B.O. B.S.: The Follow-Up

Maybe, to be truthful, they hope that you don't read the word "estimates" in the news, and just take the numbers for the gospel.

Because I have a preference for horses that are deceased, and when I find them I like to kick them about into a state that some would consider "overkill," I am yelling about the box office results from the weekend again. You might ask me why I would do this, since I do not actually follow box office figures. This is not wholly true, since I do have occasion to get fired up about purportedly factual lists like "All-Time Box Office Champions" and their ilk, which are rarely correct, since they usually keep the dollar figures for each respective film tied to the economic standard in which they were released. Therefore, even if an older film had far more viewers overall than a more recent film, the recent one comes out on top because the tickets cost ten bucks a shot instead of four. (Once in a while, someone will release a list with dollar figures adjusted to the current norm, but then it seems to disappear as soon as the latest giant box office champ arrives, and of course, it makes for better publicity to have it as the all-time winner, and the media just loves a winner.)

Just as I did a couple of weekends ago regarding The Forbidden Kingdom, this morning I checked back at Yahoo! News to see if they had decided to release the box office figures for the entire weekend before Sunday's box offices had even opened in the bulk of the country. Of course they had, and the first line in the syndicated Reuters story read: "Comic book adventure "Iron Man" proved its mettle at the North America box office, kicking off the summer movie season with estimated weekend ticket sales of $100.75 million and marking an unlikely commercial rebound for its star, Robert Downey Jr."

Once again, this report went online around 9:28 a.m., or 12:28 Eastern, which would mean that the theatres on the East Coast were mostly getting done with only their first showings of the day at that time. Hardly anyone had gone to the cinema for the day -- anywhere -- in America and Canada, and yet somehow, Iron Man was not just cleaning up in the war on terror and crime, but also at the box office. This is fine. The movie is terrific (I saw it on Friday, so they already had my cash), and deserves to be hugely successful, mainly so I can get more Marvel Comics superhero movies. And they do have the word "estimates" in the opening paragraph, so if you read that then you should, unless you are a dope, realize they are merely making a largely educated guess.

But then there is that sticky verb "proved." "Proved" implies finality in the way that it is used. It's all past tense and its subject is seemingly decided. Then they also say "weekend ticket sales," and again, they are putting a cart in front of the dead horse I am already beating. Now, we are both causing traffic problems. And it yet again causes me to point out that there is nothing that has been proved, because there is no weekend that has concluded.

But it is the second paragraph that sinks them. Ready?

"The tally far exceeded expectations of an opening in the $70 million to $80 million range for the three-day period beginning Friday. All told, the movie grossed $104.25 million, counting receipts from Thursday evening previews, according to studio figures issued on Sunday."

Suddenly, it doesn't seem so much like "estimates" to me. That total gross figure seems pretty damn precise to me for a movie that, if I were to leave home right now, I could still go see four showings of through the remainder of today. (I am tempted.) And that "three-day period beginning Friday"? The weekend ain't over, Reuters...

My railing about this subject will only be read by a few people, but please, my friends, don't buy into the box office game. Huge dollar figures are sexy -- to audiences, to the media, to Wall Street, and mostly to the studios -- and their sexiness is the reason you see these figures instead of actual head counts of people who went to whatever film. Put a dollar sign in front of an ordinary number, and suddenly, people veer their gaze in that direction. There is no surprise that the studios want you to read these figures, because the general assumption is that if people see that something is exceedingly popular, and they haven't already seen the film, there will be a magical impulse for the listener or reader to go and see the film themselves.

My argument would be, in this dawning weekend (that is not yet over, I remind you yet again) for the Summer Movie Season, that the people who are most likely to attend the opening weekend of any of these upcoming blockbuster films have already made their minds up on which films they are going to blow their not necessarily hard-earned cash, and so this premature news report on the weekend's box office is not needed in the least. The people who are most likely to be influenced by such a report are the same people who would be apt to be influenced by it on Monday: the people who go "Wow, that movie made a hundred million dollars! I have to see that!" Reuters' releasing and Yahoo's syndicating of this story on Sunday morning is entirely frivolous, as most of these people probably have their weekend plans locked in already, so the pick-up market is going to be rather small, and only a blip on the radar by Sunday evening. They can see the final report on Monday morning, and go after that.

What I really want here is some accountability. Because this isn't journalism. The journalism that I know, and that I once respected, reports facts. Estimates from movie studios, notorious for their shady bookkeeping practices anyway, are not facts. They are publicity. And yes, I am well aware that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

There is, however, idiotic publicity. Such as a story that isn't a story, released a full day before the publicity and "estimates" within the non-story can be counted as "facts." And then that story being tossed about by major news services, having it pop up on my email site as actual news, and then no one thinking twice about verifying the information within the story, just meekly accepting it as the truth, in the way that everyone accepts a thousand shitty things each and every day because we have practically had it beaten into us. We wear down, and we accept these things. Except me. I am not accepting them.

I am just worn down.


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