you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

This particular post and its attendant counter arguments has been bouncing all around the internet for a couple of days now. It started with this particular post, from a man who makes me think the worst of all venture capitalists everywhere. I get that people in that particular line of work are trying to think around problems or “outside the box” if that particular cliche is your preference. They’re trying to find the next big thing, etcetera etcetera.

But Hunter Walk’s progression of thought strikes me less as trying to think outside of the box and more just trying to change the status quo to fit a life that has taken some changes.  I know I might be speaking out of turn a bit in trying to ascribe motivations to a person I “know” only through a single blog post. I just can’t help but wonder if maybe there is a cognitive disconnect in an individual who asks this question when suggesting maybe movie theaters should allow texting or talking during movies:

But why? Instead of driving people like me away from the theater, why not just segregate us into environments which meet our needs. I’d love to watch Pacific Rim in a theater with a bit more light, wifi, electricity outlets and a second screen experience. Don’t tell me I’d miss major plot points while scrolling on my ipad – it’s a movie about robots vs monsters. I can follow along just fine.

When it seems to me like the answer lies in the previous paragraph, albeit related to something that (in his mind, I’d guess) seems entirely unrelated (emphasis mine):

In my 20s I went to a lot of movies. Now, not so much. Over the past two years becoming a parent has been the main cause but really my lack of interest in the theater experience started way before that. Some people dislike going to the movies because of price or crowds, but for me it was more of a lifestyle decision.

Let me be clear: I know nothing about this person’s kids. I don’t know how old they are, whether they’re infants, high school age or something in between.  But I do know enough parents, and particularly parents of younger children and infants to know there’s avery good reason why they don’t go out to the movies as much when the kids are younger. They know that if their kid starts crying, acts out, makes a fuss, whatever…that the rest of us don’t really want to be part of that.

It isn’t making any kind of judgement about the child or the parents. I know that there have been extreme situations where we’ve probably all made some kind of judgment about a child or the parents because they’re just being so out of bounds that it defies belief. But for the most part it’s just a case where sometimes kids cry or parents get frustrated and it gets loud. I’ve known a lot of parents who got upset or embarrassed when that happens.

And the reason why that happens is because the parents might be worried about that outside judgement but the more likely reason is because they know we didn’t ask to be a part of the family drama. And that ultimately may impose on the outside observer’s comfort or enjoyment of the movie or anything else that’s going on. The short form response is: we didn’t pay to hear your kid(s) yowl. I tend to be more indulgent than most, but I also know my patience levels are well above average. It takes a lot to damage my calm.

Ultimately though, what we’re talking about is that social contract with people we interact with in a public sphere that says “I don’t harsh your enjoyment of (experience) and you don’t harsh mine.” The moment your enjoyment of the experience interferes with mine, we’re gonna have a problem and vice versa.

Which is why it boggles my mind that someone else came out in support of Walk’s position (the post linked in the first line of this one).  Anil Dash starts out by trying to…I don’t know, list some bonafides that seem like they’re intended to give his observations some weight maybe? I can’t really tell.

But when it comes to film, despite all my gadget-wielding bonafides, I’ve been something of a purist. I’ve never had my phone on during a movie, let alone texted or talked. I’ve never even tried to watch a movie on my phone, and barely have done so with an iPad when on a plane. My Kickstarter history betrays a predilection for backing independent works that tend to be about artists or marginalized folks, like dream hampton’s recent TransParent. So I’m okay with technology being used to engage with film, but I’ve never personally been interested in mediating film through technology.

Ok, first off: mediating film through technology isn’t what we’re talking about here. There may be some information solicitation that’s tangential to the actual film involved. But Dash gives the game away in the next para in the very first line:

Recent days have brought a debate that’s forced us all to reckon with the fact that lots of people are bringing phones to public theaters, along with their concomitant light and noise issues, and the overall potential distraction of texting.

That, candidly, is not “mediating film through technology”. That is being an asshole. Dash acknowledges that the tendency of people being assholes (my words, not his) is increasing. The response that Dash has to this trend line?

In short, what we’ve done to encourage reverent, single-focus movie watching hasn’t worked.

