This week, American cinema chain AMC was forced to issue a statement rolling back on comments its CEO made about allowing texting in its screens. There was a period of less than two days between Variety originally publishing Adam Aron’s comments and AMC issuing a strongly worded statement dismissing the idea.
The online film community was sent into a frenzy by the original announcement, with many rightly pointing out that mobile phone use is one of the most annoying things about visiting the modern multiplex. It’s not uncommon at all to have the most tense moment of a film spoiled by the random illumination of a phone screen somewhere else in the cinema as people absent-mindedly tweet and text their way through the movie they’ve paid a tenner to watch.
And that’s before you even get to the incessant selfies. It’s now a common experience for groups of young people to lean together right in the midst of a film, followed by the flash of a camera as they choose to commemorate the moment for Instagram. It’s unclear what the social media appeal is of people photographed at random in a dark room, but this is definitely a craze that’s on the rise. There’s a time and a place for chuckling at “hilarious” face swaps – and it certainly isn’t the cinema.
With all of that in mind, the concept of AMC allowing texting sounds like a travesty. The following is one of the main quotes that has been circulated from the interview.
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.
It’s certainly a grim indictment of modern society and it doesn’t exactly suggest that the cinema is being treated by AMC as the important cultural landmark that it is. However, what few have noted is the statement Aron made afterwards, in which he expressed his desire to “take specific auditoriums and make them more texting friendly”. This is not a plot to turn cinemas into dens for ignorant youngsters unable to amputate themselves from Snapchat for two hours; it’s an innovative idea to spin a negative into a positive.
Aron’s proposal here is to create a two-tier cinema system. It’s one in which the cyborg-like teens who cannot extricate themselves from the world of hashtags are segregated into their own, relaxed approximation of cinema. Meanwhile, those of us who visit the multiplex in order to experience films in their purest form will be left to immerse ourselves in the world of cinema without being frequently blinded by the flickering lights of Candy Crush.
That’s not a bad idea at all.
It’s clear that there is a problem with the way people conduct themselves in cinemas, particularly given the lack of ushers who are able to police modern multiplexes. The popularity of mobile phones and the increase in opportunities to watch movies at home has led to the conversion of the cinema into a mere extension of the living room, complete with feet up on seats, smartphones flashing and bags rustling. This is no longer a problem that cinema owners can simply sweep under the carpet.
With that in mind, it’s worth applauding Aron and AMC for at least tossing an idea into the mix. As he rightly points out, it’s almost impossible to completely prevent people from using their phones without constant usher presence, so why not allow it for certain screenings of certain films?
The notion of allowing texting in cinemas is certainly an imperfect solution to the problem, but it isn’t one that should be rejected out of hand. If the cinema is going to survive in the modern world, it has to evolve to suit the needs of those willing to pay for it.
And if that means giving people a little room in which they can happily swipe and tap away… then that’s a price I’m willing to pay.