We’re in the middle of a huge economic recession, millions of people are out of work, the news is consistently depressing, the earth is apparently so polluted that a Wall-Eish future seems likely, we’re still fighting what seems to be a never-ending battle in the Middle East, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop just earned $39 million over four days in theaters. What is going on in the world, and why are all these terrible things happening at once? To be honest, I can’t really tell you anything about those first five- you’d have to ask a Washington insider about those. But when it comes to the issue of Paul Blart: Mall Cop raking in huge profits, let me offer up this explanation: In light of the economic, political, and social struggles that currently permeate our society, we have reached a new stage of culture: The Era of Easy Entertainment (EEE), where popular entertainment has become valued more as a distraction than an artform.
You see, it seems to me that in these tough times, the last thing people want in their lives is any more stress. And yes, if you’re wondering, there is a such thing as stressful entertainment. Over the last few years, movies centered on war have completely stalled at the box office. Even high profile releases like The Good German ($1.3 million), Flyboys ($13 M), The Great Raid ($10 M), and Flags Of Our Fathers ($33 M) have had trouble finding an audience. The best performing war-themed picture was 2005’s Jarhead ($62 M), but even that failed to live up to expectations. Still, if these films were to be released right now, I predict that they would do even worse at the box office than they did in their original theatrical runs. Why? Because people are tired of bad news! People are tired of war and fighting and not knowing what is going to happen next! And now, as the economic foundation of the country starts to crack, people are eager for something consistent and comforting. Where have they turned? To easy entertainment.
With exception of Nothing Like The Holidays ($7 M), every single comedy that has been released in the last two months has been a solid hit. Role Models earned $67 million. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa earned $178 million. Four Christmases earned $120 million. Bolt earned $113 million. Yes Man earned $93 million. Marley And Me has earned $134 million. Bedtime Stories has earned $105 million. Bride Wars has earned $40 million. And Paul Blart: Mall Cop opened to $39 million! The average T-Meter on RottenTomatoes for these films is 39%, so it’s not like these are just the best films out there right now. Yea some of them are great, and others are truly awful, but I think it’s more that right now, people just truly want to laugh and smile. Think about all the people who lined up in droves to go see Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Don’t you think they knew that it wasn’t going to be a magnificently memorable work of art? What they did know was that it would be safe enough and fun enough to provide them with a pleasant distraction from the reality of life, if only for a couple hours.
But this trend isn’t just limited to film. Look at the general trends of television viewing this season. The sitcom, which many pronounced as “dead” a few years ago, is now back in full force. Shows like The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, and 30 Rock have seen massive 35-45% increases in their viewership this season, despite network television ratings being universally down. And it’s not just comedy that makes up the EEE. No, some entertainment is just “easy,” like television’s number one new show, The Mentalist. The show does absolutely nothing to break the mold of a typical CBS procedural crime drama. It follows a very predictable formula each and every episode, and audiences aren’t complaining. In fact, because it requires so little thinking, and the mystery is always wrapped up by the end of each episode, it’s pulling in almost 19 million viewers every week. Shows like Lost or 24 should be glad they launched when they did, because they would never break out in 2009- they just require too much thinking, too much stress!
There’s no telling how long EEE will last. It is the reason that films like The Unborn
and My Bloody Valentine: 3D
have done so well lately. These are horror flicks, yes, but they are also proedictable and fun. It is the reason dogs are the hottest thing in Hollywood now. They don’t need to be able to act or speak- they’re cute and make people feel good. So long as people are worried about our failing economy, horror films and comedies and movies that advertise the fact that they are fun, will continue to thrive. Already, the box office is having an incredibly lucrative winter season because people have made it very clear that right now they don’t need a ton of drama- they want some simple comfort instead.