So we should have the courage of our convictions. If we believe, truly, that a viewing experience without second screens or distracting sounds or lights, is vastly superior to any other way of experiencing this art form, then let’s bet on it. Let’s let people choose, and offer up screenings where people are allowed any manner of digital diversions during the show.

Wait…what? People are tending towards assholishness…our attempts to stop it have not stemmed the tide…so let’s just let people be assholes en masse? That is the argument?

I think I find this more argument more annoying lately because the basic structure is being used so damn much lately to justify so much of what I find to be ridiculous policy in the political sphere. It strikes me a variant (as an extreme example) of the whole “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns” brouhaha. I could be confusing my logical fallacies though.

The finish really drives me even more nuts.

Cinema has never resisted technological innovation; It’s where people first discovered moving pictures and color images and stereo sound. And the stories we discover there, shared with a crowd of strangers all moved by the same dreamlike images, have withstood time and crossed cultures to knit together people all over the world, even with their different cultural standards and social norms.

Ok, I’m sorry this is not a strong or polite argument to make, but the first thing that comes to my mind reading that is “THE FUCK??!??”

Letting someone use a phone in a theater while other people are around them has absolutely nothing to do with technological innovation in cinema. If you’re talking shooting on celluloid versus digital, digital effects versus practical, types of narrative structure…these are technological innovations in cinema and related to cinema that can be discussed or debated. Being able to text someone when you’re in the middle of a Michael Bay opus to see what’s up? Not a tech innovation in cinema.

Amazingly Dash doubled down on the argument in a later post. I don’t know that I can call some of the points he tries to refute straw men, as I’ve read the points elsewhere in posts taking Walk and Dash to task. But I want to take some his points apart because there is a little legit in there and then some that I find to be utter bullshit.

(Random observation: how curious is it that the two people I find talking about this most in my blog readings are named Walk and Dash? The world is not without a sense of humor.)

It’s not a church – as an avowed film snob, I try not to make that argument. I know that the church of cinema attitude is pretentious as all hell, and I do a good enough job being that level of pretentious concerning the medium’s content itself. I don’t want to extend beyond that into the “experience” of watching a movie because I know that for everyone the degree to which you’re engaged in a movie is personal.

That said, the mere fact that you recognize that depending on the venue there are certain levels of propriety and guidelines for behavior. You recognize there are places where you’re ok to do your own thing whatever that may be, and there are places where you keep the muss to a minimum. This is out of respect for the venue/event, but it’s also out of respect for the other patrons. Which leads to Dash’s next point.

Concern Trolling for Creatives – Here Dash combines two points.

  1. This is all just film snobs being pretentious about the experience of watching film and they just need to lighten up.
  2. Said film snobs want to enforce a no talk, no text, no bullshit zone during films to respect the creatives and their efforts to put the art up for all of us to see.

As one of the people who Dash seems to be mocking in point number 1, I want to speak to point 2 first. I recognize that for every The King’s Speech there’s going to be a dozen Smurfs 2 released. I have no delusions about the conflict between art and commerce where Hollywood is concerned and as such I don’t think one’s undivided attention while watching Michael Bay reduce vehicles or buildings to digital ash is going suddenly make viewer aware that he’s making deeper commentary on man’s mortality or the injustice of the legal system.

Though it will make one more aware of how mind numbingly boring Bay’s shit is, and for that we are all better people.

But even in the mass market features, it’s not the film snobs that are taking issue with boorish behavior. This past weekend I took Christian (my Little I’m mentoring through BBBS) to go see the new Percy Jackson movie. We’d seen the first one together, he’s read the books. I knew it was something he’d enjoy, even if it wasn’t really my thing. And I did find some things entertaining about the first one.

We get there about 15 minutes before showtime, seated in the third row center. Immediately in front of us is a cluster of young girls, ranging in age from maybe Christian’s age (he’s 15, that may be too generous to the oldest girl in the group) to a low of around 10. During the pre-show, they were chattering back and forth, texting on their phones and doing what pre-teen girls do. The movie hadn’t started so they weren’t really phasing me much at the time. But Christian kept glancing down at them and then right as the trailers were about to start he asked if I wanted to move.

