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Op-ed: The cost of a movie, from the Great Depression to the Great Recession
During the Great Depression, a movie ticket cost 25 cents and offered an escape from the economic woes. Fast forward to the Great Recession, and a movie poses a budget dilemma, writes guest columnist Katherine Koerner.
Special to The Times
During the Great Depression, the financially bruised and battered everyman could temporarily escape his woes by paying 25 cents to go to the movies. Ironically, some of the most popular movies depicted the superrich, clothed in satin gowns, and top hats and tails. I suppose grim reality made people crave to gaze upon lifestyles far from their own.
Recently, upon returning from a night at the movies, costing a hefty $11 per ticket, I was struck by both contrasts and similarities between the 1930s and today. Though the situation is not quite as dire as it was during the Depression, the poor and the middle class are hurting and living under a cloud of chronic anxiety.
I recently received an email from BarackObama.com, requesting stories of what $2,000 would mean to a family of four, should they have to add that amount to next year’s taxes as a result of dysfunctional legislators forcing all Americans off the infamous fiscal cliff.
Today, as it was in the ’30s, a two-hour escape into a fictional world on the big screen is an enticing diversion. Going to the movies is about as American as baseball and apple pie. The price of a ticket used to be something you didn’t really have to think about. However, post-Wall Street bailout and post-Great Recession, that movie-ticket price is now a family-budget line item, prompting a careful weighing of benefits versus costs.
Here’s the breakdown. The price of movie tickets for two adults: $22, sometimes more. If a baby-sitter is needed for two children and costs $15 per hour for 3.5 hours: $52.50, plus possibly a tip. On-street parking downtown, if by some miracle one should find a spot: $4 per hour. Let’s be conservative and estimate $8 for parking, remembering one could pay more, if forced to park in a lot. A shared popcorn and two sodas could set you back $15.
Time for the drum roll. For mom and dad to escape daily cares and take in a movie in 2012: $97.50.
We’re not talking opera, ballet, symphony or a play, which such a price might indicate. No. We’re talking about that very American treat of going to the movies on a Saturday night. Those other all-American things I mentioned? Well, to go to the ballpark might require taking out a second mortgage. Thus, I guess we’re left with apple pie.
With the current drama of the fiscal cliff and the Republican legislators still guarding the wealth of the superrich like growling Dobermans, I shake my head in disgust. If a solution is not found, the average middle-class family of four could see their taxes go up by $2,000. I know that a member of the 1 percent, and certainly the 0.01 percent, could spend $2,000 on one or two dinners at a luxury restaurant and not blink an eye, while that middle-class couple worries whether it should splurge on a movie.
The middle class already bailed out the superrich who largely caused the Great Recession. Why should they be asked once again to break their piggy banks, while the superrich guard their gold in Swiss banks, the Caymans and other places scattered about the globe?
Remember that last modest luxury, the apple pie? I’m afraid that if certain legislators were to come within range, I might be tempted to lob that pie rather than eat it.
Katherine Koerner, a homemaker in Seattle, formerly did editorial work at Microsoft and Lotus.