Special Report By Monica Sullivan
On Wednesday, May 19, 1999, a movie, the title of which escapes me at the moment, will be released to theatres nationwide. Fans are already camping out in front of theatres to see it. One fan even said that a friend wished he could quit his job so he could camp out in front of the theatre for two weeks of his life. That sort of anticipation goes beyond wanting to see a movie, it reveals a need for something deeper that may not be filled by umpteen screenings of any movie. Hoping for an answer to this conundrum, I joined the line at the neighborhood Toys'R'Us shortly before 12:01 a.m. on Monday May 3 1999.
I was not there to buy toys. I had see just one "Star Wars" film by accident in June of 1977, when I was trying to keep dry during a rainy afternoon in Manhattan. There was no line, the theatre wasn't even full that day. However, when I returned home to San Francisco, there were nothing but lines around the block during "Star Wars" original engagement at the Coronet Theatre. I didn't get it: It was an entertaining way to spend two hours, but not an incentive to skipping meals at an actual table and sleep in a real bed. There was a large crowd of eager toy buyers waiting outside Toys'R'Us on a cold, dark night. It got even colder when everyone realized that customers would be admitted to the store in dribs and drabs and even darker when employees shut off the lights in the parking lot. Security guards advised all and sundry that they were not there to answer questions, but to maintain order and call the police if people talked too loud or played music without earphones. When I left at 1:45 a.m., the folks in my vicinity were finally admitted into the store to thaw out and to buy whatever they wanted as long as it wasn't the 12" Darth Maul, which was practically an instant sell-out.
Granted, it's nuts to observe something like this if you don't care about the movie merchandise being offered, but what if you do care? The crowd in the Toys'R'Us parking lot was unfailingly pleasant, cheerful and polite, which is more than I can say for the staff that kept them waiting for hours. One customer said that she expected to wait for privileges like buying toys and tickets, because it was "fair." Why is it "fair"? What am I missing? What strip of celluloid with accompanying ballyhoo is worth such an indignity and discomfort? I remembered the bad old days (which may still be going on) when San Francisco International Film Festival critics would grovel for passes to movies they had to review, even to the point of keeping a close eye on the ground to see if any patrons had dropped their ticket stubs. And now here it is, 1999, and perfectly nice people and their little offspring are shivering patiently for miniature action figures. Would we do the same for a family member? A friend? I doubt it, unless it were a life and death situation, but we do it for strangers in pursuit of inanimate objects and two hours at a bijou. In contrast, F.A.O. Schwartz also reported 130 customers in the wee hours of Monday morning, but all were admitted promptly at 12:01 a.m. A pox on Toys'r'Us, not to mention the manufacturers, for distributing mass market merchandise as if it were rare and priceless loot and its twelve-year-old buyers were ruthless black marketeers in sinister disguise.
© 1999 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 5/5/99
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