Don’t you get sick of reading all these posts that pick apart this or that tagline. Surely it gets tiresome, right? Not for me, of course, but that’s because it’s me doing the picking. But it’s such a narrow (focused?) topic.
So, let’s change the subject, shall we? Here’s one I think about quite often: The complex social phenomenon of going to the movies.
I sometimes marvel at how unlikely it is for a couple hundred people, strangers to each other, to gather in a dark, crowded room, and successfully share the collective experience of a movie. Just think about everything going against this scenario.
People are, as a rule, idiots, at least much of the time. Yet, even though people tend to be semi-conscious, thoughtless, attention-deficited, self-involved, rude and easily provoked, somehow a theatre full of them often succeed in sitting quietly for a couple of hours straight. When a few boors get confused and think they’re sitting at home where they can talk loudly throughout the movie, the crowd either somehow tolerates it, or they apply peer pressure in the form of shushing or someone will have the courage to speak to them—”Please be quiet, we’re trying to watch the movie”—usually without further incident. Or, less frequently, some patron will summon management and point out the offender, which usually solves the problem.
Considering the potentially incendiary situation (when they talk about the wisdom of crowds, it’s not these crowds they’re talking about), it’s absolutely amazing that so many people can behave so civilly for so long. You would never experience this kind of civility and respect on, say, a crowded expressway, or at a football game.
I know that the experience I’m describing never happens in certain theatres, especially during certain kinds of movies. But the fact that it ever happens in most theatres, usually happens at the movie theatre I frequent (in Evanston), is a wonder. It’s almost enough to give a person hope for the future of the humans. Almost.
I’ve been hooked on going to the movies for decades, and more so now than ever. I find it almost impossible to watch a DVD at home because that environment is just crawling with distractions that make enjoying the movie uninterrupted impossible. At the movie theater, we’ve all paid a lot of money to be able to watch the movie on a really big screen with a really good sound system and a clear, common understanding that everyone is supposed to be quiet and just enjoy the movie. My odds of being able to enjoy movies are far better in a theatre (at least in the theatre I frequent) than at home. I know that’s not true for many of you, but, hey, I’m talking about me here, and about the more general point that it is kind of a miracle that crowds of humans are actually capable at times of successfully gathering and enjoying a shared experience in this way.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that a few years back I made the decision to approach my movie-going experiences as exercises in tolerance. Like most people, I tend to become less tolerant in many ways over time. There is a certain sense of entitlement that comes with age, as well as a generalized sense of “I’ve had just about enough of this”-ness. It takes a conscious, often concerted effort to transcend these creeping , shrinking inclinations toward intolerance, and actually summon a modicum of tolerance when faced with certain incivilities. The list of incivilities that drive me nuts is quite long. So I decided I really need to make an effort to circumvent my own intolerance when possible, because I know that there are some situations where I simply will not be able to do so. To prevent my brain from caving in on itself from the stresses of intolerance, I must exercise the muscles of tolerance, however puny they may be. Movies are a great place to do this. I have sometimes been able to will myself to enjoy a movie despite the incessant, loudly voiced comments and questions by some thoughtless, clueless old lady (it seems to usually be old ladies).
Of course, leaving the theatre after such an experience, I sometimes find myself calculating the probability of passing federal legislation requiring people to take a movie-going exam to earn a license to attend movies, much like a driver’s license. Because most of these old ladies are simply not qualified to process and comprehend movies. And, again, out of that sinister senior sense of entitlement, they feel perfectly comfortable asking, full-throatedly, questions about what just happened, or what some character said, or else speculating about what’s going to happen next. Or just commenting on how funny or shocking or darling something is.
Let me conclude this diatribe with the sage words of Chairman Jimmy, who once said, (as you who have read my/his book, The Width and Wisdom of Chairman Jimmy, already know), “If the situation is intolerable, don’t tolerate it. Otherwise, shut up.”