Ms. 35 #5: Phone Fiddlers

Ms35 No4
September 28th 2016

Ms. 35 offers helpful advice and answers to your etiquette questions related to NYC's moving image culture. Have a burning question about navigating the exciting world of New York City moviegoing? Unsure of how to conduct yourself during a communal experience? Feel like you're… in the dark? Send your inquiries to!

Dear Ms. 35,

As a frequent cinema-goer and observer of all types of social environments, I often wonder why other cinephiles feel the need to bring out their mobile devices in theaters, whether it is to check messages and notifications or even document the act of the cinematic experience, as if delighting in a wrongful act. They know others around them don't like it, and are often warned in all types of theaters, from the most corporate down to the most independent, non-profit organizations.

This trend of checking and sharing within the cinematic space is becoming a little obnoxious. What should we do about this, Ms. 35?


Oh, Dziggy-V.

Who among us has not eye-rolled at this, the postmodern threat to our thoroughly modern medium? Where once cinema offered a respite from the tumult of daily life, now its sacred corpus has been invaded by the glowing menace of the Second Screen. Allow me, if you will, to briefly veer into the realm of the histrionic. Movie theaters are an ad hoc house of worship—an oasis of escapism, a buffer against the harsh realities of our miserable little lives. Going to a movie gives us a fleeting glimpse into an alternate reality we haven’t experienced—closest I’ve been to Costa del Sol is Morvern Callar—and probably never will—those 1930s penthouses, ugh! More often, the silver screen is a funhouse mirror reflecting our flaws back at us in sumptuous 16:9 (4:3 if you’re feeling arty). And occasionally, it’s just a warm place to take a shit.

The modern phone pierces this sensual bubble, destroying that meditative state like Riki-Oh through a prison wall. Our lives are bound to phones; there’s no turning back—but would we want to? In many ways, they’re neat little accessories to the moviegoing experience. Maybe you use it fire off hot takes on the popcorn line, or swipe left on cuties before the previews start. And while there ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little bump-and-Grindr, phones remain a Fresnel lens for the projected social self. With that direct portal to your aggrandized reality, it’s all too tempting to swap communal self-dissolution for egocentric self-mythologizing. Do Not Give In. Disrupting a theater’s delicate ecosystem for banal internet ephemera or a text from your roommate is verboten. For reasons too numerous to mention, you are not more important than anyone else’s increasingly rare leisure time. Like its country cousin, talking, texting is a selfish prioritization of your need to communicate over others’ shared experience.

We’ve reached a cultural detente that extends beyond mere texting. Documenting the thing has begun to supersede the thing itself: drawing attention to a much-beloved rep cinema toes a wavy line between genuine enthusiasm and a selfish desire to broadcast one’s “best life. This is perhaps especially true for microcinemas, which thrive on cultivating that “you had to be there” sensibility through word of mouth and its modern equivalents. Can you blame an enthusiastic audience member for wanting to share the moment they discovered a heretofore unseen favorite (and of course, before it was cool)?

How do we welcome these gung-ho newcomers to the fold? Lifers us like us, Dziggy, should not build a wall between ourselves and these perpetual sharers, no matter how fleeting their attention spans may be. They too are alone in the dark, enraptured, reaching for that elusive convergence of souls only a movie theater can sustain. Their only crime is the bright, noisy path they’ve traveled to cinema’s door. Rather than shame them, we tender this highly specific set of rules for whipping out your phone to snap one for the ‘gram:

1. Leave your seat, as quietly and efficiently as possible

2. Head to the absolute rear of the theater. Press your back against the wall if you’re not sure, so as to remove yourself from the other moviegoers’ field of vision.

3. Check for anyone else who may be standing in the back. If so, exchange a knowing nod or silent high-five.

4. Only now may you remove your phone. Turn screen brightness down to the lowest possible setting, and of course, make sure the device is completely silent.

5. Take one picture, and one picture only. No do-overs. If you blow it, consider it a sign you shouldn’t have tried to pull this shit in the first place.

6. If you must smash that share button immediately, do so in the lobby with the other creeps (or if it’s a microcinema, in the street, like a dog).

7. Return to your seat discreetly and with swiftness.

8. Enjoy the rest of the film, oscillating between appreciation for civilization’s most sophisticated art form and anticipation for the “hearts” and retweets awaiting you when the lights come up.

And please, try to limit posts of this kind to once a week, at most. Nobody wants to be that boring friend who only talks film, even on the internet.

See you at the movies,
Ms. 35


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