Sorry, But Movie Theater Texters Aren’t Victims


“In any scenario of regressive resistance to cultural challenges, the responses usually cover a few common themes,” writes the usually sensible blogger Anil Dash, and those responses pop up “all the time, whether it’s for arguing why women should not wear pants, or defending slavery, or trying to preserve a single meaning for the word ‘ironic’, or fighting marriage equality, or claiming rap isn’t ‘real’ music, or in any other time when social conservatives want to be oppressive assholes to other people.” Holy cow, what’s he on about? Raising the minimum wage? A woman’s right to choose? The right to privacy? Not quite. Mr. Dash’s at-this-moment equivalent to slavery apologists are those who would rather moviegoers STFU and put their phones away for two hours, and no, somehow, I’m not making this up.

Dash’s post comes in the wake of Hunter Walk’s suggestion, which went viral over the last week or so, to “Reinvent the Movie Theatre.” In that piece, Mr. Walk (a venture fund capitalist — do with that what you will) complains that he stopped going to movies because “I wanted my media experiences plugged in and with the ability to multitask. Look up the cast list online, tweet out a comment, talk to others while watching or just work on something else while Superman played in the background.” The downside, Walk says, is that “these activities are discouraged and/or impossible in a movie theater,” which makes me wonder if he’s been to a movie theater lately.

His suggestion? “Why not just segregate us into environments which meet our needs…. If you took a theater or two in a multiplex and showed the types of films which lend themselves to this experience I bet you’d sell tickets.” Confession: your film editor chose not to wade into this discussion because, well, I kinda floated something similar to it a few weeks back. My point was that adult moviegoers who actually want an uninterrupted viewing experience have long since given up on going to the movies, settling for VOD and DVD instead, but we could be lured back by advertised adults-only or no-phone showings, the theatrical equivalent of the quiet car. And if such a thing were possible, then maybe the flipside could work, too, (or maybe not!) something along the lines of the special screenings some theaters present for parents and toddlers — since, like infants, in-theater texters and tweeters are whiny, screeching babies, but I digress.

Mr. Dash’s fierce defense of cinema multi-taskers (and snarling attack on those who dare question them) is problematic on a number of levels. It’s not just that he doesn’t understand the argument — he wrongly assumes that the question is one of “honoring” the creator, and not the far simpler (but harder to argue) contention that a bunch of jagoffs lighting up screens around you is incredibly fucking distracting when you’re just trying to watch a movie — it’s that anyone on the other side of the argument is, by comparison, a racist, a sexist, a Flat-Earther, a climate change denier, and a homophobe. Criticwire’s Samuel Adams rightly jeers at Dash, “You left out female genital mutilation and the Holocaust on the continuum of anti-movie-theater-texters.” But if he had invoked Hitler, it would have properly placed his argument within the realm of Godwin’s Law, where straw men are propped up by desperate souls who know they’re on the losing end of an argument.

Were Dash some mere run-of-the-mill Internet page-whore, it would be easy to dismiss his piece as the mere trollery that it reads like, what with all the sneering references to hipster “cinephiles” and their Moleskines and Field Notes. But based on his usual sensibility and the vociferousness with which he’s defending this thing on Twitter, I think it’s worse: I think he actually believes this, that there’s no delineation between movie theaters, “public spaces,” and living rooms, and anyone who argues to the contrary is a monster. (There’s a lot of this kinda thing going around.)

And that’s where this entire conversation is breaking down. As this site argued a few weeks back (and forgive me for quoting myself), “in this increasingly niche-driven and personalized world, there’s no longer a ‘one size fits all’ moviegoing experience.” If the controversy over Walk’s and Dash’s points has confirmed one thing, it’s that. But it’s a problem that will not be solved if everyone, on both sides, insists on acting like an entitled douchebag.