"Dinner and a movie" is one of the last affordable, middle-class family outings and has served as the venerable date night for countless romantic relationships both new and old. The American middle class has been losing ground for decades, and last week's news that it is no longer the world's richest is just the latest blow. We've already lost baseball to luxury boxes and Disneyland to premium passes, we now risk losing one of the last great escapes of the American middle class: Going to the movies.
Last year George Lucas and Steven Spielberg warned that the film industry is headed for financial implosion. They think movies will be like Broadway shows with ticket prices eventually settling around $150 each. Ron Howard echoed this opinion last week at Tribeca suggesting we accept the change and embrace new technology. This doesn't just mean more revenue for Netflix and more creepy ghost-theaters on Main Streets in towns across America.
It means each parent, kid, girlfriend and boyfriend will abscond away to a different place in the house with his/her own personal laptop or TV set. And now with the coming ascension of virtual reality like Oculus Rift, the dystopian day we are literally oblivious to the person sitting next to us on the couch may not be too distant.
Sociologists have well-documented the impact the advent of television had on American society. Our neighborly visits and door-stoop chats of the 1950s gave way to today's "Armed Response" security signs and silent, isolated vegetating in front of the boob tube.
Going to the movies is one of the few remaining reasons we get out from behind our TVs, laptops and cellphones. In fact, now that we can instant message from takeoff to landing on airplanes, it's one of the last places we are admonished to surrender our Internet handcuffs (and how painful the withdrawal symptoms for those 90 minutes!).
Movie theaters are also one of the few public connecting points that bring diverse parts of the community together. Given the increasing tendency for elites to buy their way out of public places, the people in the popcorn line on any given Friday night is one of the most middle-class melting-pot manifestations we have left.
Saving the movie-going experience won't save America's middle class, but letting it go will lead us deeper down the hole of Internet isolation and greater separation from each other at a time when Americans need more real-world, interpersonal connections, not fewer.