Mass hypnosis in sunny Sparks

After lunch Sunday, we decided, as did hundreds of others, to spend two hours of our bright afternoon in a dark, crowded cavern.

We drove to downtown Sparks and hunted for parking. Cars were many. People were milling about. Water from the Sparks fountain sparkled in the sunlight. That was not the attraction.

Instead, we vied for position in a long line. We reached the front only to discover a hitch in our plans. The 1:25 p.m. showing of Shrek 2 was sold out. So was the 2:05 p.m. showing.

“I have some spots left in the 2:40,” the ticket sales woman offered.

We bought tickets, left and came back a half-hour early.

We moseyed into the packed theater, unable to find seats together. A mom with two preschoolers moved over so part of my family could sit together and share buttered popcorn. Sparks is a friendly place.

Speaking of long lines getting longer, Nevada’s population is set to grow by around 1.3 million in the next 20 years.

A third of this growth will occur in Washoe County. I’m sure many will end up in Sparks. It’s been a terrific place to live—even after the $1.50 Greenbrae 8 Theater closed.

I’m not worried about overcrowded schools, though in east Sparks Mendive Middle’s been spilling over for years. And Reed High is still one of the most crowded schools in town.

The school district plans for 16,000 new students by 2012. We’ll need eight new elementary schools, five middles and four high schools. The district—even with roll-over school bonds—won’t have enough money for this. My kids should be out of college by 2012.

I’m not worried about increased traffic, though the Sparks City Council this month approved Copper Canyon Commerce & Technology Park—1,033 more single-family homes, 876 apartments and 127 acres of business park—to be built in the hills near my home.

Even now, come 5:15 p.m. on a weekday, our cars back up at the Vista off-ramp. We pull along the side of Interstate 80 in a line of SUVs and trucks and economy cars that can stretch for more than a mile. When Copper Canyon’s complete, I’ll expect to spend an hour or two stuck in traffic on I-80 or Vista every day. I’ll get a bus pass, dust off my bike.

Schools and traffic aren’t my biggest concerns. Instead, I wonder. Where will all these new residents go to the movies?

If we’re going to grow, more cavernous multiplexes will be needed for the coming plethora of animated distractions from Hollywood.

As animated distractions go, Shrek 2 works. Youngsters enjoy farting, pratfalls and name-calling. Oldsters enjoy farting, pop-culture allusions and adult gags, i.e. Pinocchio’s thong and a Baggie of catnip seized from Puss in Boots. Then it’s over.

In his essay, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” culture critic Roland Barthes described the post-film experience of feeling “soft, limp … a little disjointed, even (for a moral organization, relief comes only from this quarter) irresponsible. In other words, obviously, he’s coming out of hypnosis.”

Barthes assigned a healing effect to cinematic hypnosis. He considered “that festival of effects known as a film” to be a fascinating, relaxing and erotic experience—unlike television, which “doomed us to the Family, whose household instrument it has become.”

For two hours in the dark cocoon of a theater, I didn’t fret about growth, traffic or schools. I set aside thoughts of this year’s elections, destruction of rain forests and the possibility that my country killed 45 Iraqis at a wedding party last week.

Two hours. For $5.50.

Not bad.