Texters suck (and what can be done about it).

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Posted October 19, 2013 by in

Why someone would shell out 10 bucks to see a movie and then spend the entire time texting, I do not know—or care, really.  I figure how people spend their own time and money is their own business.  Of course, if they’d like an opinion on what’s good out there at the movies, that’s what I’m here for.

     That is, as long as said texter is not sitting anywhere in front of me in the theater.  It’s when I can see the bright screen of the tiny phone that it becomes my business, because it affects me and my enjoyment of the movie, a movie which I too have paid for.
     Texters don’t seem to understand (or care?) just how distracting their behavior is.  Nearly always, those tiny screens on the phones are brighter than the big screen itself, particularly in dark, atmospheric movies of the horror and suspense genres.
     Our eyes are drawn to light.  It captures our attention, absorbs it.  Filmmakers know this, and take advantage of that fact.  A cinematographer might use a spotlight to direct our eyes to something they deem especially significant.  It’s a way of saying look at this.  This is important.
     Whenever someone flips open their phone, on the other hand, what they are saying is that the app they’re running is more important than the enjoyment of everyone sitting behind them.  That can mean every single person in the theater—if that person shows up late and has nowhere else to sit but in the front row.
     A texter can be anybody.  Smart phones are not the sole property of teenagers at the multiplex.  You’d think that the art-house crowd of all people, people who love real cinema, would respect the presentation.  And you’d be wrong.  It’s disheartening.
     Perhaps they don’t have any particular interest in the film at all, and are only seeing the movie because a friend didn’t want to see it alone.  Or maybe the movie blows and they’re just bored as hell.
     I can understand being in either circumstance, believe me.  I don’t see a given movie because I have a particular interest in it myself.  If I do, it’s a coincidence.  No, I see it because this is what I do, and I go in with an open a mind as possible, and give it a chance.
     And then it blows, and I am bored as hell.  So believe me, I empathize with the urge to pull out my phone and text, tweet, or do anything but watch this vapid waste of time.  Does that mean texters have my sympathy?  An emphatic no.
     Doing so would ruin the moment the film is trying to create.  Perhaps characters are trying to relate crucial information about the plot.  This is, obviously, a poor time to create a distraction from that.  That also goes for the climax, the moment the entire movie has been building to.  It’s the moment that decides if the boy will get the girl, if the detective will solve the case, if good will triumph over evil–in short, everything.  It’s the worst possible moment to talk, text, get up, or do anything other than watch the movie.  It is not the moment to pull out one’s phone and comment on a photo of someone’s dinner on Facebook, or other trifles that, really, no one else cares about to begin with.
     When that happens, and the person is sitting in front of me or thereabouts, I lean in and whisper excuse me, could you put that away please?  It’s distracting.  Thank you.   I find that nine out of ten people will comply, if grudgingly, to politeness.  It’s about proximity.  You don’t want someone upset with you when they’re sitting right behind you.
     That their phones are on in the first place shows that texters don’t take the signs in the theater lobby warning against such behavior the slightest bit seriously.  And why should they?  It’s not like theater staff are watching them.  If they are present, it’s because paying customers have left the movie and brought one.  Imagine how that can be a problem for someone trying to cover a movie, and the difficulty of trying to find an employee in a theater complex with 30 screens.
     I realize I’ve mentioned paying for movies, and you must be thinking don’t you guys see that stuff for free?  Usually, yes.  However, sometimes films aren’t screened for press if the studios doubt it will stand up to scrutiny, necessitating a midnight screening on my part.  More on press screenings in a moment, but back to the issue at hand.
     One theater chain, though, has no tolerance for texters.  The Alamo Draft House, a Texas-based theater chain that serves food and beverages during the show, kicked out a patron back in 2011 for texting during the movie, despite warnings.  The patron left an angry message on the theater’s answering machine, which was then posted to YouTube by the theater itself, where it received over two-million views to-date, and made national news (and notice the percentage of likes vs. dislikes of the video).
     More recently, the chain has banned Madonna from its theaters when it was reported that the Material Girl used her Blackberry at a screening, even though this occurred at a theater under a separate chain.  Wouldn’t it be great if all theaters followed suit? and took a zero-tolerance policy on that kind of self-important bullshit.
     The only other refuge from such inconsiderate behavior are advanced screenings, where studios show films to the public to generate buzz, and give the press a chance to see films prior to their official release.  Before the film starts, a member of the security team will, in the nicest way possible, warn the audience that anyone caught using their phone mid-screening will be escorted out of the theater.
     That is, if phones are allowed in the theater at all. When they are not, a few hundred people wait in line to be wanded, one or two-at-a-time, for cell phones.  Purses are rifled through, suspicious bulges in pockets are checked (ahem). Even members of the press—even from prestigious outlets—will be asked to turn their phone in or leave them in their car.
     Not that the studios care in the slightest about texting.  Their concern is that someone might snap a photo of the film, or record shaky video footage of the film, and upload either to the internet.  Not that it matters to me what their motivation is, if it creates a distraction-free environment.
     Advanced screenings aside, where phone use cannot be tolerated, there is a compromise.  The solution is for texters to sit in the back row, so no one can see their phones but other texters, and people who actually want to watch the movie can actually do so.  The back row can easily accommodate every texter in a large theater, because texters are in a minority.  Most people go to the movies to, you know…watch the damn movie they paid to see?  But it only takes one, tiny, blindingly-bright screen to ruin it for everyone else.
     Theater chains, owners, and managers need to start taking this seriously.  Home theater systems become bigger and better all the time.  Blu-ray discs and hi-def screens make for a comparable experience as digital projection at a theater.  Snacks can be purchased at the grocery store for 99 cents, as opposed to $8.00 at the concession stand.  Not to mention the comfort and privacy of watching a movie at home on date night.
     Meanwhile, movie tickets are getting more expensive, often prohibitively so, but the quality of the experience is going downhill, fast.  There are enough reasons to avoid the theaters as is—seat-kickers, people who have extended conversations mid-movie, people who feel the need to narrate and comment on what’s happening in the movie, parents who refuse to take their wailing babies out of R-rated movies, people who, in short, act like theater is their own living room—without texters adding to the misery.
     …why do people go to the movies again?

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.

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