NEW YORK — Generally, this column is not afraid to shy away from the big issues; hiding itself in minutiae and jokes about recent celebrity shenanigans, it boldly fiddles while regions of geopolitical import burn. But two recent events have roused me from my Netflix-induced slumber and have called out for a response. The first is the lavish Republican spending on the recent presidential inauguration, estimates hovering around the $40 million mark; the second is Entertainment Weekly's tabulation and listing of the box office figures for the top 100 grossing movies of the past year.
The punditocracy has been quite vocal about the costs of last week's festivities, and how, during wartime, that money could have been better spent on supporting the troops, providing them with much needed body armor and other supplies. Certainly, it seems pretty clear to me, and, I would imagine, to most of you reading this, that given the choice between bunting in DC and body armor in Fallujah, there's really only one choice to be made.
More to the point, I think, is that for an administration headed by multimillionaires and supported by multinationals, $40 million is nothing. Absolutely nothing. When you have a war that costs $5 billion a month, $40 million's a rounding error. And so perhaps they can't quite understand what the fuss is about.
But here's where the ET list comes in: that's true of film grosses as well. No fewer than seventy movies made $40 million or above in 2004, including such megahits as "You Got Served", the Rock vehicle "Walking Tall," "Exorcist: The Beginning," and "Bridget Jones: The End of Reason."
That's right: films you hardly heard of, that sank without a trace, that you wouldn't see if someone paid you, that you can't possibly imagine why they were let loose on the world - they each made between $40 and $46-million.
And that's just a drop in the bucket. The movie "White Chicks" alone could have paid for the inauguration and provided almost $30 million for the troops. Same with "Christmas With the Kranks." And it may be possible to suggest that in a world in which "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" can make close to $85 million, we in the chattering classes may have to broaden our focus a bit: clearly, if it's $40 million we're worried about, this is money that may be able to be taken from elsewhere.
But where, you may ask?
Here's my modest proposal for a win-win situation: as Americans, let's take the money we'd spend on some stinkeroo and dedicate it to the troops. At least the inaugural, in some shape or form, celebrates the presidency as a whole, regardless of whether you agree with the president's policies, attitudes, or beliefs; conversely, "Garfield: The Movie" (over $75 million offers very little occasion for celebration of any sort.
This is what I'm thinking. You're in the theater, watching trailers. You see a trailer for a bad movie. I'm not talking "interestingly bad", or "some redeeming qualities," or "an ambitious failure." I'm talking Pauly Shore movie bad. I'm talking Tom Arnold in starring role bad. You know the kind of bad movie I'm talking about. When that movie comes out, several months later, instead of going to the movie, give the ticket price to the troops. Tell your friends to do the same. Let "Bio-Dome 4" spiral down the oubliette it deserves.
I'm not in the business of encouraging sainthood; charity is a wondrous virtue, but sainthood is the province of the few. I'm not asking for you to dedicate your entire entertainment budget, of course; just to avoid the really bad ones.
This will lead to a virtuous cycle: more money for good causes; really discouraging the film executives who green light these horrors, who now pretty much believe (with justification) that they'll make tens-of-millions no matter what they throw up there on the screen; and, of course, getting rid of that self-contempt you get when you come out of a movie you thought was going to be pretty bad, but you went anyway, since you didn't have anything else to do. I'm looking at you, "Taxi" viewers.
That's my modest proposal for today; I'll be back soon, when I finish ironing out the details of how to save Social Security by a judicious distribution of "The Wire" DVDs .