Will the Coronavirus Finally Settle the Streaming Movies vs. Theater Debate?

With COVID-19 now a full-blown pandemic, industries are struggling to adjust, but the film and TV industry may never be the same

Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash

Less than a year ago, at the 2019 Cinemacon in Las Vegas, Oscar Winner Helen Mirren shared her opinion on streaming movies in no uncertain terms: "I love Netflix, but f*ck Netflix!"

The comment came amid controversy over the criteria by which a film qualifies for consideration for the Academy Awards and other major accolades. At the time, Netflix and other streaming platforms were pushing for their original productions to be included for consideration without the need for traditional theatrical releases, and many in the industry balked at the prospect. Yesterday, Regal and AMC—the largest cinema chains in the US—both announced that they will be closing all their theatres starting today. Together, the two companies operate nearly 50% of theater screens in the US. Other chains have restricted theater crowds, and more closures are certain to follow.

With no clear end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, there is an open question about how the movie and television industries will cope. While social distancing is creating increased demand for streaming content, and numerous scheduled releases and production schedules have been delayed indefinitely, will studios be forced to release their existing projects online? Will selection criteria be adjusted for the 2021 award season? And will movie theaters ever recover?

Almost every aspect of our society is in the process of restructuring to adjust to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more people are working from home. Entire regions are shutting down their restaurants and bars. And citizens and politicians alike are calling for measures that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago—on the left, many people are pushing for freezes on evictions, as well as rent and mortgage payments, and even some Republicans (normally shills for heartless capitalism) are suggesting universal income measures to help people get by. In the short term it's causing unprecedented turmoil in the stock market, but in the long term, some industries are likely to never fully bounce back.

In some of the most dire cases—movie theaters being a prime example—the change has been a long time coming. American theater attendance peaked in 2002 and has been on a slow decline ever since—with audiences increasingly preferring the convenience of television and streaming services. Independent theaters have been hit hardest, with many closing down in recent years. Likewise, brick and mortar retail has been hit hard by the convenience of online shopping—with many local stores and even some major retail chains forced out of business. The restrictions imposed by the coronavirus—the latest guidelines advise against gatherings of more than ten people—are only accelerating the rate of change that was already occurring.

While many industry insiders would decry the loss of the theater experience—the immersive scale and the communal environment—most Americans have gotten used to viewing even epic films on screens smaller than a sheet of paper. While directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan will argue that movies are made to be viewed on the big screen, when your nose is six inches from the action, it hardly feels small. None of this is to say that there won't be something real lost if movie theaters disappear—just that it might be inevitable, and that the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the process. Empty movie theaters may soon join the suburban blight of empty malls and abandoned factories that dot the American landscape. They may go the way of the drive-in.

With the narrow profit margins involved in the theater business, government intervention (as we've already seen with other industries) could help them stay afloat until things return to normal, but the more realistic scenario may be that things never return to normal. While AMC's closure is currently slated to last 6-12 weeks, there is no way of telling how long it will actually last, and it may end up consuming the rest of 2020 and beyond. Will the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy open consideration to streaming content and encourage studios to opt for Internet releases in the case of James Bond, Mulan, and others? Or will they cancel next year's award season entirely? Whatever the case, 2020 is looking increasingly likely to be the year that cements the supremacy of the Internet over going outside.

Meanwhile, with Stephen Colbert delivering his Late Show monologue from home (from his bathtub, to be specific), will we see other productions following suit—delivering much-needed entertainment to the isolated masses while limiting the spread of the virus? The term "bottle episode" refers to the trope—particularly common in 90s sitcoms—wherein a small number of characters are trapped together in a confined space. Will we see a resurgence of that concept with an influx of quarantine content? Or will television networks and studios take it to the next level and invest in concepts that allow performers to work remotely from the safety of home, either with animation, or with live-action shows that play with the fact that no one is in the same room (e.g. the episode of Modern Family that took place entirely on FaceTime) If not, TV may also be left behind by the vast array of independent content creators who are more than capable of working with the current conditions.

Whatever else happens in the coming months—and as much as this all feels like a throwback to a different era—we should all be thankful, for once, that culture has increasingly embraced isolation with streaming and delivery services that prevent the need to leave our homes. We all thought we were just being lazy. It turns out we were training for a pandemic.


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The Horrifying Corporate Zombies of Branded Twitter

Twitter brands want you to believe they're your friends, but they are all soulless monsters.

Photo by: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

In 2012, one of the death knells of Mitt Romney's failed campaign for the presidency was an endlessly replayed clip of him telling a heckler at a rally, "Corporations are people, my friend."

