In its opening weekend, the fourth installment of the “Jurassic Park” franchise brought in a world-wide box office income of half a billion dollars. That’s billion with a “b.”
The trade papers and every other media source heralded the news of a mega-hit amidst a rather tepid summer movie season, and the executives at Universal who took a chance on a director whose previous credit was helming a small independent film breathed a sigh of relief while the executives of every other movie studio put their envy in check (temporarily) and went looking (in vain) for the next independent movie director who will duplicate (not likely) that trick for them.
$500,000,000 in one weekend should give us all pause. In light of war, famine, extreme poverty and all manner of man-made and natural disasters, people around the world flocked to their local movie theaters to watch a dinosaur film.
I don’t know what the economic model is in other parts of the world, but I do know something about the domestic market, and the purpose of movies like “Jurassic Park” is to drive people to movie theaters where theater chain operators can sell popcorn at a 900 to 1200 percent markup and soft drinks made with about 15 cents worth of syrup for close to $5. That economic game plan, combined with huge ticket sales, makes for an orgy of excess.
Now, I like dinosaur movies as much as the next guy, and probably, once the crowds die down a little, will even go see the fourth installment of “Jurassic Park,” and probably be enticed to purchase a bucket of ridiculously overpriced popcorn, but I will probably feel a little guilty over it.
And maybe I should.
Our faith cautions us to be wary of excess, yet our popular culture — whether manifested in blockbuster summer movies filled with computer generated monsters and superheroes, or any number of scripted and “reality” television programming — is rife with it.
According to a national advertising website, television and other media advertising for pet food and pet related products will produce $60 billion in economic activity. That’s a billion with a “b” again, and all for the care, feeding and coddling of pets.
Now I’m sure we can all sleep better at night knowing our dogs are finally getting enough cheese, but that’s an awful lot of economic power generated for dog food, bling collars and doggy sweaters.
When it comes to human members of the econo-sphere, you can get a little perspective on the weekend gross of “Jurassic Park” when you consider that you can easily feed a family of four for an entire week for $100. That means the disposable income that was deposited in the bank account of Universal Pictures for two and a half days’ worth of Jurassic Park receipts could have fed 20 million people for a week.
It’s OK to enjoy ourselves. It’s OK to go to a movie and to even indulge our pets a little, but a little moderation wouldn’t hurt either.
In another example of how God works, I was thinking about this very article in my car yesterday when on the radio I heard that there are 2 million cat videos on YouTube with 6 billion views among them. That’s nearly the entire population of the planet watching a cat play with a shiny object or look weirdly at the camera while it plays Bach on an electronic keyboard.
Television is the biggest offender of excess, mainly due to the fact that it is so pervasive. You have to get in your car and go to a multiplex, find a co-signer to cover parking, ticket prices and popcorn in order to see the latest summer blockbuster from a major studio. … You only have to walk into a room of your own house to find a television.
Dr. Norman Herr, a professor of science education at Cal State Northridge, has crunched some of the television numbers and they are sobering. Ninety nine percent of American households have at least one television and the average U.S. household has 2.24 televisions … what a quarter of a television looks like I’m not quite sure.
The problem, especially for someone trying to adhere to rather authoritative voices that caution against over-indulging, is not the televisions themselves, but what gets beamed into our houses from them.
The advertising tells us how happy we will be when we buy the right kind of car, the right kind of clothes and the right kind of alcohol. When the commercials are over, many times the shows they return to are about people living extravagant lifestyles with seemingly endless hours of leisure at their disposal and no discernable talent other than being on a television show demonstrating they have no discernable talent, but a lot of free time in which to showcase it.
All things must pass, even dinosaurs.
The trick to avoiding excess is to find that balance when it comes to consuming popular entertainment, just as it is necessary to find balance in dealing with the physical world God created for us. Pope Francis has a lot to say about that in Laudato Si’. An even higher authority tells us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).