They — and “they” is two people — are calling it “Social Theater.” It all apparently started with some guy at The Wrap, who called for designating “screenings as either ‘texting’ or ‘non-texting.’” Fine, sure! Let’s have some texting-friendly screenings in our multiplexes, why not. But really it got rolling with former Googler turned V.C. Hunter Walk asking, fairly reasonably if hilariously, for a new kind of movie theater altogether: One where you could talk, text, Google, Skype and online bank as much as you like. Cool! You’re a venture capitalist, make it happen. See you there, sometimes. (He’s clearly thought this out: “Maybe even improve attendance during the day since I could bang out emails with a 50 foot screen in front of me.”) This was pretty classic if harmless Silicon Valley bubble talk. But yeah, start a Palo Alto movie theater for people who actually use iPads! It might be gangbusters.
And then. Someone had to next-level it. Blogger Anil Dash has picked up the call and gone quite a bit further, in a hilarious, if sometimes accurate, diatribe full of goodies. (Dash is incensed, in part, about Drafthouse Cinema’s letter on this topic, which is also fairly over the top in its horror at any disruption to the Fine Art Of Cinema.) Where to begin with Ye Olde Dash! Let’s see:
• “the response from many creative people, who usually otherwise see themselves as progressive and liberal, has been a textbook case of cultural conservatism.” (That conservatism includes not wanting to see a sea of iPads in a darkened theater.)
• “The cinephiles apparently never consume any work without devoting every bit of their essence to honoring its creator. Presumably, they’re reading this in a web browser with only a single tab open.” (I didn’t actually pay to read your blog, nor did your blog run a message prior to reading asking for community norms of not disturbing each other?)
• “Amusingly, American shushers are a rare breed overall.” (Yup! America: not the world. Then he goes on about how in India people talk through everything. That actually sounds quite fun! Yes, different countries do things differently. Try forming a line to get into something in China!)
Anil’s crowning troll-glory is suggesting that everyone check their privilege: “recognize your own privilege or entitlement which makes you feel as if you should be able to decide what’s right for others.” The… fine upstanding American businesses that are movie theaters actually decided that? And then he calls everyone bullies. Hee! It’s inspired stuff. And, you know, it makes some sense — I bet a bunch of people were totally jerk-stupid in response to the original call for “Social Theaters”! This is why we should all devote our energies to ending blog comments, not building new movie theaters.
@rilaws everything I wrote is in response to actual responses people wrote on this topic this week.
— Anil Dash (@anildash) August 8, 2013
Anil lives in Manhattan, the ever-growing capital of privilege, so while he lives in a fairly diverse place, perhaps he doesn’t get to go to movies with a truly — and economically — diverse audience that often. He lives among the most prude of privileged movie-shushers, which is a shame about his choices.
From the last census, we learned that Manhattan is 57% white; Brooklyn is 42% white. Manhattan is also the home of the idly privileged: only 17% of Manhattan households have children. When you go to the non-kid-targeted movies in Manhattan, it’s somewhat rare to see children. But there are tons of children in R-rated movies in other boroughs. Most drastically in terms of New York’s diversity: Manhattan’s average weekly wage is around $2,464. The average wage in Brooklyn? Under $800.
So those of us in other boroughs would cordially like to invite him over to our theaters, where an actually diverse crowd of people happily engage with the film in many different ways, from silence to… well, good times. It’s great! Sometimes you want to go see a sad movie about killer whales in captivity in a little quiet movie theater. Sometimes you want to go see Final Destination 18: The Redestinationing or Faster, Furiouser, Driftier and throw food at the screen and crack jokes. I certainly do.
DID YOU KNOW? In the 1970s, seven out of ten kids died horribly because their parents couldn’t “check in with the babysitter” during movies.
— Matthew Dessem (@MatthewDessem) August 8, 2013
And besides, if you think talking v. silence during movies is totally race-based, you really need to go to the movies at MoMA. I haven’t heard so many old white people yelling since Red.
But the problem with having technologists go in hard against this system of movie oppression is not just that their arguments don’t really make sense (are they really in favor of everyone blasting music in their parks too?) but that they are circulating inside their privileged bubble. The system out here in the real world, it turns out, is working pretty well. We already have plenty of screenings where it is just fine to text, talk and carry on.
But we get the impulse. Our nerd friends grew up on “Mystery Science Theater.” You want to crack your jokes. And you want to make sure that you can keep up your brand on Twitter even while you’re locked in a theater for a while. It’s understandable: it’s the only life you know.
History shows us that it’s extremely difficult to get men to shut up for two hours. These fellows should build their chatty iPad-ey dude theaters. We’ll come visit when we’re in the mood! This is America, and you’re well-off entrepreneurs. Put your venture capital where your wide-open mouths are. Lord knows you’ll probably have the last laugh once again.
Here is the only good news out of all this sadness. The natural next step will be the return to America of theaters where men masturbate. This was once a common American pastime! Then we will know where they are and we can avoid them all. Everyone wins. In conclusion: Ban men.
P.S. It’s true what they say about the whites though. We’ll give the last word to NYU journalism school graduate Regina Hall, because she’s wonderful.