Now I grant there was no way to know whether they were going to be equally obnoxious during the movie. They could well have settled in and been as quiet as church mice once the feature started. And if they were all gaga over the male leads (or hell, the female leads if they swung that way) I don’t know that I would have raised much as fuss. I’ve been known to make panting noises over Scarlett Johansson in spandex, though I’m also the one who shushed my then wife for fawning over Sean Connery during Last Crusade. I’m sorta all over the map with that sort of thing I guess.

My point (and as a famous person once said, “I do have one,”) is that someone within their own peer group didn’t want to chance it. He didn’t want to chance that they might be obnoxious because he and I were there to watch a freaking movie not post on freaking Facebook! This is a kid who loved Skyline for crying out loud. Artistic integrity doesn’t play into it.

(Note: I mention the Skyline thing not as a dig on Christian’s tastes as much as pointing out the further evidence that God does in fact have a sense of humor and wants me to unclinch the cinematic sphincter a bit and not take myself and movies too god damn seriously. (S)he is funny that way.)

Caution: Public spaces contain humans – Here Dash finally gets to the fact that there are other audience members involved in the public movie watching process. And I don’t think I would be quite so bitter and snarky about referring to this troglodytic douche canoe in such negative terms if he wasn’t so goddamn condescending about the people he clearly thinks are in the wrong. In my mind, Dash set the terms of engagement and I could decide to take the high road and say I’m above this level of childishness.

But fuck that noise.

The main point Dash seems to be making here is the idea that people like him and people like me are just going to agree to disagree and thus we should make accommodations for those like Walk and create a new space for them to be obnoxious in public.  To which I would make two points:

  1. There is already a place for people like Walk to do this in full. It’s called their fucking living rooms. If you really need other people to validate your obnoxious behavior then by all means, invite other douche canoes over to be obnoxious with you. You can even call it the Douche Canoe Regatta and get sponsorship (most likely from Axe Body Spray).
  2. Why in the fuck all are we, the people who have enough restraint to be polite in a public space, the ones who have to make accommodations for you, Walk and the rest of your ilk? If your next point is really to be taken seriously (We outnumber you) then it is just as valid a logical argument for me to point out WE WERE HERE FIRST!

What cracks me up is that at the end of this particular point Dash in his magnanimous way chastises those who disagree with him and makes some pretty gross assumptions about the anti-movie-talking position, he then makes the observation:

This is typically followed by systematically demonstrating all of the most common logical fallacies in the process of denying that others could, in good conscience, arrive at conclusions other than their own.

Thereby illustrating that while Dash may have some differences about the pros and cons about the movie going experience, he does still have a full grasp on the concept of projection.

And as to that last point of Dash’s…

We outnumber you – Yes. We know. Your obnoxious, self-centered, everyone see how important I am kind is everywhere. You’re in our coffee shops, our bars, our restaurants. We can’t experience a latte, a transit on the commuter train (hence the creation of the “quiet car” on the Acela, which you assholes still can’t respect), a sit in the doctor’s office or a walk down the sidewalk without experiencing your need to express yourself loudly, obnoxiously, publicly.  To that end, I can’t speak for all the cinephiles you look down on, Mr. Dash, but I can say for myself that

  1. You have plenty of options to express your exhibitionist tendencies. That does not obligate me or anyone else like me who has more sense to play voyeur for you.
  2. You can take my quiet movie theater from me when I’m dead and coldAnd not one minute before.

As Scott Kaufman summed it up at Lawyers, Guns & Money (where I originally found the Dash link):

I’m not going to ask you to turn of your iPhone during a film because it’s distracting, but because your narcissism is fucking with my head. Your tiny light is making my dilated eyes constrict, which means I can’t see the movie the director — otherwise known as the person I paid good money to fuck with my head — intended me to. Your vanity transforms the film I wanted to see into one co-directed by you, and while I understand that that likely thrills you, know that I have no idea who you are and no interest in anything about you. I am reducing the complex social construct that is you to its essence which is asshole.

Your body is asshole.

Your mind is asshole.

Your life is asshole.

If you cured cancer, then the cure for cancer is asshole.

If you stopped war, then peace is asshole.

You are assholes all the way down.

And as Jimmy Malone said (in a movie you were probably too busy tweeting through to notice), “Thus endeth the lesson.”

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