I probably won't live to see this because of all the bug spray I've accidentally consumed, but there are many things I pray for my great-great-grandspawn. Some day, the good people of earth will proceed on electric highways unmolested by futurecops, because all correctional facilities have been transformed into libraries and art museums. Tuition and admission to the free college starships orbiting Venus will be birthright. And intergalactic teens will take affordable, government-subsidized zero-emission surround-sound-enabled tripodmobiles to the drive-in and not have to deal with another gritty reboot.
The best thing about going to the drive-in is that on some level, you don't really get much choice in what you're seeing. You might think you do, but you don't. You could wait until next week, when maybe the movies will be more to your taste, but how do you know? Next week's movie selection might be even worse, and that's sort of the point. There are only a couple movies playing at the drive-in, and if you want to go to the drive-in, you're going to see whatever set of movies happen to be playing. This is a type of magic: when one of the atoms that comprises the unstable element of choice is removed, the experience is, I don't know, liberating? Here we all are, watching the same crappy movie or movies, eating popcorn in the backseat with deet-soaked fingers, being just so American hanging out in our cars for essentially the entire night. This is America. Do not get out of your car for any reason unless it is to purchase a hot dog, in which case you must purchase a hot dog. Warning: upon purchasing the hot dog you must actually consume it. With your mouth.
Drive-ins were born way before you were, and most of them also died before you were born, so don't worry about it. The inventor of the drive-in is precisely the type of American who thought urban sprawl would be a good idea, and wanted to help people spend more time locked inside their cars. Around the time the drive-in was invented, cars were essentially two over-upholstered church pews, studded with ashtrays and wrapped in a carapace of one hundred percent no-bullshit 2.5 children-having U.S. Steel. With all the imagined enemies at home and abroad, it was safer to just stay inside one's four-wheeled meat locker. Most American activity centered on sprinting from the driver's side to the front door of the house with a loaf of bread under the arm, which is how we got so good at football. Sport utility vehicles were invented so they could be larger than other cars at the drive-in, a design tweak that backfired when extant drive-in operators caught on and subsequently sent all SUVs to the back of the parking lot. The drive-in, an icon of our First Contact With Suburbia, is why we have Amazon.com.
Let me clarify: I saw a really bad movie, the new "Fantastic Four," at one of my favorite drive-ins last week, and I'm still simmering about it. The Fantastic Four and the Wellfleet Drive-In popped into existence around the same time (1961 and 1957, respectively) both the result of anachronistic and somewhat impulsive conceptual collaborations centered around giving "the" market what "it" supposedly wanted at the time. Where do I begin with this Fantastic Four. WHERE. Well, there's Sue Storm, a woman whose primary gift is her ability to disappear and go make dinner for everyone in the lab. Why are female superhero talents always passive things like Being Sneaky and Changing Color and Controlling the Wind and Pushing Shit Around With the Mind? The two middle dudes, Reed "stretchy-man" Richards and Johnny "burny-time" Storm, have abilities too silly and obvious to bother going into. The real reason I'm steamed like a clam is the Thing.
How did the Thing come about? Stan Lee looked into the lens of the late fifties and drew such a direct comparison to the typical chest-pounding sports-doing male he couldn't even give it a descriptive name. This is the true invisibility of masculinity, of patriarchy. Johnny Storm is fire: duh, he's the Human Torch. Ben Grimm is a blue-eyed impenetrable facade of emotional distance: I don't know, he's the Thing, I guess. It just is, this Thing. It just is and it does not know itself. It does, however, provide the gravy of humor in the gang, because it is choking down violence every time it utters its catchphrase: It's clobberin' time.
We are at the drive-in, watching the first few minutes of "Fantastic Four," and we haven't read any of the reviews so we are totally unprepared and excited with that feeling that rises up whenever a movie, any movie starts. Ben Grimm is up there, ok, he's a fifth grader (my worst year too, as an aside), and then completely out of nowhere his older brother yells "It's clobberin' time!" and proceeds to beat the daylights out of the young pre-Thing. It takes the entire film (can we call them films anymore?) for the other shoe to drop, such that when the Thing finally says "It's clobberin time" during the CGI aneurysm comprising is the film's climax one is left feeling dirty, implicated in the whole cycle of violence by having paid the entrance fee. At no point in the movie is Ben Grimm's aggressive streak questioned; he is only ever praised for being a government killing machine. Even criticism of "Fantastic Four" that bothers to mention this horrifying attribute of the Thing's background either makes light of it or reduces it to footnote status, one item in a laundry list of plot- or character-based offenses.
Can we pick and choose what we move into the future with? Please, I hope, please yes. I am dragging drive-ins into this argument because, like splashy summer movies, they are seemingly innocent, antiquated and outrageous, fun for the whole family. Drive-ins aren't responsible for climate change, but they are a side effect of the attitude that got us there in the first place.