Friday, June 24, 2005

Theater Going Rage

A few choice words for movie-theater chatterers
go to original article ... or email me for article text

In what would turn out to be superb timing, I recently received this feedback to some of my suggestions for the nationwide downturn in theater attendance (generally referred to these days as the box office slump).

"I think much of the attendance downturn at movie theaters has to do with the environment at the theaters. First, the public seems to have the opinion that it's alright to dump trash and uneaten snacks on the floor and in the seats, something most adults would not do in their own home but feel it's acceptable at theaters; and, they allow their children to observe this disrepectful behavior and do likewise through their formative and adult years. Second, moviegoers no longer have the common courtesy to remain silent during the movie, whether it's unwarranted comments or explanations during the movie, ringing cell phones, failure to control disruptive behavior by infants or young children, and loud, obnoxious eating of noisy snacks like popcorn or nachos. Who in the world decided it was a good idea to begin serving messy nachos at theaters? Why should anyone subject themselves to this abuse at a movie theater when we can watch the same movies in the comfort and silence of or own homes. I believe that many former moviegoers feel the same way and have expressed their opinion via declining box office attendance."

Meanwhile, I was planning on posting about rather scathing editorial piece about movie theater "chatterers". Here are some of the highlights.
"So, in lieu of invoicing you for 113 minutes of my life, I’m letting you know – sweetly –- that during the movie, you TALKED EVERY SECOND. (Sorry, my caps stick sometimes.)

Judging from the flakes of Dolby Digital sound that sneaked past your conversation, “Crash” seemed to be about coping with deeply flawed individuals in Los Angeles. How’s that for coincidence?

Here’s a bigger coincidence: Profiling seemed to be another theme of “Crash,” and you neatly fit a movie-talker profile: A long-married couple who check Blackberries during the movie but don’t share popcorn, arm rests or enough common interests anymore to carry on a conversation in your empty nest, which one of you wants to sell now before real estate prices tank, and you worry about how you’ll continue putting brioche on the table during your demographically irrelevant golden years."
Not surprisingly, I didn't find Mr. Mehlman's intolerant diatribe to be very funny (I'm not even sure he intended for it to be, I can only assume since apparently he worked on Seinfeld). Nor, unfortunately, did I find it to be particularly insightful or to provide any useful criticism. He made one point (that he was upset that a nearby couple was talking during the movie). Also he made no effort to solve the problem (by asking the couple to lower their voices) and took up arms against all of humanity - including himself - in their desire to want to express themselves to one another.

My response to both the people submitting the complaints and to the people who are offending them would be the same. Everyone just needs to be a little more considerate of one another and what the other people might be going through.

Dark spaces, much like the metal and glass referred to in Crash, often have the unfortunate effect of creating a feeling of isolation. It never occurs to drivers that the person who cut them off may be on the way home to pick up their sick son, or maybe just doesn't realize they did anything bad. Just like people in movie theaters forget that other people might be hearing what they're saying or that people have to clean up the popcorn they spill on the floor. It always helps to have a friendly reminder that other people are sharing the experience, but anger only breeds more anger and a worse experience for everyone.

In light of this, rather than put up the signs and pre-show messages for deterring in-theater cell phone use that movie-goers clamor for (more than anything else), I'm going to make it a point to address the underlying issue that people are actually struggling with (and that the feedback I received astutely points out): 4.) consideration for other movie goers. Issuing orders to turn off cell phones doesn't make anybody happy. It makes the people who complain feel entitled to have their demands met and makes them feel more unsatisfied and more irritated. And it makes the people who respect the rule feel like something is being taken away from them.

But encouraging people to maintain a level of mutual respect and consideration for all of their fellow patrons makes everyone's experiece much more pleasant. People feel more comfortable talking to each other rather than storing up rage. People realize how pleasant and understanding other people actually are. And when someone makes a mistake, it doesn't throw people over the edge.

That's what Crash was about, by the way (Not to be too much of a smartass, but I know because Paul Haggis was at the screening I watched :) ). Not deeply flawed individuals. But compassionate people who needed to learn to be tolerant of one another.


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