Help! Caught Up In A Seismic Shift

April 29, 2009|By Ben A. Shaberman

On April 19, I went to see the Beatles' Help! at the Senator Theatre - a $5 matinee. In a sad way, Help! could be the Senator's theme song right now:

Help, I need somebody,

Help, not just anybody,

Help, you know I need someone,


But that might be looking at the situation a little too optimistically. The Senator's one-screen business model suited the Beatles' era better than today's. Perhaps Requiem for a Dream or Bye Bye Birdie would be more thematically fitting.

Fact is, our society is going through swift, cataclysmic change, and the Senator is just one of many victims, including newspapers, American car companies, video stores and land-line telephones. Our financial markets are transforming in a way that even the brightest economic minds don't quite understand, and a frighteningly large number of institutions aren't surviving.

Is all this change good or bad? Hard to say; it depends on what side of the change you end up on. Most of us, one hopes, will adapt and succeed. As a plain old writer - a writer who produces articles in old-fashioned text, without HTML or Java or flash video enhancements - I'm a little nervous. Journalistic reporting and a command of the English language might not be enough to survive. In some cases, they might not be necessary. For example, "LMAO" might be all we'll ever need to express bemusement or hysteria or the tickling of one's funny bone.

As an essayist and commentator, I'm very nervous about blogging. Now everyone and his brother can let the world know how they feel and what they think. They're Twittering and Facebooking. Instead of looking for publishers, I'm now looking for "friends." (If I go on Twitter, will I be looking for "twits"?)

What is most overwhelming for me is that all this is happening so darn fast. Five years ago, could we have predicted the desperate straits of newspapers, the ubiquity of social networks and the other drastic cultural and economic changes society is undergoing?

But maybe all this transformation isn't quite as unprecedented as we think. If you were in the audience at the premier of Help! in 1965, consider how you would have been blown away and how much society changed over the next five years - even if you didn't tune in, turn on or drop out. Just think how the Beatles themselves transformed over those years, personally and musically. Each of their subsequent albums was completely different from its predecessor. And of course, the boys from Liverpool went through their own chemical, spiritual and cosmetological innovations along the way. And by the end of that five-year period, the Beatles were kaput.

The Senator may yet succumb to the fate of so many other single-screen theaters. This is the way the world works sometimes. That doesn't make it easy, and it doesn't mean I don't feel bad for former owner Tom Kiefaber. But he and the rest of us need to remember this simple axiom: Once the curtain starts falling, it is time to find another stage. Fast.

Ben A. Shaberman, a writer living in Baltimore, is the author of the book "The Vegan Monologues." His e-mail is benshaberman@

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