Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Answer to the Latest Criticwire Survey Question: Cell Phone Use in the Theater

Using the already infamous incident at TIFF this year, where film blogger Alex Billington called 911 due to someone using his cellphone at a Press & Industry Screening this year, the latest Criticwire survey question asks what to do about cellphone usage at the movie.
Like many people, I can become annoyed when someone whips out their cellphone in a movie, and starts texting, tweeting, e-mailling or whatever else they want to do. And like most people, I think what Billington did was idiotic - the police have more important things to do than to feal with some moron using a cellphone in a movie, and an equally big moron bugging them about a guy with a cellphone in a movie.
What is odd is that you would think the Press and Industry screenings would be filled with people who care about the movies - they are, afterall, there working, and the public screenings at the Festival would be filled with cell phone usage. As someone who saw 17 movies at TIFF last week, I only saw one lite up cellphone screen during the movie the whole festival - and that was for all of about 2 seconds. If you are stupid enough to use a cellphone in a public screening at TIFF, you get shouted at pretty quickly from all angles.
But in general, is there anything that can be done about cell phone usage during a movie? The answer, sadly, is probably not. There are too many people who for whatever reason feel the need to be "connected" at all times, and for them not looking at their cell phone for 2 hours is unthinkable. They feel they are more important than everyone else, and as such, don't care if they hurt the experience of those around them, as long as they get what they want.
But I also have to say this - I have had very few problems with people on cellphones in movies in the past couple of years - in my experience, it's not quite the epidemic some make it out to be. Now perhaps this is because I go to the movies in Canada, and we are obviously much more polite and considerate than Americans (not likely). Or it could be that since my daughter was born two years ago, I mainly have to go the movies solo - without my wife. I'm not embarassed to go to the movies alone - after all, I'm there to see a movie, not have a conversation - but I do go during off peak hours -either the first matinee on Saturday or Sunday, or else a late show on Sunday, Monday or Wednesday (I skip cheap Tuesdays if I can help it). I also sit near the front of the theater - meaning fewer people are in front of me, so if someone checks their phone behind me, I don't see it. Most of the time, when I do see someone check their phone - it's for a few brief seconds (perhaps the check the time) and that's it.
I don't doubt though that going to more crowded times results in more cell phone usage - I just don't know what can be done about it. Sure, it would be nice if every theater was like the Alamo Drafthouse, and threw people out on their ass if they use a phone. But that's not going to happen. Puting in cell phone jammers won't work either - apparently, it is illegal, plus parents need to be able to be contacted in case of emergency (me and my wife have a rule - if it's an emergency, she calls twice in a row, so my phone, which is on vibrate, goes off twice in quick succession, and I can leave the theater to call her).
Basically, I think this is a futile fight against people being rude. You're not going to win. So avoid Friday and Saturday nights, when the theater will be packed with people. The fewer people in a theater, the better chance there is that one of them isn't an asshole.

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