Monday, May 5, 2008

Movie Theatres: Proof of the Decline of Civility

(Part rant, part commentary)
I like to get to a movie before it starts, which means I like to be there before the previews begin. If I get there when I plan to, you’ll find me somewhere in the middle of the stadium-style seating, half way up and in the middle of the row. It used to be the perfect seat.

Stadium style seating should be the way to watch a movie. But in the age of stay-connected-or-die, it seems that no one can go to the movie theatre anymore and partake in the pleasure of escaping the world outside to dive into the adventure within. Such was the reason I found myself in the theatre recently, in my preferred section, with the lights down and the movie about to start when I looked down the rows to see what looked like the night sky all aglow with a flurry of stars. Those stars of course, were cell phones. While this has been happening since cell phones were invented and it wasn’t completely unexpected, it seems the stars are coming out more often and for longer periods of time. Lately, it seems that people care as little about the people behind their heads as the feature they’re texting their way through even though they paid half their paycheck to see it.

Honestly, can you not wait 90 minutes to find out that your best friend just can’t believe that her sort of friend is dating that cute guy she met once?

Meanwhile, I sit trying to ignore the starry night sky below me, when in walks a young family of four into a PG-13 rated action feature. And by young family I mean of course, a mother, a father, and their three year old and infant child. Now, I am not opposed to people bringing their kids to a movie, and I understand that parents can’t just get up and go to a movie whenever they feel like it. But I disagree with bringing kids to a feature they are legally not really allowed to see, and one that will most likely cause little ears hearing problems.

Now don't get me wrong, I love kids. I am looking forward to one day having my own, but I won’t be bringing them into films they are too young to see. It’s not only rude to the rest of the people in the theatre who have paid to see the movie, but also to the kids. An infant should probably not be exposed to THX sound blowing up all around them, nor to the germs of a rarely disinfected public place.

Which brings me to my next point- what’s that smell? Where else can you go to catch a whiff of body odor, stale popcorn, sweaty feet, and that sticky mess you just stepped in on the floor? Only the movie theatre. Granted, some theatres keep their place clean, and I applaud their efforts. But most of you can probably recreate the smell I just described and know which theatre in your area is most prone to have it. It’s true that theatres are public places, and there’s no telling who has been in your seat before you. But it is time to instill a better process for cleaning these places up so we all can benefit from not having to wonder if the last person who sat in the seat before us took a shower or not.

Still, regardless of how well a place is cleaned, and if the text message addicts decide not to accompany your viewing, and if parents hire a babysitter, there will still be those who think that a public movie theatre is there own personal living room. These are the folks who forget that no one cares to hear their loud and corny comments. Commonly referred to as the peanut gallery, they laugh at non-jokes, laugh even louder at the funny ones, scream bloody murder when they feel like it, and sit right behind you and talk their way through the movie, making their own edits and critiques of the film. No one cares to hear it, yet no one says anything. This is partly because we don’t want to be bothered by having to say anything to them, but also because there’s no telling what action they will take. The truly horrible ones will most likely curse at you or just get louder to prove their point.

Civility, it seems, is on the decline. Some people just honestly don’t care what other people think. They have no manners and they don’t mind. Perhaps it is especially appalling because some of us were raised to respect others around us. It’s really a simple concept, and a moral standard that so many have disregarded. True, there are plenty of those who are respectful and are in the same boat. But it continues.

The movie theatre needs a revamping. It used to be a privilege to buy a ticket and wait in eager anticipation of what would project on the big screen as the lights dimmed. But the eagerness fades with the growing impudence of some moviegoers.
It’s a shame we cannot let go of the reality of life even to escape for a few minutes of adventure. And if you can, good for you, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so during the summer movie season. Just try to ignore those around you who don’t know you’re there.

Some recommendations for avoiding the distractions:
Go to late night movies- half of the texters are of a younger crowd and the later shows are generally past their bed times.
Go to movies during weeknights- yes the movies are something to look forward to on weekends, but you’re more likely to enjoy your experience on a Monday or Tuesday.


Mr. Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Smith said...

[Sorry for the deleted post. I had to initiate a spam defense from the bots that roam blogspot.]

The very notion of "public" has been largely erased from contemporary American culture. It's one of the primary triumphs of conservatism.

As illustrated by your post, people are extremely reluctant to hold others accountable for discourteous behavior in public places.

You can bitch about it after the fact, or you can learn how to politely assert yourself, which isn't necessarily easy, but is an acquired skill that is very, very liberating. Social sanction for a social breach seems fair to me.

For those who cannot or will not say "Excuse me, but..." to an offender, or if there are many people simultaneously engaged in the same rude behavior at the theater, at least complain to theater management, which is where the primary problem lies anyway. If they're unresponsive - willing to let you be cheated out of what you paid for - don't leave there without a refund.

Years ago, that was part of the job of the ushers and/or management: to assure an optimal viewing environment for paying customers. Unfortunately, they no longer do this unless prodded - and they rarely are.

I'm not an asshole, but I will - in the politest manner possible - confront people for repetitive or escalating rudeness. Some get mad. Others are simply embarrassed and apologetic.

You would be surprised at how often other people are thinking the same thing as you - and sometimes they will even thank you for attempting to resolve the situation.

Movie theaters are killing themselves by ignoring the problems you cite. Until such time as they become extinct, we aren't doing ourselves - or each other - any favors with the passive-aggressive acceptance of unacceptable public behavior.