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I've had a varied career, mostly as a technical writer for various high-tech firms in eastern Massachusetts, which is my home of origin. I enjoy speculating about many kinds of technical and philosophical concepts far beyond my level of education. I hope this blog will be an opportunity for me to express some of the ideas that have been percolating for years in my mind. I would consider a respectful exchange of ideas to be the ideal result of this effort.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Movie Madness

When this post started writing itself in my head, as they always seem to do, it was focused on the way motion-picture success is reported in the mass media. It's always rated by the dollar volume of ticket sales, both nationally and internationally. This has bothered me for a long time because it seems that the more honest and practical method of measuring success is not how much money the film grossed but rather how many people actually paid to view it.

Even in this country, there are fairly large differences in ticket costs. I think that in some large metropolitan areas, like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, ticket prices of $15.00 or more are fairly common. Here in tiny Kernersville NC, however, we have a perfectly nice little theater that is clean and well run that shows first-run movies for $3.00 per ticket for everyone - young , old or very old. I know that there are similar theaters back in my home state of Massachusetts. There was one in Millbury that I used to go to often. I believe it was called "The Draft House". You could even have beer and pizza delivered to your seat.

I suppose you could say that it doesn't really make any difference because you're comparing films that show in all those theaters so that the price difference is negated. Generally stated that's probably true, however, why do we, as consumers, care how much money each film is making for the businessmen who run the movie industry? If we wonder at all about the relative success of films, and some do, what we really should be hearing is how many people thought enough of the film to pay to see it, not the sum total of their ticket costs.

I think this is especially true when it comes to foreign audiences. Wide-ranging differences in currency value make price comparisons pretty meaningless. If someone in Bombay pays the equivalent of $0.50 to see a film what does that mean to the overall income figures? Not much. On the other hand, it is significant to learn how many people in different countries spent their hard-earned cash to see a film. How much more interesting to find that 300,000 people watched a particular movie in France and in Denmark 2,000,000 people watched it. Those are the kind of comparisons that provide interesting and potentially useful information. It would be nice to be able to compare how people in different countries enjoy different types of films. That could be enlightening.

To my mind, however, there is a broader view that is more important. Properly implemented and controlled, capitalism can be a powerful force in developing a successful economy. The profit motive has been driving our economy for hundreds of years. What bothers me, however, is that, over the years, the accumulation of money has gone from being a way of stimulating the economy to being an end in itself. As I understand it, money has become the way for people to keep score on their success. I believe that this is the reason for people demanding, and getting, obscene cash and stock bonuses for questionable activities.

The stock market was created initially to provide a conduit for investment capital to find its way into the hands of entrepreneurs to stimulate their businesses and create products and jobs for America. It has now degenerated into a casino - a way for people to make huge amounts of money without actually creating or producing anything. Just buy low and sell high - 15 minutes from now. Some brokers and money-fund managers have a practice that's called "churning". Buying and selling stocks at an incredible rate to strip their customers money by charging fees for both buying and selling their stock. They even buy and sell the same stock as it goes up and down by pennies. Soon the customer has nothing and the broker receives a multi-million dollar bonus for increasing the profits to the house.

When our manufacturing capacity was in the process of being shipped offshore, I remember spokesmen from industry stating that we shouldn't worry because we were going to become a service economy. All these products being manufactured overseas would need repairs and when they did it would be a retrained American manufacturing worker who would provide them. Well, our manufacturing capacity is almost completely gone and along with it the promised service jobs. If you don't believe that just call some company's 800 number and ask for technical advice or ask to buy something. You'd better listen carefully though because that call will be answered by someone for whom English is a second or maybe a third language. Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia or wherever is where your call is transferred, thanks to the ever-present Internet and VOIP or Voice Over Internet Protocol.

There's really not much more I can say about this except that I fear we are losing our souls, if they aren't already gone. All that seems to matter now is that the rich should get richer and the poor should go way and stop bothering the rich. This disease is everywhere and I'm really scared that it may be too late to cure it. Just look at where we are: two probably unwinnable wars, providing obscene profits to weapons manufacturers and private-contractor armies; a potentially catastrophic climate-change problem that won't be dealt with because the changes needed could affect industry profits by requiring steps to be taken; a potential energy disaster caused by our utter dependence on foreign oil which can't be changed for fear of reducing the profits of the most profitable industries in the history of the world - oil, and on and on and on.

As Tiny Tim said "God bless us, every one".

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