Blogger/”technologist” Anil Dash recently wrote a far longer screed about people demanding you not talk during a movie than the topic warrants, but it boils down to this: “I should be able to talk with my friends and anybody who tells me I shouldn’t is just some old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t understand technology.” This was partially touched off by a guy named Hunter Walk advocating for theaters where the lights are up and people are surfing on their tablets. Unsurprisingly, Walk got nuked from orbit.
But Dash is wrong. In fact, Dash mostly manages to out himself as a guy who basically doesn’t get why people go to the movies.
Let’s start with what Dash thinks talking in a movie theater is; namely, audience reaction.
People who have fun at the movies can make almost any movie better. When the first Transformers movie came out, one of the key moments in the film is the first time the leader of the Autobots transforms in grand fashion from tractor trailer to giant robot, and pronounces “I am Optimus Prime”. At that precise moment, the guy next to me, a grown man in his early 30s, rose to his feet and shouted “YEAH!” while punching his fist in the air. I could see from his sheer emotion that he’d been waiting for this day, to hear this voice say those words, since the moment his stepdad walked out on his mother. This was catharsis. This was truly cinematic.
And he’s absolutely right. Being in a movie theater, enjoying a film communally, is what going to the movies is all about. Groaning at bad puns, laughing, holding your breath in suspense: Being with an audience and sharing those reactions is why we’re still willing, by the millions, to pay exorbitant prices for a ticket. That’s why we turn out in droves for a movie we hear is really good.
What Dash is advocating for, though, is the exact opposite of that. When you decide to talk with your friends, at length, during a movie, you are cutting yourself (and them) away from the audience. Even worse, when you pull out your phone and scroll through your email, you are deliberately cutting yourself out of the audience experience and trying to disrupt that pleasure for as many people as possible.
Dash complains that shushers are selfish, but when you deliberately set out to wreck what makes the movies great, you’re the selfish one. Trying to make a communal experience all about you is really about as selfish as it gets. It’s true that with smartphones and the like we’re constantly shackled to our jobs, but that doesn’t require you to check your email every five minutes.
What Walk and Dash want is to see a movie in their living room, and you know what? Technology is oriented to give them exactly that. Movies hit home video three to six months after their release, and it’s not like the studios hide that under a bushel or something; they want you to buy a movie on home video, or rent it, or see it in some other way. So, why don’t they just buy home theaters? Nobody cares what you do during a movie when it’s your home.
What it really boils down to is respect and self-awareness. Anybody who is actually so important that they have to stay on top of their email doesn’t really have time to enjoy movies in the first place. Dash proposes that we put it to the people, and Mr. Dash, if you’re reading, I’d like to propose you try something else, first.
Pick a movie you want to see, I mean really want to see. Go to the theater. And leave your phone in the car. I think if you do that, you might discover just what these shushers are all on about.
(image courtesy of Reba Thomas)