the cost of going to the movies then and now

I receive several newsletters a day via email, which I peruse and if there is something I think of general interest—usually bleeding heart liberal petitions concerning the environment, animals, or injustice—I share them on my Facebook page.

When I click on over to Facebook, it always takes me directly to the communal tread where countless disparate conversations are running, each oblivious of the other. There I might check out the first dozen or so posts from “friends.” That is my sole interaction with Facebook.

When I went there a few months back, there was a post concerning the problems with going to a movie theater in 2013, including the price of tickets and concessions, rude viewers, etc. So I chimed in and wrote my recollections. The piece below is based on that Facebook posting but has been rewritten and expanded.

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First, I am 62 years old, so the price of tickets to see a movie seem TOO high. I remember going to theaters in Pennsylvania when I was kid; they were old venues, built back in the ’30s. They had class (sorely lacking in the giant ‘plexes) and the seats were more comfortable.

My mother used to drop me and my brother Charlie and our best friend Donnie Flynn off at one of many such old theaters in the area at 11 am on every Saturday morning. She gave us each a quarter (that’s all folks: 25¢) and she knew she had the rest of the day to herself. Back in the early ’60s, those theaters charged 15¢ for their Saturday matinees and BIG boxes of Black Crows, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, JuJubes, Dots, etc. were a nickel (5¢) each!

Said matinees usually included the two feature length films (second run, natch), oodles of cartoons (mostly classic Warner Brothers shorts by such great directors as Fred “Tex” Avery, Bob Clampett, Fritz Freleng, and Chuck Jones), and tons of trailers in progression of their nearness to you and your theater (“Coming to a theater near you” to “Coming soon” to “Coming next week”).

If a theater could, they also foisted off on us old serials (notably Buck Rogers with Buster Crabbe) and old newsreel (I don’t know how many times I saw Germany invade Poland).

LOUDNESS: With other things going, so is my hearing. But I have still found myself walking out on movies where the sound—especially in any kind of action movie—is excessively LOUD! Who has NOT heard movies so loud that they bleed through the walls from the “theater” next door?

MISSING WOODY: Another problem: the movies and directors that I want to support come and go so fast that I often never even know that they are playing. I don’t know what those of you back east think, but if you don’t catch a Woody Allen movie in its first week in most of the country—and most of the country no longer has second run theaters—you just have to wait for the DVD.

COSTS: As for ticket prices: some people make the argument that they haven’t gone up when adjusted for real life inflation. Agreed, but that does not take into account the fact that wages for real life workers have NOT followed that line of inflation. That is, workers may be paid more now than they were then, but due to inflation, it buys them less now than it did then.

In the early ’70s, I could take a girl to the movies, stop at a bar for a a couple of drinks (that’s two “well drinks” for each of us), and tip the bartender—for less than $10! That was seven hours of work at minimum wage minus taxes.

Such a date today would cost approximately $50-60 (prices vary drastically from state to state and region to region), or the equivalent of nine-to-ten hours of work at minimum wage minus taxes. So, going out IS more expensive to many, if not most, blue collar and service industry workers. (Although not as much as I had assumed—which is why I rarely assume anything.)

RUDENESS: What makes it worse is that we LIKE going out—we just don’t. And, here in Redmond, Washington, arsewholes talking loudly or talking on their cells during a movie is so rare as to be a non-issue. That is, for this little enclave that services the needs of Microsoft and countless other smaller computer hardware and software companies, rudeness in theaters is rarely an issue.

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My friend Brian Ellez volunteered this observation that reinforces my basic argument regarding inflation: that everything in America has gone up in price but a working man’s wages (and home electronics):

“In 1965, my neighbor bought a new Corvette convertible right off the showroom floor. He was in his early thirties, single, making about $10,000 a year as a public school teacher, and preparing to start his career at the about-to-open Bellevue Community College.

The car cost $3,200, or 32% of his yearly salary.

In 2013, the cheapest new 2014 Corvette convertible you can buy right off the showroom floor starts at $56,000—and that’s before any options are added. So to make the equation similar, an early-career teacher (less than ten years on the job) would have to be making more than $175,000 a year for the same ratio to apply.

I’ll save you the suspense—no public school teacher anywhere is making that kind of salary no matter how long they’ve been on the job.”

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Think of this as the new CPI: instead of the unbelievably conservative and therefore usually inaccurate Consumer Price Index, we have the admittedly inflated and possibly equally inaccurate Corvette Price Index.

The Consumer Price Index calculator states that $3,200 in 1965 is worth $23,725.31 in 2013 dollars, or about half the actual cost of a new Corvette. So, reality regarding real life inflation is somewhere in between the two CPIs.

My Rants

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