Apparently, churches are not the only ones bemoaning falling attendance. Amy Kaufman of the L.A. Times reports that only 1.28 billion people bought a ticket for a movie in the U.S. and Canada in 2011. That may still like a huge number of patrons, but it is the lowest number in 16 years. Those of us who rarely darken the darkened Hollywood houses would point to ticket prices, especially a cost to value comparison being woefully dissatisfying. Kaufman points to a disconnect between the industry and a new generation of movie-watchers.
I confess to knowing very little about marketing particularly this product. But I wonder if there is another factor or two at play beyond economics and a generation gap. As I heard the statistic about falling movie attendance first on radio news, my mind went back to a book my brother-in-law, Bud Woodall, gave to me 15 years ago. It is called Five Lies of the Century and is written by David T. Moore. Moore explores five myths of our culture, one of which is that “Entertainment Is Harmless.” One of the media myths he explores is the idea that the media just gives people what they want. Moore says, “If the media is really giving people what they want, then why are fewer people going to movies, concerts, and watching TV?…Seventy-eight percent of Americans go to two films or fewer a year. When they do go, it’s nearly always to see an exceptionally good film” (283-284). He makes the point that in the 1980s, despite “G” rated movies far outperforming “R” movies, the industry increased production of “R” rated movies by almost 20% in that decade.
So, a generation later, people have patronized movies full of filthy language, irreverence, gratuitous violence, and sexual immorality of every flavor and kind. Like a lesser drug loses its pull eventually, movies that titillate also desensitize much the way that lemons take the enamel off a tooth. Movies have to push the envelope more and move the edge further. This will work for a while, along with technological advances like 3-D and interactive theatre seats. Perhaps, like someone living on a diet of fat and sugar, north American movie-goers are glutted with drug, sex, vulgarity, and profanity. If the past is any kind of predictor, the majority will return after their hiatus. May we, as Christians, not follow them. Remember, the majority are on the wrong spiritual road (Mt. 7:13-14).