The Downfall of the Moviegoing Experience

Okay, for anyone who’s recently gone to the movies you may have noticed a fairly over the top, in your face, message from the United States National Guard plastered on the screen prior to the coming attractions. This is not the ordinary recruitment advertisement we’re all used to by now, the likes of which usually involve overly patriotic men and women working together on a ship and/or battle station or young muscled bucks patriotically climbing mountains. No, in desperate times the U.S. military powers turned to a saving grace, robust rockers 3 Doors Down.
Before I use the rest of this column to point on how ridiculous and possibly dangerous stunts like this are to this country let’s first discuss what’s happened to the movie going experience over the years. 

It may be difficult to remember but there was a time when going to the movies was fairly simple. Tickets we’re reasonably priced, trailers were minimal and for the most part welcome and the only signs of pre-trailer advertising were the highly catchy theatre jingles–nostalgia sets in when I think of “Thank you for coming to Loews, sit back and relax, enjoy the show!” 

Then theaters started growing in size and grandeur and with it a slow but steady addition of advertisements started screening before the coming attractions, not only adding more time to the overall theater experience but also force feeding paying attendees with mind numbing spots for Coke, cars and of course, Fandango–its long standing brown bag puppet marketing campaign I hear is currently being is used by Blackwater mercenaries as an alternative to controversial and now passé waterboarding torture tactics. 

For a short period movie goers were able to weed out which theaters around town hadn’t succumbed to pre-show advertising but those days are gone as well and with the exception of dollar or art house theaters, going to the movies has become as painful as watching primetime television, only without the luxury of the a mute button. Seriously, there was a time when people were outraged by paying $10 to see a movie and ten minutes of advertising. Now pre-show advertising is as common and expected as sticky theater flooring and snacks that cost more than a gallon of gasoline.

Like most of you I know what to expect when I sit down for a movie these days, however, after the ridiculous National Guard funded spectacle recently circulating cinemas I think it’s safe to say the theater industry has gone too far.

For those of you not familiar with the video I’m referring to let me explain. “Citizen Soldier” is actually more of a music video than a PR spot for the U.S. National Guard. The song in question, “Citizen Soldier,” an overly patriotic wannabe rock anthem from one 3 Doors Down, quite frankly one of the most baffling success stories of the last ten years of popular music, joining the ranks of fellow mood rockers such as Evanescence, Nickelback and oh, I don’t know, Creed. 

Now I’m not here to bash the latter bands mentioned. While I don’t enjoy their music or hard hitting, soul clenching lyrics (Last chance for one last dance/Cause with you, I’d 
withstand/All of hell to hold your hand “Far Away”-Nickelback) there are people are out there who continue to support them. Hey, whatever floats your boat. This said, I can’t help but think that being forced to stomach this music paired with a National Guard propaganda video piece while I sit waiting to see “Juno” or “Charlie Wilson’s War” is a bit cruel. Who’s with me on this one?

Let’s get back to the video at hand. For those who haven’t had the chance to see it I’m guessing it’s plastered all over the National Guard’s website or MySpace page (I haven’t actually checked this out but am assuming the Army is utilizing all Internet mediums to help lure future Citizen Soldiers). For those not willing to seek it out I’ve decided to provide a basic summary overview.

The “Citizen Soldier” music video opens with the stout gentlemen that make up 3 Doors Down perched on a dark grassy null with guitars in hands, while menacing storm clouds stir behind them. Cue sinister musical intro and a crash of cymbals. We then are introduced to the video’s main character; the average citizen soldier, a tall Abercrombie looking mofo who, while walking on what looks to be a college campus drops his bag to run and catch a football in mid air (folks I couldn’t make this up if I tried). The video refers to him simply as citizen although we’ll call him Joe, Real American Hero. Jump cut to a deflated football picked up from a muddy puddle by Joe in Soldier form. Smoke and rubble now litter the background (powerful metaphors saturate this video). 

Next we are taken back in time to the American Revolution where another soldier (quite possibly our Joe although it’s hard to tell the identity with all the smoke and 18th century army fatigues) running with a musket while cannon balls whiz by and blow up the ground after every step. Stay with me people. This is followed by the song’s chorus, which I couldn’t help but include below. 

Citizen soldiers. 
Holding the light for the ones that we guide from the dark of despair.
Standing on guard for the ones that we’ve sheltered.
We’ll always be ready because we will always be there.

We then flash forward to modern day warfare. Lots of Blackhawk helicopters, smoke, tanks, more smoke, a rising sun and a platoon of disciplined soldiers with matching Oakley shades. Cue the video’s only attempt to be PC with a female minority corporal receiving an honorable medal of sorts. Return to the chorus followed by another trip back in time to the beaches of Normandy, circa WWII. 

Then back to 3 Doors Down’s grassy stage. Cue lightening eruptions in background followed by the line, 
When they simply need a place to make their beds.
Right here underneath my wing, you can rest your head.

Which I’m pretty sure implies Citizen Soldiers are, in fact, angels. Separation of church and state never really had a chance did it? After this we return to Joe who is now on American soil pulling a shocked child out of a building in rubble. Cue soldier patriotically repelling from a helicopter followed by a return to the Revolutionary patriot incarnation of Joe. Return to cannon ball explosions. Then we get a glimpse of 9/11s aftermath footage, followed by the National Guard logo/seal and a message informing an anxious nation of 3 Doors Down’s new album coming in 2008.

So yeah. This kind of recruitment manipulation from the U.S. army is hardly new. Nor is this the first time the government has tapped into pre-show theater advertising to help woo young bucks into signing up and shipping out. In a country where a draft is a pipe dream this kind of promotional marketing is expected, however, since the average film trailer is a little over two minutes, a music video clocking in at nearly four minutes is a bit overkill if you ask me. Plus comparing our current war to the American Revolution is a bit of a stretch if you ask me. But I’ll leave my political opinions out of this. 

Normally I wouldn’t dwell on something as meaningless as this but I can’t help but think that the theater industry has gone too far. It’s bad enough keeping up with rising theater ticket prices or having the concession stand lady tell me she’s not soaking my popcorn with chemical butter. Paying to see a movie and then being forced to wait even longer for the film to start because 3 Doors Down is looking to hype their new album is a new low. I mean does the government really think they’re going to successfully motivate someone to join up while they’re waiting to watch “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” I mean what’s next, advertising on Nickelodeon? 

People in the industry complain about a decrease in the number of people going to the movies over the years. Ticket sales are down, Netflix and affordable 5.1 home theater systems are up and why wouldn’t it be this way. In typical American consumer fashion marketing powers are tapping into any medium they can, pushing the envelope on what’s tolerable by the American public. We don’t pay for broadcast television so in turn we endure the advertising the funds the shows we watch. When it comes to movie though the powers that be need to make a choice. Advertising dollars or ticket prices. 

With technology shifting the way we soak in popular culture towards our living rooms what will movie theaters be like 20 years from now? As for the savvy individuals at the U.S. Army and National guard, it’ll take more than a grandiose, ultra patriotic music video by a has been rock band to help aid their cause, at least after the debacle we’re in now.