As I mentioned last week, I’m not currently in the U.S., and won’t be back until the first week of the new year, so I have to hear about what is going on there, rather than experiencing it first hand. For instance, while my wife tells me that the COVID numbers are skyrocketing in our hometown of New York, I also spoke to my two best friends — whose respective daughters both got into the college of their choice last week — who informed me that pretty much everyone in New York under the age of 25 is currently COVID-Positive. Also, that I shouldn’t bother coming home because everything is a mess there.
As if that wasn’t enough, Broadway is canceling shows, pro sports are postponing games, and this past weekend, Saturday Night Live told its audience and most of its cast to stay home for its final episode of 2021, instead airing mostly pre-taped spots, and asking Tina Fey to sub in for Weekend Update.
Is this going to be the new normal for the foreseeable future? The new Spider-Man movie did monster business this past weekend, scoring more than $250 million domestically. In New York City, you have to show proof of vaccination to get into the theater at all, but I don’t think that’s the case across the country. The reason I mention it is because, if a single person with COVID was in one of those hundreds of screenings, and wasn’t wearing a mask, then that’s a Patient Zero event for everyone who was in that theater, and the numbers are going to jump accordingly in the next ten days or so.
When Andrew Cuomo was governor and Bill de Blasio was mayor — actually, the latter still is for a few more days — the shutdowns that came with the start of this pandemic made sense. Now Kathy Hochul is in the Governor’s mansion and Eric Adams will take over Gracie Mansion on January 1st, and the question has to be asked how they’re going to handle this.
Understand, there is nothing political about what I’m discussing here. This is a fact of life and something we need to be discussing, and politics has little to do with it. We could get into the whole reluctance of so many people to get vaccinated, or the refusal to wear masks, but I have already covered that to some degree in a previous column, for one, and for another, that’s not the point of this.
People are coming back to theaters. First with Spider-Man, and then, starting today, you’re going to get a good number showing up for The Matrix: Resurrections. Movie theater chains took quite a licking over the past two years, and only now seem to be bouncing back. What does another shutdown look like, and how will it affect a business that is just recovering, or, for that matter, an economy that is doing the same?
There was a fair expectation of production work returning to New York in the new year, but with the Omicron spike, will that still happen? Same can be asked about Los Angeles, where there has been a huge spike in cases, and where there is an inordinately larger number of above and below-the-line talent, waiting to get back to work.
It’s not even just those two spots, either. Louisiana’s numbers are higher than the national average, and while Atlanta — and Georgia as a whole, actually — has lower numbers than many other places at the moment, that seems unlikely to hold, especially since only about 50 percent of the state is vaccinated. Ohio is another state with a lot of production, and it too has seen its numbers rise of late.
Omicron, from what I’ve seen — and, look, I’m no doctor, and haven’t ever claimed to be, but I do read a lot — is a lot more contagious than Delta, but not as severe. Still, even with that in mind, no one wants to contract it, which means we have to stop and take a serious look at what’s going to happen next and how we’re going to deal with this.
I think we have to acknowledge at this point that COVID, in some form or another, is here to stay. Maybe not forever, but for a good long time. Blame the people who won’t get vaccinated, or won’t wear masks, or the conspiracy theories or the politicians who have weaponized it for their own reasons, that’s fine. Go right ahead. Again, not germane to what I’m discussing here.
Mass closings and shutdowns worked before, but I don’t think they will again. People are fed up. They want to work. They want to consume entertainment. They want to go to the movies and the theater and restaurants. We can continue to ask people to be conscientious, even demand it, but they are either going to do it or they’re not, and there’s only so much, really, that we can expect.
Are we going to keep shutting things down and then restarting them, again and again? Do we really believe that people will be up for that? That they won’t revolt wholesale against it? Productions seem to have mastered a method of working safely, even amidst the height of the pandemic last year. If numbers keep rising, I actually think the movie and TV business will be fine, because we’ve already been through this, to a degree.
The question is, will people outside of the industry go along? If we have another shutdown, will movie houses recover? I am not terribly bullish on the notion, but short of getting everyone on board to actually end this pandemic and not foolishly spread it because of our own shortsightedness and stubbornness, I’m really not sure how successful a new shutdown might be. On the contrary, I think it will backfire, with people rebelling against it or ignoring it completely. The very concept of more inconvenience is, I think, far too much for most. It’s hard enough to get people to care about others these days, and when you add in having to inconvenience themselves in the process? Forget it.
It’s a scary time. There’s a lot going on, many different threats to our way of life, and we often don’t know from where the next blow is going to come. Cutting off our avenues to get ourselves out there, to share social opportunities and revel in communal experiences — like, say, seeing the new Spider-Man movie — will only make it worse.
I think we didn’t realize how much we needed this stuff until we lost it. If we lose it again, I worry there will be no coming back.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.
All pictures courtesy of the respective copyright owners.