When reality bites, escapism rules

The economy may be on the decline but entertainment-aided escapism is on the rise in North Kitsap.

As is the case nationwide, now is a time pocketbooks are pinched and pennies saved. A staggering 2.6 million jobs were cut in the United States in 2008. Unemployment reached a 16-year high of 7.2 percent in December, meaning 11 million Americans are currently searching for work.

Even so, the pursuit of happiness is not a search abandoned.

The concept isn’t a new one: Olympic College Professor of History Deborah Lamb said a similar recession-era merriment was prevalent in the 1930s.

It was then iconic man-of-steel Superman was created, along with the epitomic game of economics and acquisition: Monopoly.

The silver screen gave hefty weight to the escapism effort as well. Films such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” made their marks.

“Movies were very much the escape medium in the 30s,” said Lamb. “There’s a lot of comedy that comes out of that time period, a lot of glitzy musicals.”

In modern times movies have still proven strong. Variety reports domestic box office ticket sales of $9.63 billion between Jan. 2, 2008 and Jan. 1, 2009, just surpassing the previous year’s total of $9.62 billion.

Regal Entertainment Group, which operates a cinema in Poulsbo, reported total third quarter revenues in 2008 at $757.6 million — nearly $5 million higher than 2007.

One North Ender with an eye on the movie industry is Peninsula Video owner Craig Smith. He’ll open an art house movie theater in Kingston this spring.

“If you look back into the last Great Depression, movie theaters were blossoming,” he said. “Shirley Temple got people through the Depression.”

At the theater Smith plans to offer “family night” deals along with independent and documentary films.

And he points out video rentals can be a less costly option than a night on the town, providing for a large family a single entertainment expense that everyone can enjoy.

Books have also proved a welcome respite from financial woes. Liberty Bay Books owner Suzanne Droppert said shoppers are considering more whether to purchase hard or paperback editions, and some have adjusted to buying a single book at a time instead of two or three.

Still, “people seem to be, especially with the weather, wanting to read books,” she said. “When you think of the hours spent, they are probably the cheapest form of entertainment.”

And hot best sellers don’t hurt either.

“I swear, half the books I sold yesterday were of the ‘Twilight’ saga. Those are still going,” Droppert said of the four-novel young adult series earning Harry Potter-esque accolades. “It’s great entertainment and the fact that it’s set here in Washington makes it even more appealing to us.”

Last summer, the first of the ‘Twilight’ novels was released as a motion picture to booming ticket sales.

Adversely, Droppert said politically themed books are camped on shelves, and “nothing deep, dark and depressing is going at the moment.”

Droppert is also answering the call to offer inexpensive community-based entertainment. She’ll begin a new book group this Wednesday specializing in destination reading and wine. Each month the group will meet to discuss texts on various places, hear from experts on wine found in the particular area and sample the fermented goods.

“We’re just trying to provide an inexpensive evening of fun,” Droppert said.

At Suquamish Clearwater Casino patrons can find a comedic escape, or try their own hand at being a rock ‘n roller — perhaps the modern day version of fulfilling that Superman dream.

Assistant General Manager Irene Carper said the casino has made Wednesday its Comedy Night. The casino has also added a second Rock Star Live event to its calendar. The event, which Carper described as “high-level karaoke” where participants can sing backed by a professional band, drew a larger than expected crowd on its first run this week.

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John Rarick, a clinical psychologist and clinical director for Peninsula Psychology Center Inc. P.S., said frozen credit lines and disappearing 401Ks have created a sense of insecurity for many.

Rarick specializes in families, children and adolescents.

“What I’m hearing from friends, from people in the community, others, is that there’s a sense of evaporation of wealth, of security. People have lost homes. Where they’re not losing their homes they’re seeing other people lose their homes,” he explained. “There’s a tremendous sense of insecurity. I think people are looking for things that will help them to feel more secure.”

For some that can be found by spending time with friends and family; for others, in fantasy. Rarick said comedy and adventure have long provided relief in the day-to-day lives of American people.

But he hasn’t seen a mass immersion in entertainment to escape a harsher reality.

Instead, “people are really trying to respond in ways to this very significant recession by doing serious problem solving and finding ways out of that,” he said.

But he added it is difficult to stay focused on pain — exemplified by receptions held after funerals, where mourners gather to visit and share memories.

“Knowing that we’re all in this together, that we can share in moments of levity as well as seriousness,” said Rarick, “there’s comfort in that, knowing we’re in the same boat.”

Smith, who will move Peninsula Video — what he calls a “film library” — into the new theater this spring, gave recession survival credit not to escapism, but to the community itself.

“As things get tighter we’ve got to take care of each other,” he said.

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