The ethical quandary when you pay to watch a movie you know you’re going to hate
My friend Johan threw out his hands in a gesture of frustration and raised his voice enough to grab the attention from a few of the other guests in the pub.
We were both attending the monthly gathering of science fiction fans in my city, but as so many times before our conversation had slipped into an adjacent topic. We were talking about the current state of cinema, which had brought him into a rant mood.
“First they complain about all the bad movies that come out of Hollywood. They go on and on about how much they hate the latest pointless remake of the movie so-and-so. But the next minute they tell you that they’re totally going to go to a theatre to watch it, just to see with their own eyes how much it sucks!”
“Arrrrgh! Why don’t they THINK! Why don’t they think about the consequences? It’s their fault that we’re stuck with those movies!”
Then the conversation moved into the qualities of Prometheus, but when it became clear that I – as opposed to him – actually thought it was pretty good, he raised without a word from his seat, setting course for the bar to get something tranquilizing.
But in my mind I dwelled a bit longer at the question. I could see his point. It’s all about consumer power. I’ve always been a strong advocator of it. People can talk as much as they want about how conditions should be better at banana plantations. It’s only when you start buying the organic and fair trade bananas, ditching the questionable ones, that they’ll start listening and change things for the better.
Money talks. And why wouldn’t that be as true in Hollywood? The box office doesn’t register any difference between different movie goers.
So what if you hated the movie? You paid the same price for the ticket as everyone else. Your body’s presence in the theatre was noted and counted and you can be certain that someone will analyze it, making conclusions about what kind of movies they should focus on in the future to be sure to make a profit.
I would lie if I said that I expected the remake of Total Recall to be any good. And yet I went to see it and added to the sales. This means that if Hollywood comes up with the idiotic idea to do a remake of Blade Runner, I’m one of those who should be blamed.
The only thing I can come up with that justifies my behaviour is the fact that I’m a blogger. If I after watching a bad movie do my best to tell the world about how bad it was, preventing other people from spending money on it, I might have done it for a good cause. My single ticket will bring less to the film than the ten tickets I’ve prevented from being sold.
An alternative is of course to do a little bit of cheating. I’ve heard confessions of film buffs who will go a long way to help out small movies they think need support. Whenever they feel like watching a crappy blockbuster movie at the multiplex for whatever reason, a type of film they don’t want to support, they buy a ticket to the indie film of their heart instead. And then they sneak into the blockbuster without being registered.
Strictly speaking it’s an act of deceit and probably illegal. But as long as the ticket price is the same and the theatre doesn’t lose any money on it, I can’t really condemn it. It may be a fraud, but it’s with the best of intentions.
But those few people are an exception. Many, many others go and watch movies they really don’t care for, too lazy to make an effort to check out the alternatives.
Johan was right to be frustrated – not with Hollywood, but with the theatre audience. As long as they keep supporting the bad movies financially, that’s the kind of movies that will be made.
If we get bad films, it’s because we’ve asked for them.