I’ll admit it, I’m nostalgic. I like Americana, it reminds me that we live in this great nation because our forefathers paved the way for us to be free. I like the hackneyed old black and white movies that were the cornerstone of American entertainment. I like the platitudinal props of America: baseball and apple pie, big Sunday dinners and walks to the ice cream store. What I really like is the people who work and play in communities all across this great nation, people who embody the American spirit of industriousness.
However, in the last twenty years, America has changed. The quintessential American dream has been depleted and replaced by corporate greed and expansion. Mom and Pop restaurants and stores have been pushed out of their own neighborhoods by chain restaurants and box stores. The Mom and Pops cannot compete with the advertising budgets and the buying power of corporations. Slowly, some of my favorite local stores have closed because they cannot compete and make it in the enterprising jungle of syndication.
One of my favorite movies illustrates this point exactly: You’ve Got Mail. Yes, it is a light-hearted romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (previous to plastic surgery), but it is more than that. It is the embodiment of the octopus of industry– large box stores swoop into neighborhoods and towns offering glitz and glamor, seducing the consumer into thinking that newer is better, that the little shops are more like your Aunt Mabel– when you get too close there is a weird odor.
Meg Ryan’s character owns a small bookstore called Shop Around the Corner. Tom Hanks character is the owner of a chain of book stores called Fox Books. Seemingly, within months of his store’s opening, Shop Around the Corner is forced to close because of declining interest and sales.
As a book lover and the daughter of entrepreneurs who eventually lost everything because of their inability to compete with negacorps in the restaurant/bar industry, this movie has always struck a chord with me. It makes me feel that what is so American about America is disappearing. The unique qualities that separate the little man are dying out. We are being suffocated by conglomerate expansion.
This past month, yet another landmark closed its doors for good. The Parma Theater, which showed its first film in 1936 was forced to close its doors because of declining attendance. It could not compete with the Cinemark 24 screen multiplex that shows digitized movies in Dolby Sound. It could not compete with the XD, 3D homogenized fantasy that the Cinemark offers. I am as much to blame for its closing as anyone. I go to the Cinemark as much, if not more, than I do the Parma Theater. Even though the Parma Theater was able to show first run movies for half the price of the Cinemark.
Yet, this theater reminds me of my youth. In the 1980s movies were just $2.00. I saw Amadeus there. I saw Sister Act there. I saw Judge Dredd there. It was a family tradition to go to this theater. My parents grew up in the neighborhood of the theater. My dad told me stories of his Saturday afternoon trips to the Parma Theater. For $.75, he got two features, a popcorn and a soda. It was the main form of entertainment in the 1950s, and when it was at its busiest no one could have imagined that it would some day cease to exist.
Modern technology, digitized filming, and corporate showmanship has brought this local legend to its knees. Like anything else, the doors were shut, the lock was turned, and another slice of Americana has faded away.