Friday morning, I awoke to the news that AMC’s CEO, Adam Aron, was opening the door to the idea of texting in some theatres. My initial reaction was “Are you kidding me?” with a not-so-nice word in the middle.
I immediately stopped myself and thought I was sounding a little like the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, horrified at the first telephone in the estate and asking “Is this an instrument of communication or torture?” Then the Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a Changing” came to mind.
However, just before posting this blog on Sunday, I noticed several sources indicating that AMC had already reversed their decision. Daniel White at Time.com reported AMC CEO Adam Aron as saying “We have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want” … “With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.”
But I wonder if this is really the end of this story? How many times have you been distracted by the glow of a screen in the middle of a movie… or a concert… or a play? Personally, I think we are still at the opening credits of this dialogue. Stay tuned!
The theatre experience
For me, the theatre experience involves completely suspending judgement, suspending reality and completely immersing myself in the story that the producers, directors, actors and technical team are trying to tell me. To me, that is sacred for the full enjoyment of a movie, allowing my mind, soul and emotions to get completely wrapped up in the moment as if I was there experiencing it myself. If I can achieve that, then the experience was a success and money well spent.
I like the entertainment experience of completely escaping and disconnecting from my life for a couple of hours. The world will not come to an end if my online presence is not felt during that time.
Personally, I find it a buzzkill when there is a “Chatty Kathy” behind me or a “Tommy Texter” around me, dragging me out of my bubble of escapism, forcing me to keep one foot in reality and one foot in the story.
The new normal?
But today, that is not everyone’s way of enjoying a movie, and who would I be to say that anyone else’s way is wrong.
In the interview with Brent Lang, Senior Film and Media Reporter for Variety Magazine, Mr. Aron suggested, “When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”
I tend to believe that for Mr. Aron to consider options to enhance the entertainment experience with this factor in mind, the driving forces must have been pretty convincing.
Is social media permeating lifestyles and core values to the point that NOT being connected would be more distracting to a significant segment of the audience? I do not want to generalize and say it is, but that seems to be the burning question. Then the next question is how to work with that reality if and when this proposal comes up again.
If we have different generations with different core values and different ways of watching movies, how does a CEO strike the right balance?
For the significant paradigm shift that this would entail, this is a complex issue that needs serious research to strike the right balance for everyone.
In keeping with Mr. Aron’s statement, is there potential in aligning the allowance of texting with the target demographic of the movie? For movies that would generally appeal to younger audiences, could they make those “text-friendly presentations”? For movies that would generally appeal to the more mature demographic, maybe those could be “text-free presentations”.
For movies that would be attractive to a broad audience, maybe they can mix it up and offer some presentations with and some without texting. With multiplex theatres showing popular movies on several screens, couldn’t a suitable mix can be found? And if such a mix is feasible, in my opinion, theatres should enforce the text-free presentations, as I know that disconnecting is not everyone’s cup of tea, even within the more mature demographic.
Also, perhaps another option to help strike the right balance would be to request that the brightness and tones on the devices be turned down as far as possible.
Should texting ever be permissible, advertisements and web sites should clearly indicate whether the upcoming movie presentation is text friendly, offering customers transparency and clarity as to where and when it is acceptable.
From a social history perspective, potential culture shifts such as this are fascinating to me. What I find most compelling about this news item is that that ten years from now, I believe that this will not be an issue and this will have been resolved in one way or another, hopefully striking the right balance.
Culture shift is challenging and something that does not happen overnight. With cool heads, open hearts, open minds and mutual respect, hopefully a reasonable solution will eventually be found to please everyone, and keep the movie industry alive and thriving with choices and options for all.
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