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Texting in movie theaters: It could get worse…

Posted on May 4th, 2012
Posted on May 4th, 2012

by Coop Cooper

Modern movie theaters have done a lot in order to attract viewers. Many now advertise full meals, gourmet coffee, frozen treats, state of the art digital projection, stadium seating, Dolby 7.1 sound, 3-D films and many other amenities to make spending a couple of hours at the theater more attractive. Not all of them work.

Even now, big Hollywood theater chains are considering a move that might send many traditional movie patrons running from the aisles. In a terribly misguided effort to keep the younger generation in movie seats, AMC Regal theaters and other chains are considering allowing viewers to freely text on their cellphones during movies. While the proponents of this idea have put forth some asinine logic behind their push, one fact stands out: This is a losing battle. Anyone who has been to a theater in the last few years will realize that people can’t keep their hands off their phones. I’ve had friends text and even answer calls during films only to become obliviously defensive when I got angry with them. I’ve even seen fistfights break out in theaters over insensitive cellphone use.

I have a counter solution to this problem… Instead of allowing it, ban it more strictly. If people are going to treat movie theaters like night clubs, then it needs the security to compliment it (especially in late hour PG-13 and R films). Bouncers and additional security guards should be employed to keep the peace and theaters should aggressively inform patrons of the policy. This type of zero-tolerance approach (without the need for extra security) has worked wonders for the fantastic Alamo Draft House theater chain in Texas whose owner, Tim League, said he would allow texting in his theaters “over his dead body.”

League also employs a wait staff in his theaters, bringing hot food and even beer to attendees without interrupting the movie experience. He holds special events including screenings of classic bad films in which audience members are encouraged to jeer, throw popcorn and disrupt the screening all in the name of fun. ArcLight theaters in Los Angeles is another chain that offers a pristine experience with well-placed assigned seating and strict policies in which patrons must show movies the same respect as they would if they were attending a Broadway play.

There is only one drawback to these utopian movie theaters: Their rules don’t allow much leeway for children. Kids scream and many teenagers use cellphones completely defiant of authority (ask a middle or high school teacher how often they’ve had to impose strict discipline or even call a dean/security because a student refused to put away their phone). Many kids wouldn’t last five minutes in an Alamo Draft House, which is why kids under 18 must always be accompanied by an adult in that theater chain.

Another proposed possibility is the jamming of cellphones inside theaters by devices that block wireless signals. While this might sound like an ideal solution (theaters in France do it), in the U.S. it is an FCC violation with the caveat that the government ‘may’ issue a permit for private use. If doctors or parents missed an emergency call due to jamming, lawsuits could arise. The law is murky, but it probably wouldn’t pass muster with the courts. However, it would be perfectly legal for theaters to build complexes in such a way signals naturally couldn’t get in. My favorite theater in Los Angeles was in an underground mall area where you couldn’t get a signal under any condition. Knowing this fact while watching a movie was strangely relaxing.

Although I really like my ‘bouncer’ idea, there is no simple solution. Whether ‘texting’ ruins the movie experience for good or not, the responsibility mostly lies on the shoulders of the patron. Not to sound like an old coot, but it’s about manners, especially the teaching of manners to the younger generation. I also hold filmmakers partially responsible. An engaged crowd is too busy to text.

– Coop

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