Mitt Romney- Corporations Are People!

He was expressing his opposition to raising the corporate tax rate, because that ultimately takes money out of (rich) people's pockets. It's not exactly a stunning take for a Republican politician, but what made the clip so damning was how plainly it exposed Romney's fundamental flaw as a candidate. He didn't seem like a real person. There was nothing authentic in any aspect of his public persona. Whether it was Mormonsim, political ambitions, or hundreds of millions of dollars that drained him of all flavor, the result was the concept of bland corporate professionalism made manifest in a suit and a haircut. He was the Uncanny Valley candidate.

There is a parallel issue that has emerged in recent years on Twitter, and I can't quite handle it. Having learned the lesson of Mitt Romney, every brand on Earth has made it their mission to present themselves on Twitter as people with some actual personality—as your cool, quirky friend. And people genuinely invest in these exchanges. There are endless articles about which Twitter brands are "sassiest" and about Old Spice "beefing" with Taco Bell. Who had the better zinger?!

Whichever side we choose, we are the losers when we invest emotion into these empty vessels, because brands are not on our side. There's no such thing as a sassy or a quirky brand, and there are no "good" brands. Brands are not people. They are imaginary entities, devoid of character and attribute—corporate figures that can be erased and remade on the whim of a focus group. They can't feel or think or love, and they can't die. They are philosophical zombies, except that—like the flesh-eating corpse version of zombies—they are doing their best to kill us all.

One of the most upsetting things about these Twitter brands is that some of the people writing these tweets are legitimately clever. There's a lot of real talent being subsumed by the capitalistic effort to commodify every aspect of our lives and convert all of Earth's vital resources into profit as quickly as inhumanly possible—before impending climactic collapse destroys the global economy and the wealthy retreat to luxury bunkers, protected from the fulfillment of Mad Max's hellish vision.

Creative ability that could be used to connect people and make them aware of the pressing issues that concern the entire planet is instead being funneled into efforts that can only numb us. These innocuous jokes build warm feelings toward emblems of the forces we should be rallying against—a hazy comfort that conceals the fact that our society is rapidly destroying the possibility of livable conditions for humanity.

And in our numb state, we see Greta Thunberg's passion and assume it's an act. We question the price tag of the Green New Deal and resist the vision of a transformational shift akin to the war movement in the 40s—which is seen as an unquestioned good, despite the fact that climate change is a far more dangerous threat to humanity than the Nazis could ever have hoped to be.

In our numb state, we see protesters clogging the streets and, instead of joining them—propagating a general strike that spreads throughout our cities until we can begin the real work of dismantling the cancerous systems of greed consuming our planet—we complain that they are making us late to our jobs. The jobs where we serve our unfeeling masters: the corporate zombies that will kill us all.


Why Is No One Talking About Nickelback's Lyrics?

It seems Chad Kroeger and President Trump have a lot in common.

Nickelback, now experiencing an all time career low, got an unexpected boost in popularity this week thanks to Trump inaccurately using the band's "Photograph" meme, which samples the sextet's 2005 hit of the same name.

The band's label, Warner Music Group, stepped in and hit the president with a quick copyright infringement claim, but the band themselves didn't seem to realize the underlying joke behind it all: that they are similar to Trump in that they gained international fame despite being detested by almost everybody. "People in the meme-generating depths of the Web did not make Nickelback memes because they liked Nickelback. They made Nickelback memes because they did not like Nickelback, and because Nickelback was everywhere anyway," wrote The Washington Post. "Nickelback didn't exactly become famous for being famous. It became famous for being famous despite being horrible. That makes Trump the Nickelback president."

Politics aside, Trump's antics inspired Popdust to take a deep dive back into Nickelback's long and distasteful discography. It turns out, the band and our president have more in common than initially reported, such as a misogynistic view of women. Let's take a look back at some of the band's most distasteful lyrics, and revisit the question that plagues us all: Why was Nickelback ever a thing?

Figured You Out

"I like your pants around your feet
And I like the dirt that's on your knees
And I like the way you still say please
While you're looking up at me"

Right out the gate we have "Figured You Out," off of 2003's The Long Road. The song describes multiple sexual encounters with a woman that "wasn't that hard to figure out." "Sometimes you get into a little fling and you think you know the person," said Chad Kroeger of the song's meaning, "and the next thing you know, you're dating a cokehead who's interwoven into some underground drug world with Hell's Angels and movie stars and models." Regardless of that awkward statement, the single's cover art, which depicts visibly nervous cheerleaders sitting in a row in a locker room, paints an incredibly predatory picture. Chade Kroeger was 29 at the time.