CULTURE | 05.22.2020
Has the coronavirus changed the way we consume culture forever?
Last month we talked about how museums (including monuments and natural spaces of special relevance) had adapted to a situation in which the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has partially confined us to our homes. If we move our focus on to the world of culture, including literature, film and other audiovisual works, as well as stage and musical performances, the debate becomes even richer and more complex. Beyond the inevitable process of temporary adaptation lie several fundamental questions: Are any of the changes we are seeing here to stay? Has coronavirus changed the way we consume culture forever?
The audiovisual medium is one area where the debate will undoubtedly be most intense. We’re talking about documentaries and TV series, but particularly movie theaters, which have always relied heavily on new movie releases. The recent case of the animated film “Trolls 2: World Tour,” which is scheduled for release in Spanish theaters on October 23, is telling. It premiered in the US on April 10 in the few movie theaters that remained open, while being simultaneously offered for digital rental. Its distributors, Universal Pictures, claim it has been the best digital premiere in history.
Moreover, and most interestingly, this streaming and on-demand premiere has been financially profitable grossing more at the box office than the first Trolls movie. Obviously, not everyone is happy, and America’s leading cinema network, AMC Theaters, has announced that it will not return to screening Universal movies at its venues.
In Spain, movie industry insiders are also asking themselves what things will be like when things return to “normal.” Firstly, it is not even certain how shooting will work. Filming can theoretically now recommence in provinces that are in phase 1 (or later) of the easing of lockdown. Naturally, one issue is occupational health and safety. During the lockdown in Spain, the movie “Madrid, interior” was filmed and premiered online, but that is almost the only one.
The only thing we currently know is that movie theaters will gradually reopen to show and premiere movies with restricted seating conditions. The creators themselves are clear that audiovisual content platforms are here to stay. And even the most marginally interested viewer will have realized that these platforms have fully entered the world of movie, series
and documentary production. They are the queens of family entertainment and are already regularly releasing series that have completely bypassed television. There is every chance that movies will regularly air without a theatrical release or be released simultaneously in theaters and on the new platforms.
The music world is experiencing a similar situation. On the one hand, we have the sale of “canned” music, which can continue without major problems thanks to the new digital media (this part of the business has already been through its own crisis). Live music has had to reinvent itself, and it will have to continue doing so for months, given that practically every big festival is being suspended this summer, and the usual performances at city and regional festivals are also in question.
Over the past few months, social media has been filled with artists performing small live shows online or appearing with other artists on Zoom, Google Meet or Instagram. This has been their way of staying in touch with fans and followers, and coping with the strictest phases of quarantine by forcing themselves to remain active.
Recently, we have also seen how musicians have used virtual concerts. The most striking case undoubtedly involves the activities organized within Fortnite, the video game developed by Epic Games. It is different in nature, but adapted perfectly to the broadcasting of concerts. The experience it offers is as realistic as possible, in which attendees can approach the stage, interact with merchandising stores and basically do the same things as physical concert goers but within a virtual world. This is not new, and has been done before with great success, but with the lockdown and the almost complete disappearance of other alternatives, all records have been broken. In April, rapper Travis Scott managed to bring together 27.7 million players for his Astronomica concert, beating all previous records by a considerable margin. This is another very pertinent point, which guarantees the future of these kinds of events: it is impossible to otherwise bring so many people together physically at a single show. And the experience is much more immersive than watching a concert on television.
Another successful online show was the more conventional One World: Together at Home concert. It featured artists such as Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones and Maluma recording at home for online viewing and raised more than 117 million euros for the WHO. In Spain, many theaters and concert halls have been offering performing arts, comedy and music performances online, often free of charge. One example is the initiative of the Teatro Real in Madrid, which, on International Book Day, allowed access to a fantastic selection of operas based on great works of literature.
This article would not be complete without spending some time discussing literature. In this case, the great victims have been the bookstores, which, until now, have not been able to open their doors. For their part, publishers have been forced to postpone their book releases, except in some specific cases where a title has been released in digital format only. Neither writer’s festivals nor book fairs have been held, except when it has been decided to hold these events virtually. Great events such as the Madrid Book Fair have moved to the fall, although there are many unknowns about whether they will be held.
Book sales have suffered considerably, although dedicated readers have had two online options at their disposal: purchasing traditional books for home delivery, and buying e-books for instant enjoyment.
The question we raised at the beginning of the article remains: are we talking about temporary or permanent change? It is a difficult one to answer. Firstly, we still don’t know how long we will have to live with what the media calls the “new normal,” which, in many respects, has a lot of new, but very little normal. Nor do we know whether there will be any subsequent outbreaks of the virus that force us into another strict lockdown. So, for the time being, the highly out-of-the-ordinary situation remains.
If we try to imagine returning to the pre-coronavirus situation, it seems logical to believe that some of the ways of experiencing leisure and culture we have adopted over this period will remain forever. The ones most likely to succeed are those that were already rearing their heads before the advent of SARS-CoV-2. They have also proved themselves capable of offering advantages that go beyond simply substituting for the normal way of doing things. Among the changes covered in this article, the future looks bright for electronic content platforms, virtual concerts and e-books.