Much of this may sound like whining but, in truth, it is a critical synopsis of corporatism’s impact and control in our formerly near-democratic nation. The deterioration of core values in a country like ours is much less flotsam than jetsam, which is more than just a sad statement; it’s a crisis.
In 1965, a ticket to see The Beatles, live in concert at Shea Stadium in New York was $2.50, about two hours’ pay at minimum wage in the U.S. at that time. I know this to be true because I was there … just past the third base dugout. I still have my ticket with the price clearly legible on it. All seats were the same price unless you ordered them, as I did, through United Cerebral Palsy Foundation; then, a donation was attached to each ticket’s price.
Three weeks ago, we talked about my favorite movie theater and its recent changes. One made me cry, but the rest ranged from tolerable to great. In a stark comparison, I recently took my two grandsons to see the new kids’ summer hit at a large, corporately run theater. Excluding The County, it was my first movie theater visit in many years.
At “my” theater, we were greeted by a smiling hostess. At the corporate theater, we were greeted by a computer on which we were expected to work for the theater without pay, buying our tickets ourselves. That’s corporate America’s new business model nearly everywhere. I searched for humans. The candy girl assisted me. Tickets for two children, one senior and modest snacks: $81.40. No joke. A small popcorn, the cheapest snack on Earth, cost more than one hour of labor at minimum wage today in 19 states. I asked for an empty soda cup. “They’re counted; I’ll have to charge you for a soda,” she said. “The little plastic ones are free.” It’s no surprise the theater had a hollow echo instead of a crowd.
I realize I’m an older person who grew up post World War II, when many Americans were working with benefits, had a union, were happy to own one fairly reliable used car and live in a rented apartment or own a modest home in a fair neighborhood. That was our working class nation. It wasn’t everyone’s childhood, of course, but only a sliver of the population was wealthy. There was then, and are still, the impoverished and the working poor. Today, we also have a new class of full-time employed homeless, but America, back then, had a fair work package for most working people. That was before corporations were influencing legislation.
Most businesses we patronized had an owner on site or a manager who answered to the owner, and employees available to help customers. Such small businesses still exist, and we must support them for the benefit of our country. Mostly though, today, the customers work free, and finding the lettered heads of the controlling corporation of any business we patronize requires a private detective. So, there I stood, whipping out my charge card for a movie and refreshments costing like a new dress with earrings to match.
If I do some quick math, we can see that a 75-cent movie ticket in 1966 was a hair over a half hour’s labor at the minimum wage of the day; today, it’s an hour and a half. Inside, 15 cents was the average cost of a treat, under nine minutes’ labor; today, nearly an hour. Theaters were concessions or franchised and a manager or owner was usually on site, but no one complained to them. Today, we can only email a website and leave a comment for mystical management, who will never read it, while the only worker on site answers our groans with, “It’s corporate.”
Can people earning minimum wage today even take their kids to the movies? In 19 states in America, we haven’t raised minimum wage since at least 2011, many since 2009. Many have gone up less than 50% since then, while corporations get tax rebates and disproportionately raise prices as profits and stocks soar.
As corporatism takes over more and more of the business of this nation, we are held hostage for products’ quality and price. Corporations are increasingly controlling our lawmaking to their gain and America’s loss.
Like the dog we start feeding under the table, if we don’t break the cycle hard and soon, we are going to find ourselves captives in a place supposedly our own.