down in this here piece.
A think piece, if you will. (I’m so, so sorry)
I live in the most expensive city on earth, and like many people in that city, I am incredibly poor. I’ve been living unemployed for the last year, on temporary half-rate employment support allowance, because after all this time, my case has yet to be processed. My ticket to Fast and Furious 7 today will cost me almost a quarter of said weekly allowance. As somebody who tries to keep relatively current with movies in order to write about them on the internet, such a massive cost inherently changes my relationship with them. Making regular cinema trips is an intense financial burden, and as such, I have to be choosy about those which I go out and see.
Yet, I don’t often make that choice myself. I mean, I do, I’m not getting into free-will or anything here, but decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. I’ll see a movie on opening weekend if more people are going to be talking about it so I can avoid spoilers and get in on the zeitgeist. I’ll see a movie on opening weekend if I’m going to review it. I’ll let a potential masterpiece slide if I’ve got something to do at home and want to afford milk for the weekend. It’s not hard for me to argue that if my criticism is driven by what I watch, and what I watch is driven by what is deemed culturally relevant for me to watch, that I am a bad critic.
After all, that is the manner in which the status quo remains dominant regardless of how harmful or stagnant it may be. People always decry the amount of sequels and remakes, but they make the most commercial sense for everyone involved. Studios get a pre-existing audience to market to, movie websites get to survive because people are looking for information on them, thus creating more and more interest in the movies that already had an audience. It’s an incredibly successful and self-sustaining system that tends towards hegemony.
Because the film industry is just that, an industry. It relies on the consistent exploitation of both its workers and its audience in order to maintain the profit margins that it creates. By engaging with movie culture on its terms, I am feeding into a system of my own exploitation, and the exploitation of others. Instead of heading to the Odeon on a Friday, I could stay at home and watch a cheap second hand DVD I picked up two years ago for 25p, and have enough money to afford something better than frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. Maybe with that leftover money I could put it towards a cause that would work against the way the government treats the poor and the disabled and improve the quality of life for others as well.
I don’t, though. And honestly, I think that last paragraph ends on a dangerous line of thinking. It’s the same line of thinking that blames poor people for the exploitative labour practises of amazon, because they can’t afford to drive to the shops. Ultimately, I can’t truck with any thought that puts the responsibility for change on those that are already struggling and desperate. The idea that the public have the final say under capitalism is clearly a fallacy, because people’s choices are so often dictated for them. Anyone who says “Vote with your dollar!” gets serious side eye from me. When I have so few dollars to vote with, and those with power and status so many, is it any wonder we keep getting the same results?
This is how the same voices get to be heard over and over in criticism. Those with the established jobs, those with access to pre-release screeners, or those that can afford to keep up with the increased prices of regular tickets, tend to be straight, white, cis men. These economic processes are the same processes that lead to the experiences and thoughts of marginalised being pushed to the side-lines within criticism, when they’re the people who need to be heard. Criticism is being written that dismantles these harmful ideologies, often later when these movies become widely available, or cheaper, or even pirated, and then I see it written off by established people so often as “inevitable tumblr backlash.” Tumblr isn’t a monolith, I’m not saying its perfect, but to write off important criticism because it doesn’t come from a legitimate established platform is only helping to sustain a system that is ultimately harmful and exploitative for all but a minute number of people.
I haven’t got an answer, I don’t have a fix, and I wouldn’t trust anybody who says they do. All of these problems in movie culture are merely the problems of western culture writ small, No Ethical Consumption Under Capitalism and all that jazz. And when forced to be complicit in your own exploitation, the only thing you can do is try not to feel guilty. My band aid of a quick-fix is just: be empathetic, help others where you can, and try not to think about it. When thinking about a film I ignore my relationship to it as a product, because otherwise every time I wrote anything I’d probably break into a rant about the death of post-war socialism and that doesn’t help anyone who wants to know about The Avengers.
But one thing I can do, when faced with any harmful elements of a culture or sub-culture, is to try to find or build my own alternative niches to engage with. In this case, what it means is I want to make it a personal goal to write more about movies that aren’t new releases, that aren’t in the news, that aren’t about to get a sequel. Hopefully you’ll see more words from me that are worth reading because they’re good words rather than because they’re relevant and topical, and I encourage you to find more critics who operate this way, because there’s like a million of them better than me even on this here website. Read alternate voices, support marginalised perspectives, and if we can’t get rid of an awful system, at least we can build cooler, safer spaces within it.
Anyway. Enough of this, I’m heading out to watch Fast and Furious. Can someone spot me a tenner?