All that is wrong with the world…

June 15, 2011

Obtrusiveness in cinemas

Filed under: Issues...the world...etc.. — Tags: , , , — allthatiswrong @ 1:07 pm

The Alamo Drafthouse recently banned texting in cinemas. Is that too far? I don’t get why people get so upset about a tiny little screen far in front of them which they shouldn’t be paying attention to in the first place. Do people really lack the willpower to just ignore such a thing and focus on the movie? If people are talking or being obtrusive that is one thing….but people getting upset about just texting or whispering something to a partner is getting out of hand. Some people even have a fit at people talking during the previews….the previews for gods sakes! Regardless of what some people may think, the previews are not the start of the movie and there is nothing wrong with discussing them.

I think it is especially amusing that some people get so bent out of shape as part of the reason people go and see a movie at the cinema is not just the big screen and better sound, but the shared experience. People like to laugh together, to be surprised together, all of that stuff. Given how vocal Americans like to be at movies, I find it odd that being obtrusive in one way is fine, but if someone wants to do something that isn’t inherently obtrusive they have a fit about it. Clapping when a bad guy is defeated? Fine. Subtly checking a text message? How dare you!

I wish I had so little to worry about that I could afford to focus on someone taking 2 seconds to check a screen a few seats away obscured by other people or chairs rather than paying attention to the movie I paid to watch and enjoy. As it is I have enough willpower just to focus on the movie and not blow trivial things out of context. Rather than banning text messaging in a theater, perhaps we could ban the people so petty that they feel the need to complain about it?


  1. There’s nothing to “get” about why people get so upset about texting. It’s just a matter of whether you notice it or not. And if you do notice it, there’s no option to “not pay attention” to it–it’s there, and it’s distracting. Some people’s brains are wired differently than others, and to not be distracted by something like that is far beyond their capabilities. It’s not a matter of willpower. You might not understand that, not being wired to get annoyed with that sort of thing.

    As for me, I don’t go to the movies for the shared experience. Sure, it’s sometimes fun to hear the people cheer and laugh at appropriate moments, but this adds to the atmosphere of the event–and when it’s excessive, I don’t care for it. Because above all, I go to the movies because I find the big screen more engaging than a small screen. I want to be fully absorbed into the experience of a movie, to let the movie become “real” to me–to let the movie become my whole world for those two hours. Seeing the small bright white screen someone’s texting drags me out of that wonderful experience, and it reminds me, as long as it’s on and for a good few minutes afterwards, that it’s just a movie. My emotional connection is shaken. The suspense and delight are diminished. It’s psychological; there is no real option about it. I can’t even put in an effort to ignore it without paying attention to it. You might go through life perfectly serene and without anything that ever puts you into a state of irrational irritation, and if so, I envy you. If you don’t notice it and don’t mind it, that’s wonderful and I’m happy for you. You’re immune to one of life’s deadliest irritants.

    The screen of a person’s cell phone/iPhone/whateverphone is tiny, but very bright, and very noticeable for many people. I also am quite sensitive to bright lights in a dark room. And, a great deal of the time, people are taking more than two seconds to check their messages and it is not subtle. They spend minutes on end doing it.

    In short, it’s not at all petty to complain about it. I greatly respect the Alamo Drafthouse’s methods, and I find their videos about the policy hilarious.

    Comment by Will — August 6, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

    • Hi Will,

      Thanks for your well thought our reply, here and on my pantheism post, which I will respond to as soon as I can.

      I just don’t understand how you can say it is not a matter of willpower. What else would it be? I don’t really buy that some people are just wired to be annoyed by small things. Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean they can’t overcome it. I mean, I remember when I went to see one of the X-men movies and some guy was high and kept laughing a stupid laugh at things that were not meant to be funny. That was frustrating, but I was still able to watch the movie. How is noticing a white screen for a second going to take you out of the movie? Sure you might notice it and look down, but what is stopping you from keeping your eyes on the screen?

      I see sending a text about as irritating as someone coughing or sneezing, or people leaving and coming back in with food and drinks from the bar. It seems that the people who get annoyed are the people who try to be fully immersed and try to forget that they are in a movie theater. With that kind of attitude, it’s easy to get irritated.If however you take the movie going experience for what it is, a very large screen in a room full of people, then it’s easier to be relaxed about things.

      Of course I do get that it’s a subjective thing and just as I am annoyed about some petty things that others may shrug off, I can shrug off this which annoys so many. It’s just that sometimes people take it to an extreme that isn’t warranted.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — August 7, 2011 @ 12:13 am

      • When I say it’s not a matter of willpower, I don’t mean it’s impossible not to actively *look* down at the light, but that it’s impossible not to *notice* the light. If they just check their phone for a second and keep it covered with their hand or something, it’s not especially bothersome (though still a bit discourteous to do it at all). I’ll try to more fully explain where the problem lies with texting.

        When I watch a movie, here’s what I see: The rectangular movie screen is in the center of my field of vision, with a field of darkness all around it, keeping my brain’s full attention on the action of the movie screen with no diversion/distraction. The lighting of the stairs off to the sides are pretty dim and in my peripheral vision, so the only light I notice is the light of the screen; the darkness around it draws all attention to it.

        However, if somebody has their phone on and doesn’t keep it covered, as is often the case, the field of blackness that would ideally highlight the movie is now punctured by a bright point of light somewhere below the screen. Now there are *two* lights in the darkness, and, in a way, the second one often stands out *more* than the movie screen itself–the movie is big and takes up much more of my field of vision, but the phone light, for the very reason that it *is* small, has a greater contrast with the darkness all around it. I suspect this is the issue for the majority of people who get annoyed with it.

        I personally wouldn’t just get up and go complain to an employee about it (as that would take me out of the movie far more than the light did to begin with) but ideally I would quickly go and ask the person to turn it off if they kept it up. Then, if they refused, only then, I might complain if it seemed absolutely necessary or perhaps if they were very rude about it.

        But that is a hypothetical for me, so far. I haven’t actually been in that position as of yet; they always do turn their phone off after a few minutes without my saying anything. I find it nerve-wracking to ask people to stop what they’re doing. It does bother me, though, that they do it for so much longer than two seconds, and I never know *how long* they will keep it up, and sometimes they do it several times over the course of the movie. On a few occasions, afterwards, I have ended up saying to myself “Next time this happens, *next* time, I WILL go and ask them to turn it off and stop checking it…and if they don’t…why, I’ll…I’ll…yeah, they better turn it off.”

        Comment by Will — August 8, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

        • OK, I get what you’re saying.

          My point is that generally it lasts a few seconds. I don’t text in movies but often I use my phone to keep notes, and try to do this in a corner as unobtrusively as possible. I’ve never had a problem, but from some of the stuff I read that would be enough to make people have a fit.

          How is a brief additional point of light, below the screen where your eyes should be focused, less intrusive then people coughing or whispering or kissing or laughing or slurping drinks or coming in and going out….or doing any of the other things humans do that can be annoying?

          I just think most of the time people are overreacting, and it really isn’t as big a problem as its made out to be. Perhaps the problem lies with those few who can’t keep their attention focused on the movie, rather than those who wish to quickly check a message — perhaps with good reason.

          Comment by allthatiswrong — August 10, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: