Disruptive behaviour at the cinema: Understandable?

Recently my friend Scott started his Midweek Mumble series about cinema etiquette and noise pollution.
It’s something most of us experience and get annoyed by. Chances are that if you are reading this you are a big fan of movies. You might talk about them a lot or even blog about them. Through the years your love for the medium has grown so much that it has become an experience you cherish. Movies have become sort of a religion where you silently want to experience every second the image is projected onto that big screen. You want to see the movie the way the director intended it to. I am like that as well. If I could I would love to buy all tickets for a screening and watch it alone, but unfortunately that would make it a very expensive hobby.

Fact is though that the annoyances exist and I started wondering why people would talk during movies and/or use their cell phones. So let’s get into the minds of the ones who cause so much distraction.

Why do people go to the movies? In general it is to have a good time, but that’s a very wide definition. To me it’s getting lost in a movie. Even when I go with friends I try to
talk as little as possible not to annoy others, but I haven’t always been like that. Let’s go back into time, to a younger me when I was still a teenager at the end of the eighties/beginning of the nineties (I’m 36 now).

My own behaviour
Back then I didn’t watch as many movies as I do now. Going to the movies was a great thing to do. You didn’t have to hang around the house (or a friend’s house) where parents were around. It was a place to get away from it all, not having to walk around and be entertained for a while, sharing the experience with some friends. If the movie was boring
you’d talk to each other (ok, even if it wasn’t you still did) and yes, I must admit I also was guilty in throwing food just to cause some annoyance. I wouldn’t dare to do those things now, but back then it was fun. Was it about the movie? Well, only partly I guess. It was something to do. If you took out a girl to see a movie of course you wanted to share the experience but you’d als want to talk to her during the movie. There’s no reason for me to think that has changed for the teenagers visiting movies now.

Mobile phones
What has changed though is the connectivity. At the beginning of the nineties cellphones were not around yet and internet was just getting popular. You were not connected yet, but if the technology would have been available I’d probably use it during a movie. Why? Well, you are at age where you are finding your place and when all your friends are very active you want to be a part of that as much as possible. I see this with family gatherings, some of the teenagers think it’s perfectly acceptable to be chatting away on their Blackberry all evening, not interacting with the people around them. It’s something I’d rather see differently (if it was my child I’d say something about it), but it happens a lot.

So back to the cinema as it is not only teenagers, I’ve read enough stories about other age groups (from middle aged men to old couples) causing as many disruptions. The thing with cellphones is that there is a big group of people who feel the need to be reachable at any given moment even if that means disturbance to other. I can imagine that if you are a couple with children and have a babysitter you might have to be reachable in case something has happened.

It’s easy to label someone else as having no manners and accuse them of not thinking of others, but before aggressively attacking someone causing a distraction immediately you should take a moment to at least think what might be going on in their head. Also ask yourself if you think fighting someone over a movie is really worth it. Breathe for a moment to find a some control. Just like you I don’t like disruption, but don’t try to be like George Valentin in The Artist having a nightmare about every little sound.

As far as solutions go I think there are some chains out there that help to prevent issues. The most famous one I think is the Alamo draft house that is known for having a very strict no cellphone policy. People are aware of it and don’t cause problems because they will kick you out. If I look at one of the biggest chains in The Netherlands (Pathé), they offer a number you can send a text to (only reason you can use your phone) and they will deal with it. I never had to use it, but I assume it works. It also makes it an anonymous thing, so you don’t have to worry about the wrath of someone else. Another solution could be to have special screenings where specific things like texting are allowed. It manages expectations and prevents those not matching with reality.

As long as going to the movies is a social event (and it is) there are going to be other people that will behave in a way that can annoy or disturb others. Let’s hope though that those other people will get the point that the passion for movies can run very deep for some and that they should respect that.

4 thoughts on “Disruptive behaviour at the cinema: Understandable?

    • Well, parts of it, but never a complete experience. The one I always think of first was when seeing Babel. There were two teenagers who simply couldn’t handle the movie and were constantly making annoying remarks. Luckily they proved they couldn’t deal with it and left about halfway through.

  1. There’s the simple fact that a bright white light, despite its small size is distraction. .

    The other thing you touched on is the emergency access – I’ve seen many people get or receive emails or texts during a show. I have NEVER seen anyone get a text or an email – look at it, then get up and leave the theater never to return. NOT ONCE has this happened.

    There’s another factor and that is that many people are just indifferent and inconsiderate. They never think about any one else. Now in this technical age of immediate access to knowledge and other people – indifference and inconsiderate behavior are the natural outcomes.

    Of course, you may have read in your papers of the event from last year in a Florida movie theater where an argument about cell-phone use during the film led to a shooting.

    One mans life ended right then and there, And the shooter’s life – well he’s doing hard time.

    • True, it rarely happens that it is that important and you are right that many people are indifferent or inconsiderate.

      With this I tried to get into the heads of those that are being disruptive, but in the end, in a perfect world, nobody would use cellphones and be quiet…unfortunately that is not the reality.

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