AMERICAN MOVIEGOING IS in absolute crisis. Like so many other venues for live entertainment, movie theaters everywhere closed their doors as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the US, and a great many still remain dark, facing a threat to their existence not seen since the last time a virus ransacked the world a century ago. Independent theaters, which struggle in the best of times to clear the thinnest of operating margins, have no corporate infrastructure or cash reserves to lean on, and even behemoths like AMC have had to furlough hundreds of employees while the film industry at large tries to figure out what the hell to do amid the catastrophic failure of federal leadership that is America’s (non)response to Covid-19.

What the future holds for movie theaters in America is anyone’s guess—and considering that places like South Korea, which have faced the virus head-on, are still at the mercy of micro-outbreaks, even getting Covid under control may not solve the industry’s problems. Whatever the outcome, it will be a good long while until things are back to normal, until everyone can go to the movies together. But maybe just trying to get everything back to normal isn’t the future of moviegoing at all. Maybe it’s time to ask what good normal was doing for anyone in the first place—anyone not named Bob in the C-suite of the Walt Disney Company, anyway.

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