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Letter: All This Rot and Ballyhoo

(Editor’s note: The following letters are in response to the Town of Hempstead’s rally in front of the AMC Loews Theatres on Saturday, Dec. 17.)

Serving alcoholic beverages in a movie theater seems a little ill conceived and a bit symptomatic of the gasping of a dying industry. But over-the-top statements made during a recent rally against Levittown Loews’ application for a liquor license - stage props and all - suggests something symptomatic of an even more profound gasping afoot. For the record, a movie theater is a public entertainment venue and alcohol is frequently served at public entertainment venues - even professional sporting events in which minors are present. (I never understood why people can’t sit for 90 minutes without food or drink, but I suppose that’s part of the whole cultural experience of “going to the movies”). But I wouldn’t link this to teenage drinking. Teen drinking and the delinquency therewith don’t come from a local movie theater selling beer. It comes from the absence of adult supervision that arises when both parents have to work more than one job to pay for a suburban way of life that, when Ike was playing a few rounds of golf, could be attained with one 9-5.

The smart money is that Levittown Loews, where my wife and I went on our first date in 1989, won’t exist in 2032; that there will be only a handful of such venues left in the U.S. by then because there are cheaper ways to watch a movie. We have cable TV, the Internet, and downloadable movies on iPad. This is not 1958.

The passionate pursuit of this issue - however much I admire and have a personal affection for most of its participants - suggests to me that like the movie theater industry, we won’t accept the realities of life in 2012 but wish, instead, to go back to something more typical of the Eisenhower years. We’ve become the school principal concerned about students chewing gum in class the day before Colombine. We’ve become the U.S. government fretting about the alleged harmful health effects of cell phone use on September 10, 2001. We are marking the centennial of a metaphor: rearranging the deck chairs whilst the Titanic slides beneath the icy Atlantic.

Why do we disquiet ourselves with these distractions and catchpenny issues; with all this rot and ballyhoo: Loews seeking a liquor license, silly remarks about Long Island by Sen. John McCain, or - back in 2008 - a silly question on a social studies Regents exam? Because then we don’t have to think about all the Levittown residents - citizens of a community that hitherto styled itself the embodiment of the “American Dream” - who are unemployed, in debt, in foreclosure, or filing for bankruptcy. Than we can pretend there’s no homeless problem in a town that was about finding a decent place in which to live. Then we can ignore the fact that many local businesses would rather hire illegal foreign nationals and pay them peanuts than hire our young people and give them a decent job. Then we can keep telling our students to “stay in school” and “go to college” so they’ll be qualified to have jobs that have been outsourced to India and most supermarkets and department stores won’t hire somebody with a Master’s degree to stock the shelves. Then we can pretend it’s still 1958 and Ozzie and Harriet still live next door.

Movie screens all over the country are fading to black. Theaters are joining firehouses, hospitals, schools, libraries, and museums in closing their doors or cutting down to the bone. (Whilst we fight wars that can’t be won, fund social programs that don’t work, and build billion-dollar sports complexes). That’s what’s happening to the American Dream and it’ll continue to happen if we refuse to face the serious issues before us. Levittown’s very future is not threatened by the ability to purchase a beer whilst taking in the nth remake of some Grade-B movie from the 1970s. It is threatened, however, by these aforementioned socioeconomic concerns many chose to ignore. To wit: our community leaders should be leading the sort of protests manifest in the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements rather than remaining part of an obsolete paradigm that’s relevant only by virtue of its growing irrelevance. What distinguishes leaders from other educated people is that leaders not only know about the past but also understand the present and employ that knowledge and understanding in moving people into the future.

Paul Manton
Levittown resident