Coronavirus has put the entertainment industry on hold, indefinitely, and all public gatherings are at risk. Now what?

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Culture is becoming a quiet place.

The entertainment industry is on hold, with major movies and big concerts being wiped out left and right due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Just like that, we learned this week how quickly the whole system we rely on for entertainment can be shut down. And this is only the beginning.

The new James Bond movie. South by Southwest. Coachella. All have been affected by the viral outbreak, and now every large scale gathering of people – and every event that brings groups of people together – is at risk of being postponed for the foreseeable future.  

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s yanked out from underneath you, and up until a few days ago we took the very idea of going to public events – whether it’s a movie or a concert – for granted.

Now, as we all face down some version of self-quarantine, the ritual of getting together en masse with hundreds or thousands of strangers seems foreign and even frightening. But the entertainment industry as we know it is predicated on these marquee events, and without them, we lose our notion of shared cultural experience.

Just a few weeks ago, 70,000 fans gathered at Ford Field to see Garth Brooks. It was a night of celebration, and it brought together a giant crowd to sing and dance and cheer in downtown Detroit on a Saturday night. People looked forward to the show for months and will remember it for years.

If that show was this Saturday night, would it even be happening? Odds are it wouldn’t. A missed concert isn’t the end of the world, but nights like those are what keep us charged through long days and sluggish weeks.  

Saturday’s Zac Brown Band concert at Little Caesars Arena was the first local concert event to be affected by the outbreak, but now other upcoming concerts are looking awfully shaky. In the next two weeks alone, Nick Cannon, Blake Shelton and Billie Eilish are all scheduled to come through LCA. How long will it be until those shows fall off the schedule, and if they go on as planned, will people still show up?

Those are just the immediate concerts. Summer concert season is right around the corner, and it’s Detroit’s biggest schedule in years, with six stadium shows scheduled between Comerica Park and Ford Field.

Will we be back to normal by then? Or by July will we be experiencing some new version of normal, where the idea of listening to Guns N’ Roses perform “Welcome to the Jungle” in an outdoor stadium is a relic of another, more innocent time?

We don’t know. Nobody knows. And the uncertainty has us all feeling restless and uneasy.

We’ve seen, in only a few days’ time, how tedious the system is.

The movie industry has been massively affected. The shifting of the new James Bond movie “No Time to Die” from April to November went from looking like a wild overreaction to the only smart play. There’s too much money at risk for tentpole films, and following 007’s move, next weekend’s “A Quiet Place II” and May’s “Fast and Furious 9” were backed off the release schedule, the latter for a full year. How long until Disney’s “Mulan” balks, or Marvel’s “Black Widow” ditches its April 24 release date?

Right now, the streaming industry is looking pretty good. Eyeballs will be glued to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney+ as people are forced to spend more time at home in front of their television sets. Recent years have seen TV become a pop culture driver like never before, and streaming platforms are set to capitalize on a very captive audience in the coming weeks and months as coronavirus uncertainty, fear and confusion – exacerbated by social media and ineffective leadership – keeps us housebound.

But streaming isn’t shared. You can watch something and post your thoughts about it on Twitter, but there’s no replacing the feeling of experiencing moments together in a crowd, whether it’s at a theater or an arena or a stadium. For now, it will have to do, until culture is unpaused.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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