Tag Archives: Kathryn H. Fuller

No Longer a Theater Celibate

The first movie I saw at the theaters was Rugrats: In Paris. I was nine years old, a late bloomer to moviegoing simply because my family did not indulge in the activity. My neighbors, on the other hand were avid moviegoers, and decided to take the deprived child next door along with them one evening. I still remember getting my ticket, waiting in line for popcorn—hell even the smell of my first movie-magic popcorn. I remember finally sitting in the dim theater and waiting for the room slowly move into complete darkness. I remember saving, showing, and treasuring the “Rugrats Passport” I received with my ticket. It was my first theater paraphernalia, soon I would add limited edition Pokemon and Digimon cards to that collection, but for now this was all I had and I adored it.

In retrospect, I realize that I blindly followed my neighbors throughout the process that I have now come to know instinctively. I taken for granted my first experience because I engage in the activity so much now. It’s like learning to read—we can recall when we learned how to read, but every time we pick up a book, chances are, we don’t trace the process by which reading became second nature.  In fact, it wasn’t until I read Fuller’s last chapter when I remembered Rugrats: In Paris. The first generation of moviegoers, had to be educated to moviegoing (176); what’s interesting is that once fluent, we forget about the learning process. I am fortunate in that I began so late and therefore still hold the memory of the first time. So now, dig past years of moviegoing, pounds of popcorn, hundreds of ticket stub and ask, “How did I learn moviegoing?”

I Want What She’s Getting

As we drive home, my friend imparts a bit of knowledge to me, “You know Jessica Simpson uses another product along with ProActive right?” No, I hadn’t known nor did I ever really think about Jessica’s acne treatment routine. It was clear there was something far more interesting at play here than a singer turned reality TV star’s acne. “Well she does, because sometimes you need more than just topical products for serious acne,” my friend continues but now I had moved on to a broader concept. It got me thinking about the use of celebrity endorsements and advertising. What are the chances of Britney Spears actually reaching over for the bottle of Curious or Fantasy? I’m putting my money on her spraying a higher quality, higher priced fragrance.

Celebrity advertising is inextricably linked to fandom. This is my choice of star and if they use it, I want to as well. Buying specific products brings the fan one step closer to their ideal. However, just because the star is the face of something does not necessarily mean they are putting it on their face. They just want you to believe they are.

Interestingly, this trend began as early as the 1920’s in the first movie magazines. Fuller writes, “Stars almost never used to promote expensive, upper-middle class goods like automobiles or refrigerators; instead, they sold small, impulsively purchased goods like candy, cosmetics and soft drinks (157-158).  Frankly, it is more profitable for industries to sell products the average consumer can afford. Although now celebrities advertise higher quality goods as well, this is strategic in that (let’s face it) once in a while everyone likes to splurge. Regardless of the item in question, the marketing is the same: if they have it, I want it.

Let’s Just Say, “It’s Complicated”

The film industry and its audiences had a complex, one can even go out on a limp and say abusive, relationship since cinema’s inception. Here the term “relationship” is specifically used to highlight that the engagement of these entities is a two way street. One is not exclusively dominant the other, nor are any of these players passive. Stepping outside the realm of fandom, it should be made clear that audiences engaged in ways that diverged from the industry’s expected practices. Particularly, the church used films for their interests or made them suitable for their members.  To boost their attendance, churches used films as an attraction, but soon this became a short-lived conservative middleclass alternative to the cinema itself (Fuller: 86). Occasionally, a motion picture was used with and even as the sermon (89). Indeed, it was difficult to find films that were suitable for this particular audience. Covering the projection during unsuitable scenes or cutting out the film were not effective workarounds (91). It is not the decline of this practices that is significant here, instead we must acknowledge the initiative of the church.

Secondly, even with fandom, we can find a variety of interesting practices.  Not only were hoards of fanmade scripts sent to studios, but aspiring actors and actresses waited outside studios for their chance. And sometimes they got it. Surely, these practices still exist today, however it is interesting to discover that this has been going on since the 1920’s. In addition, although it does seem as though audiences are passive here, the reality is fans brought about the star system. It was in fact the industry that had to respond to fans’ increasing demands for actor paraphernalia. Fans demanded to know the identities of these stars, taking the lead in making them into household names.