When I was just a young impressionable lad, instead of the slightly older cynical fool I am now, my family moved to a far-away place full of pale people with bad teeth. Yes, it was the slightly pompous, very classy land of the steak and kidney pie, England.
Now, since my father was from Scotland and my mom from Minnesota, my house was full of pale people when I was growing up, but we had better teeth. Well, everyone except for my dad. You would think that once he became a naturalized citizen he'd get a free orthodontist appointment to fix the problem, but I guess America's not all it's cracked up to be.
For a brief moment I actually felt more at home in England, surrounded by all the pale people with bad teeth. It wasn't all that different from the United States. There was a McDonald's, a Burger King and a Pizza Hut, though for some reason they would never take my dollars and kept insisting I use these things called "pounds." Ah, they were so crazy, those buggers. After a couple weeks, I figured this Cambridge place was just another town, except with some older buildings. All was good.
But then I went to see a "talkie"-you may know them as movies-at the pictures-you may know them as the movies. Suddenly this England place was all whacked out. It was like I was in a different country. No butter for the popcorn, just the option of "salty" or "sweet." Ugh. My mouth wants to spit up some bile just thinking about that sugary popcorn they forced me to pollute my digestive system with. The worst thing by far, though, was the strange 30-second spot featuring a dancing matchstick telling me to drink Coca-Cola as some strange Europop disco song played in the background that suddenly came on the screen as I sat innocently in my seat anticipating the previews.
It was a commercial! At the movies! This never happened in America. That was the reason we fought the Revolutionary War (or as they call it the War of American Independence). It was one of those moments of clarity, like when I notice that I have at least six different types of "mint" to pick from when selecting chewing gum, when I was violently reminded how lucky I was to live in America, the greatest country in the world, where we didn't have to watch commercials at the movies-and we have a wonderfully large selection of chewing gum at the grocery store. Sure, I'd have to put up with commercials at the movies while I was in England, but unlike the schmucks sitting next to me I had a return ticket to heaven where I could live movie commercial-free for the rest of my life.
A few other things happened, and then we moved back to the United States. A few years passed. I guess I 'turned into a man or something, though that's probably still up for debate. I went off to college, and then it happened–the worst day of my entire life. I'll never forget that moment in history: the first time I saw a commercial before an American movie. It was sometime during 2001 … or maybe 2002. Whatever. But a sick feeling soaked me from my socks up to my multi-colored propeller beanie as I watched a furry polar bear give a penguin a Coke and make the world a better place. The nightmare had returned.
I suppose it was inevitable that theater owners and distributors would squeeze a little more profit out of each screening by showing four minutes of advertising to a stupidly captive audience. Old man Cinemark had to cut some of the losses he was taking on those $4.50 bottles of water and bags of popcorn. He's practically giving the stuff away. Four dollars and 50 cents for a 16-ounce bottle of water! Are you kidding me?
I bought myself 100 bottles to take home with me. And that stupid city thinks it can get me to pay for its tap water. Suckers! Of course, since the water was worth about $500 I had to chain it to my wrist and hire guards to escort me to my car, but, ah, it's refreshingly worth it.
So, there's probably a lesson somewhere buried in all this. Let's see. No, it isn't "bring your own bottles to the theater, fill them up in the bathroom and sell them to people for two bucks." Ah, it probably should be "appreciate what you have, but don't take it for granted, since those money-grubbing jerks will probably start charging you for it sooner or later." Fortunately, pretty soon you get used to sitting through 25 minutes of previews and advertisements before the movie you went to see starts. I guess you could always rent the thing on DVD when it comes out; after all, there are no commercials on those … yet.
Gavin McMeeking is a graduate atmospheric science student. His column runs every Friday in the Collegian.