Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reinventing the Wheel

Film exhibitor is directing a construction project
go to original article ... or email me for article text
""I think the reason drive-ins became popular was twofold," Harris said. "First, they recognized that America after World War II had become a mobile society and that we would do everything we possibly could in our cars. Second, smaller exhibitors couldn't afford to bring films to hardtop [indoor] theaters, but they could get them for the drive-ins. It was a way to get into the business."

"It was cheap back then to buy 10 to 40 acres on the outskirts of some town. Land is much too expensive now for that. There are maybe only 100 drive-ins left in the entire country.""
Here's an interesting segue into another half baked thought I've been struggling with. If the Drive-in was the low cost way into the exhibitor business, and nickelodeons were the entry level operations that preceded them, what's the cheap way into the business now?

Obviously, they're doing it over at the Moxie (see previous post) but I think reading through the Moxie blog should convince you that between permits, finding financing, preposterous rents, and studio distribution arms milking every last penny from their content libraries, it's entirely too difficult to get started in this business. Or any business for that matter. Which may seem like a reasonable hurdle if your goal is to turn a profit. It's widely accepted that it takes money to make money, and being that it's no interest of mine, I'm content to let the MBA's debate that point. But maybe somewhere along the line, it stopped being commonly accepted that businesses don't exist to make money. Businesses start because someone wants to be afforded the opportunity to provide a good or service to somebody else.

Obviously it's not as simple as that. And as far as I can tell, the reason for that is that if whatever resources would be consumed by a business can be used in a more profitable way, than the more profitable scheme wins. They tell me that it's called capitalism.

But is it really? One way I've been taught to understand capitalism is that it's a successful way of organizing people into an economy because one is rewarded for working hard, and thus incentivized to continue contributing. That seems to fit, more or less with the general idea of the previous paragraph.

But I was thinking about it (and forgive me if this is obvious and not as interesting to you as it is to me), and it seems like the reason capitalism has been so successful is something different. Capitalism allows people to basically fill in the needs of their community as they arise (as opposed to circumventing them as the self-oriented incentive system would suggest). People see a problem, realize that they can do something about it, and can afford to spend their time working on it, because it pays. This is great for the governing body, because they don't have to think of everyone's needs ahead of time and can leverage the intelligence and enthusiasm of the citizens (rightly so). And it's great for the community because they don't have to wait for the slow deliberation that is a natural result of a complicated governing body.

So if you're following my logic -- Assertion A: It's no longer easy to provide a service you want to provide, Asserion B: One of Capitalism's great benefits was that it allowed people to provide serices they wanted to provide. Does the combination of these two assertions suggest capitalism has outlived it's usefulness? I would answer yes... but if I were to give an impartial answer, it depends on the arena.

The problem with most industries, is that as they've matured, they've become dominated by institutions that are provide as much bad (if not more) than good. These institutions help preserve knowledge and prevent people from having to reinvent the wheel. But at the same time, they necessarily shift their operationa focus from providing a service to (sometimes exclusively) staying alive.

And on top of that, they often deny people the joy of inventing the wheel.

Maybe this is all fine if you buy into the idea that innovation and living on the cutting edge means that people will always have a place to dig into their souls and find that joy. But I'd argue it's not the same. Most of the discoveries and innovations that will actually make people feel fulfilled are things that have already been institutionalized and made unavailable (ironically, through school based education). That's why people in small towns still want to start movie theaters even when they've been to multiplexes, and why college students move back to farms to experience truly providing their own food. And it's even why people still find giving birth one of the most soulful experiences of their lives even though it's happened over and over and over again since the beginning of time.

In light of all this, I think it's unwise for a culture to continue without making consideration for enabling its citizens to participate in the meaningful tasks and occupations that will make them feel whole.

I don't know what this calls for. Probably some recognition of mature industries that are important to people, and diverting the interest in these industries from keeping th old institutions around to giving places for new generations to break in. In true capitalistic form.

And then opening my movie theater will be a snap! :)


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