Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Pop Culture On Pause

That headline does not mean that I’m taking time off from PopCult. I’ll still be here, trying to post fresh content every day and keeping you all apprised of cool stuff in pop culture and what’s happening on The AIR.

But with the unprecedented situation brought on by the Coronavirus outbreak, pop culture in general has shifted from escapism and light entertainment to focus on what’s happening in the real world.

This is like watching 9 11 unfold over a period of weeks, instead of a period of hours. It’s traumatizing and horrific to see this happen to our country.

It’s really scary stuff, and I’m certain that you’ve had your fill of it if you’re taking the time to come here and see what I’m writing about. There are better sources online than PopCult to tell you what to do and who to blame, and half of them are even accurate.  In this post, I’m going to look at some of the possible ramifications of how this virus has crippled the pop culture economy.

Our priority is and always should be the healthcare workers and first responders who are on the front lines. We also need to recognize (and maybe raise the pay of) the grocery store and restaurant workers and pharmacists who keep this country operational  I don’t mean any of this to take away from their valiant efforts.

But I’m here to talk about the trivial stuff, the non-essential industries that help us pass the time when thing are going relatively smoothly. The workers in these industries are largely going without pay right now. They have bills, rent, need food and medical attention–just like everyone else. This outbreak, and the ensuing near-lockdown of the country, is going to change several industries drastically, and perhaps forever. Get ready for a little bit of doom, with just a dash of gloom. Things are going to be rough before they get better.

Sports will rebound. The restaurant industry will climb back. Streaming services and television networks are having a boom period because of so many people being stuck at home.

Some people may discover that they don’t mind being stuck at home.

The major Hollywood studios have rush-released movies that were in theaters when this hit to home video and streaming services already, and this could very well change the way they decide to do business when we get close to being back to normal.

I’m among the people who have discovered that they hate seeing movies in crowded theaters. This happened years ago, when my job involved seeing moves at the hated Marquee Cinemas. I don’t like having to go out, pay a lot of money, and sit in a chair that isn’t always comfortable just so that I can have the “pleasure” of being around people who have no respect for the art of movie-making, nor any concept of how to properly behave in public.

I’ve got a big screen in my living room. I don’t need that other crap. Plus I can hear every line of dialogue instead of having them drowned out by the guffaws of ignorant oafs. I try not to be anti-social, but I’ve always enjoyed watching movies most alone or with a small amount of people around.

If the major studios discover that they can make just as much money, or even more, by distributing their films directly to the consumer–bypassing the middleman–they will start to release movies digitally the same day they hit theaters, and the movie theaters will see a huge drop-off in boxoffice sales.

Theater owners have feared this for decades, and it’s why they’re vowing to “punish” Universal for digitally releasing the next Trolls movie on the day it was to open in theaters. Hell, fifty years ago they tried to have cable television outlawed because they feared the competition, as you can see in this theater ad from the late 1960s.

Charging people to watch moving pictures when they have multiple screens in their home that let them that for free might not be a great business model for these times. We could see a major collapse of the theater industry after this. However, the silver lining seems to be the revival of the Drive-In Theater, if only temporarily.

In a less-profitable arena, this shutdown could very easily kill off the direct-sales comics market. 90% of the comics shops in the country are currently closed for the outbreak. Diamond Comic Distributors, who have a virtual monopoly, will stop sending or receiving orders after next Wednesday’s books are shipped out.

Transcontinental Printing, based in Toronto, is shut down, and they print most of DC Comics’ output, along with that of several other publishers like Dark Horse. Several comic companies have delayed books, suspended publication or even laid off their artists and writers.

Some folks are urging the industry to go digital, but most people agree that there simply aren’t enough readers using digital platforms to support the industry yet.

The fear is that this will break the comics habits of the small number of remaining comics readers, and put the vast majority of comic book stores out of business.

DC and Marvel will find a way to survive. Image and IDW will try. Many other publishers will likely go belly-up thanks to this economic meltdown.

The lack of printing facilities, distribution and retail outlets could also wipe out what’s left of an already-struggling magazine industry. Playboy magazine has announced that their next print edition is likely to be their last this year, and possibly their last ever.

Entertainment Weekly has already dropped to monthly publication. Going a month or two (or three) without any sales could be the death knell for periodical publications as we know them.

Newspapers might come out of this with a bit of reprieve, if people come back to the idea of home delivery of any kind of print media. Attracting advertisers might be trickier, as we have to see how other non-essential industries weather this storm.

The music industry, which was already mired in a years-long depression, is a matter that will have to wait for a later column. Suffice to say, music venues, bars, music stores and the musicians themselves are taking a major hit.

The toy industry is in seriously dire straits. Many toy lines are tied to movies that have been delayed, and while Walmart and Target and Walgreens are still open for business, other outlets for toys are shut down for the duration. The factories have been shut down in China for two months, and are only now beginning to come back online. Shipping priority has been given to medical supplies, so what toys have been made are piling up on the docks in Hong Kong.

At retail in the US, toys are no longer competing against other toys for consumer’s dollars, they’re competing against food and toilet paper. I love toys, but they are pretty near the top of the “non-essential” list.

The same can be said for fashion, or make-up, or wall decor. I mean, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Who is deeply concerned about buying Tiki mugs or Funko Pops or collectible Nikes?

This is a bit of a weird time for yours truly, since I cut way back on going out when I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis and had to start taking hardcore immuno-suppressants, so I’ve sort of been living like this for almost four years now. Melanie and I have put all our travel plans on hold, but my everyday routine hasn’t really changed much. Mel’s working from home for the time being, so that’s pretty cool.

I lost ToyLanta, but there’s always next year. I don’t know what the future holds, but I think it’s only 50/50 that I’ll be able to attend the toys shows I want to in June and July. I wasn’t considering going to SDCC, but I’m certain the organizers are already formulating contingency plans in case we aren’t up and running as normal by then.

I hope this ends soon, and safely. I do not trust our current leadership on a state or national level to do anything in our best interests, so I hope they don’t try to rush things, only to make things worse. There is so much about this virus that we don’t know yet, and they seem hell-bent on demonstrating that on a daily basis.

In the meantime, I’ll be here, posting about whatever cool stuff I can point you toward. Tomorrow I’ll share links for some good reading to help you pass the time, and I’ll probably shake up the RFC Flashback and dig deeper into the Radio Free Charleston vaults. I also still need to post more VirtualToylanta stuff. I’m very angry of the preventable aspects of this tragedy, but I will try very hard to keep that anger from seeping into what I write here.

It’s been a rough three weeks.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    I’ve disliked movie theaters for a long time now. I saw something of a return because I felt that most of the superhero movies deserved to be seen on the big screen, but I can take it or leave it. Magazines – feh. Comics — well, I’m not reading a whole lot these days, since I believe that DC and Marvel have completely screwed up their respective universes, but I was reading the G.I. Joe and Star Trek titles from IDW, and I was enjoying some of the 100-Page Giants from DC.

    Action figures are another matter. I was really looking forward to a lot of what Hasbro was going to be putting out from Marvel Legends this year, as well as their new 6″ G.I. Joe line. I hope that sooner or later (preferably sooner THAN later), these will get off the docks and into the stores.

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