Nothing like a little hyperbole in the headline to get things rolling, right?
That said, let’s move on to the issue raised by Jack Poessiger and the head of Alamo Drafthouse about texting in movie theaters. Because while I agree with the Gentle German that in the most extreme cases he likes to cite texting can be rude. However two wrongs don’t make a right, right?
And kicking people out of movies without refunding their money because they looked at their cellphone is wrong.
First let’s have some fun.
Having gone to many advance screenings I can tell you that critics (mostly movie geeks, let’s be honest) are often the worst when it comes to exhibiting good movie etiquette. I hate attending screenings specifically for the "media" because those guys – less so Jack but certainly Bob Butler and others – have little to no compunction about wisecracking and making comments during a movie.
Ever see an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000?
Even Jumping Jack Flash himself recently bemoaned having to sit next to another "critic" recently – a gentleman who has been known to bring lighted writing pens into screenings, noisily stuff his face with popcorn and every other imaginable foodstuff while cackling like a hen (loudly) at the most mundane, inside baseball movie jokes.
It literally ruined Jack’s moviegoing experience at one of the year’s biggest blockbusters.
Where I ask is the Alamo Drafthouse covenant governing that bit of bad behavior?
Now let me cite the examples of texting I’m familiar with and compare them to the one Jack cited yesterday.
Most people who know me know that technically I’m always working. Wherever I am, whatever I see, learn, hear or am told is a potential story. Nothing is off-the-record unless pre-agreed to.
I also have children, many irons in the fire, real estate and business deals cooking from time to time and responsibilities to others to receive return phone calls or get calls from people that are difficult to reach for stories I am writing on deadline. In other words, I don’t have the luxury I once did to disappear for two or three hours at a time and not keep abreast of anything and everything else going on in my life.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard.
Parents with young children absolutely have to check their phones for incoming calls or texts lest there be an emergency of some sort. People with sick family members. Business people who might await a critical call. A tragic, unexpected event. You name it.
The world that Jack – and indeed I – grew up in seldom allowed for such notices or interruptions. You found out when you got home after the movie that your house had burned down, your brother had died, etc. That’s the way things once were.
But times have changed, for better and for worse.
A Lawrence builder with whom I was negotiating on a house was on the island of St. Martin on a nude beach with his wife when I texted him an offer three weeks back.
"I have learned no one, and I mean no one, can escape gravity," he texted back sarcastically before hitting me with a counter offer.
We live in a different world today.
Here’s how my kids and I handle texting at movies. We dim our phone screens to begin with. My kids dim theirs so low I can’t even make them out. Then we tuck them into our laps, facing away from anyone halfway nearby, cup our hands over them and steal a glimpse.
If the incoming message is important, we’ll leave the auditorium and go deal with it. If there’s nobody nearby, I may tap out a short reply. Trust me, the process is seemless.
Now here’s Jack’s take on why texting bothers him.
He’s sitting in a darkened theater concentrating on a movie when lo and behold, someone nearby or even four or five rows in front of him (but well within his vision) raises a smartphone to eye level on full bright – where he and everybody else can see – it and reads and / or answers a text.
Now Jack goes to a lot more movies than me, so I believe him. But I’ve never seen anything that overt. The people I’ve seen text hold them low where they can look down on them and type something back if need be.
Come to think of it, I’ve never seen anybody hold their phone up in front of their face at eye level and type anywhere. Ever try it? Sounds like something Mr. Magoo maybe would do.
The bottom line is people in this country are pretty much universally armed with cellphones and are responsible in many ways to keep in touch with the people and circumstances in their lives. There certainly are polite ways to do things and there are impolite ways.
My point being there’s a middle ground.
So if Alamo roars into town using a machete rather than a scalpel – especially in a theater like the AMC Mainstreet which is struggling for business in less densely populated part of town – the company may find its teet in the same financial wringer AMC now does. In other words, choking down red ink while attempting to cater to local critic Bob Buter‘s so-called "snobs."
There’s a lot more real people in this town than movie snobs, I suspect, although I could be wrong.
I’ll leave you with this recent story on the subject from the Los Angeles Times.
"Americans have been drifting away from the multiplex for about a decade, a trend that Hollywood executives blame in part on the quality of the experience inside the theater. Sure, cinemas with giant screens offer an unsurpassed level of immersion. But when you’re watching a movie at home, you don’t have to worry about pivotal scenes being ruined by chattering and clattering by rude strangers. Just rude family members.
"Evidently, some industry insiders think the solution to the problem of dwindling ticket sales is to let moviegoers be more distracted — and distracting. Specifically, they have mulled allowing some cellphone use — presumably texting, not talking — to provide a more appealing environment for teens and young adults."
Back to you, Jack.