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in Filmmaking
on Feb 3, 2009

Yes, the economy is tanking, but, hey, we’re in the entertainment business! Escapism rules in downturn. People want to go out and forget the troubles, and the price of a movie ticket is just…

Reality check: Nick Wingfield and Piu-Wing Tam argue in The Wall Street Journal that the economically distressed are not heading out to the movies — they’re staying home and surfing the ‘net.

From the piece:

It’s been decades since Americans had this much time on their hands and — thanks to the Web — never have there been so many opportunities to burn it.

In November, Julia Otto was headed to her first day on a new job, car keys in hand, as an administrative assistant with a New Orleans construction company when her phone rang. Her position was eliminated before she even started.

Now, when she’s not sending out resumes or doing household chores, the 43-year-old spends several hours a day playing games. Her favorite is an adventure-puzzle game called “Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst,” where she hunts for clues inside a spooky mansion to unlock a mystery. She spends about $7 a month playing games on the Big Fish Games site.

“They’re an affordable way to help forget,” says Ms. Otto. “It’s not soap operas and chocolate.”

As Americans — grappling with layoffs and grim economic news — try to find ways to fill their time, the Internet is helping people with job searches. But the medium is performing another important role: a social anesthesia that distracts people from the stress of unemployment.

And further into the piece:

The trend echoes the escape mechanisms that people turned to during the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the time, people paid a nickel to spend entire afternoons and evenings watching films featuring Charlie Chaplin and others, cartoons and newsreels, says Gary Handman, a director at the Media Resources Center at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. Handman believes the Internet is assuming a similar role now in part because of how relatively inexpensive it is compared with, say, a $10 movie ticket that buys only a couple of hours of entertainment, even though movie attendance is strong. “The Internet, in particular, has blown everything else away,” Mr. Handman says. “People are getting their entertainment for free wherever they can.”

Over at Crunchgear, Nicholas Deleon links to this piece but, in his closer, points out that those who free time on their hands can also look to the internet for things other than entertainment:

Maybe the Internet isn’t so bad. Maybe people use it responsibly, play a few online games, watch an episode or two on Hulu, etc? Maybe the Internet, in this case, softens the blow of being unemployed, of being home all day and not getting interview call-backs? You know, maybe it serves a greater social purpose, like the cinema used to during past recessions and depressions? Rather than use the Internet to consume hate-filled garbage, maybe people are using Facebook to cope with being out of work, using Twitter to relay job openings back and forth? Thank you for being a friend, Internet!

So, in the end, the Internet is a tool. Just like anything else, it can be used for good or bad. You can use a paint brush to, say, paint something nice, or you can smash it over the head of your next-door neighbor, in true cartoon fashion.

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