Screens in Hell: Why AMC Wants You to Text During a Movie

Cinephiles have to put up with a lot. We have to accept the fact that most of the world views film as a pastime and not as serious art. We have to accept the fact that our friends make fun of us for waxing on about the latest Slovenian documentary while they repeat lines from Zoolander 2. We have to accept being referred to as "cinephiles," the rare term that sounds simultaneously pretentious and perverted.

But we have not had to accept theater-sanctioned cell phone use, at least not until Adam Aron sat down at the table.

Aron, the newly-installed CEO of the AMC movie theater chain, has hinted pretty strongly that he favors allowing theater-goers to text during the screening of movies. This runs in direct contrast to multiple "please silence your cell phone" warnings that we have come to expect when we fork over our $11.50 for the matinee screening of The Boss. Of course, many people ignore that warning and are on their phones in some manner throughout many a movie. But at least you could ask them to shut it down while maintaining the moral high ground.

Not anymore. Aron thinks it is better to give in to the newer generations of movie fans (obviously not cinephiles) than to ask that they respect the communal nature of the movie-going experience.

Surely there is a special place in cultural hell for such boorishness.

I should mention that at this point Aron's suggestion is just that. A suggestion. AMC has not announced policy changes and the immediate backlash against his remarks may slow, or all together derail, any such changes. Normally, I would tamp down anxiety over this, assuming that the proposal will die of natural causes. But, I don't know, maybe I've been watching Mr. Trump too much, but I feel like going ballistic. I don't think I need to tell you that this is a wretched idea. You all know that already. But let's examine where it comes from. Or, to put it another way, who can we blame?

First, and rather obviously, I blame Aron. Not just him, of course, but he'll do as a stand-in for all those MBAs who have fought a 100-plus year battle with film artists over who controls what we see on the screen. Back in the day, we called them bean counters, but I think this upset the bean lobby so now they are MBAs. Or corporate shills, if you prefer. They study things like supply chain and secondary demographic focus research (SDFR for short), and come up with strategic planning. For many years now, they have tried to foster a "second screen" model, in which patrons (aka "sheep") become more and more entwined with their media via portable screens. They consciously want to connect with movie goers via a primary screen, on which you presumably watch the movie, and a secondary screen, on which you do something other than watching said movie. The strategic business savants argue this gives the consumer (aka "sucker") more info, more points of contact, more ways to enjoy the experience. Of course, what it really does is give the company more ways to hook into your blood stream, to flood you with messages both overt and subliminal, to get you addicted.

But there is more blame to go around. Movie producers have been on a long-term program to invert traditional story-telling principles, laid down several thousand years ago by Aristotle. They have elevated spectacle, the least important of Aristotelian dramatic elements, to the top and relegated plot and character, Aristotle's top elements, to also-ran status. This makes it easier to essentially not pay attention to the movie you are watching. The big spectacles are telegraphed clearly so you know when to put on your 3D glasses and look up at the screen. Otherwise, text away. It's not like you're missing much if you don't watch three quarters of Allegiant.

I blame you, the audience. You let them get away with it. And, let's face it, you really don't have to text, do you? It requires the barest amount of self-control and common courtesy.

And I blame myself, because I laughed at those damn waterproof Galaxy S7 commercials with Lil Wayne that play before the movie comes on. I should have known that phone manufacturers wouldn't be advertising their product in a movie theater if there wasn't some covert opus dei-style scheme to let you start using your phones in those very theaters. I, like so many before me, fell victim to the genius that is Lil Wayne. Whaaaaaat?

OK, for those who see movies as a splashy method for selling popcorn and 40 ounce sodas, this really doesn't matter. But for those who appreciate movies, this obviously is a dreadful idea, one that should meet with protest and boycott.

Unfortunately, I may not be in the best position to lead such a movement. You see, I once did fall victim to egotistical whim and texted during a movie. I even, and this is hard to admit, tweeted during the same screening. It was Christmas Day, 2014. My son and I were in a small bastion of democracy in Key West, bravely attending the early screening of The Interview. There was actual concern that North Korea would launch some kind of attack in anger over this stupid comic portrayal of their leader and their country.

Now, I thought the movie was pretty drab and fairly distasteful, and I would have preferred to defend freedom of speech by watching countless other, more engaging movies. But it came to rest on Seth Rogen and James Franco, and damned if we were going to let anyone tell us what we could and couldn't watch. I tweeted and texted that the movie had started and we were still alive.

You see, there was a time, I guess it was about 18 months ago, when movies engendered that type of 1st amendment support. There was a time when going to a movie was a valuable communal experience. But now, if Adam Aron has his way, the movie will just become another screen in our increasingly isolated and egocentric lives.

It's hard out there on a cinephile.