The Cinema and the Social Compact

If you take advantage of her, you're going to burn in a special level of hell. A level reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theater. — Shepherd Book

I participated in a discussion on the National Security Agency’s Voluntary Information Gathering System (Facebook) earlier today. It centered around the shooting of a Florida movie theater patron. While the details differ depending upon your news source of choice, most of them seem to agree that one individual was texting, was asked to stop by a retired police officer (who was definitely a couple fries short of a Happy Meal), and refused to do so. The non-texter went to complain to the manager. When he returned to his seat the texter threw a bag of popcorn at him.
1 The non-texter took out a handgun and shot the texter.

Now I am not saying that I condone shooting people for trivial offenses.

That being said, I can totally understand being that upset by rude people in public.

There is a sense of entitlement
2 which seems to make damn near every person in public think that they are the most important individual in the world, if not the only individual in the world. Guess what happens when you put multiple people whose psychological blinders restrain their ability to see how their actions affect other people?

Yep, that’s right. Someone gets shot.

Was it wrong for this person to shoot someone? Of course it was. Is it tragic that the texter’s three year old daughter will now have to grow up without a father? Yes, most certainly so.

Could the whole thing have been avoided if the texter had the common decency to realize that he was in a public place and that his actions impacted those around him?


Could the whole thing have been avoided if the texter had simply gotten up and taken care of his texting in the lobby?


Now I’m not going to sit here and complain about how the increase in technology is evil. Nor am I going to say that the pervasive way technology has crept into our lives is a bad thing. I’m not going to deride the ability to be continuously connected to one another.

Why not? Because I hate hypocrites. I’m writing this on my laptop right now with two chat windows open on Facebook. My iPad is to my left and my iPhone is to my right.

There are places, however, where being connected is inappropriate.

Dining is one of them. If you are in the bar and you are texting someone it is a little rude to the people around you. If you are at a restaurant and ignore the company around you to play Words With Friends you’re a dick.

If you are texting from the dining room table when surrounded by your family? Douchecanoe to the nth degree.

The movie theater is one of those places where being connected is not necessary nor welcome. In an age where most movies will be released for home viewing within six months of their theater release date
5, there are only a few reasons to go to the movie theater.

You absolutely can not wait to see this particular film.
You want to have the full visual and auditory experience of the film.
You are on a date and want to impress the Hell out of the person you are with by spending an obscene amount of money on unhealthy snacks.
You want the social experience of seeing the film in public.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

You absolutely can not wait to see this particular film
If this is the case then you should, by no means, allow yourself to be distracted by your mobile device. You paid to see the film during its opening week. Why are you looking at your phone?

You want to have the full visual and auditory experience of the film.
See above.

You are on a date and want to impress…
You’re an asshole.

You want the social experience of seeing the film in public
Going to the theater used to be something important. It was a reason to get dressed up.
6 You went to the theater not only to see the movie but also to experience the movie with other people. This is still a valid reason to go to the show. Compare seeing a horror movie in your own house with seeing it with a bunch of people who all jump at the same time. What about a comedy where everyone’s laughter builds on everyone else’s until you miss the dialog? The same goes for epics, SFF, and romantic tear-jerkers.

When you pull out your phone during these situations you are pulling yourself out of the experience. You just wasted $20 on the ticket and popcorn. What’s more, you are ruining it
for other people.

There is the crux of my argument. You might not care about any of the reasons I mention above. What you should care about is the person next to you, the one behind you dealing with the glare from your phone, and all the others. When you are in a social situation where your actions will directly impact the experience for those around you, turn the phone off. If it is an absolute emergency, remove yourself from the situation as politely as possible and only return when your actions will no longer be intrusive.

The alternative option?

Stay the fuck home.

1 A rather rash act given the fact that one has to take out a second mortgage on a house to afford movie popcorn these days.

2 Which I have ranted about before.

3 And probably has the nerve to be shocked by it.

4 Don’t judge me.

5 And where the less scrupulous can find pirated copies
before the release date.

6 Yes, I’m still on my kick about how things were better when men wore hats and ties everywhere.