There is very little doubt in my mind that while reading the title of this article you’re either nodding in agreement or shaking your head in disgust, as you recall a repulsive memory about a cleanliness issue at your favorite multiplex.
Every person in the world who has ever frequented a movie theater – be it a small “mom and pop” theater or one of those super-mega-multi-screen complexes – has at one point viewed a film in a less-than-clean environment.
Sticky floors that feel like you’re walking on fly paper, smelly, musky air, gum on the armrest or bathrooms reminiscent of a Greyhound bus station – these are just some of the sanitation issues plaguing modern day moviegoers.
I know what you’re thinking (I’m psychic), “Paul, don’t be hard on theater chains. Not every theater is that way.”
To that I say, “Nope, you are wrong!” Most (if not every) theater in America, and most likely the world, has similar problems. As long as humans continue to watch films in theaters the problem will likely never be resolved – in fact, I think the problem may be getting worse.
For example, take the recent story on CNN about an AMC movie theater in New York City that was shutdown and fumigated for bed bugs. Says CNN in its report:
“The AMC Empire 25 movie theater closed Tuesday night for extermination and reopened Wednesday.”
I know what you are thinking (I’m psychic remember?), “Paul, that is only one theater.” Again, you would be wrong. CNN goes on to report:
“The bloodsucking pests were found at another New York AMC location, the Magic Johnson Harlem 9, on July 30.”
That’s two major theater locations (which are owned by a major movie theater company) and the sanitation issues are so bad that the seats have bed bugs! I’m thinking that AMC should incorporate the same type of rule that hotels have for swimming in their pools – shower before entering. The infestations make me wonder: what else could be lurking in those seats?
I found several instances, over the past few years, where news agencies found more horror on movie theater seats than they did on the screen. If there can be bed bugs on the armrests and seat pans, then why couldn’t there be lice on the headrests?
Answer: there CAN be lice on the headrests. I’ll let that sink in for a moment – as you start to feel your skin crawl.
While there hasn’t been a well-publicized report of someone getting lice from a movie theater seat in the past ten years, according to a report on lice by the North Dakota Department of Health:
Sharing coat hooks, lockers, car/bus/airplane and MOVIE THEATER SEATS also provides ideal situations for the transmission of head lice.
Maybe I’m overly-alarmed about Lice, considering there hasn’t been a major incident in quite a few years. I don’t want to be that “sky is falling” guy, but I may start bringing my own headrest cover to theaters from now on.
Back in 2008, KLTV News in East Texas ran a special report on theater seats in their area, and the findings – while disturbing – where equally unsurprising. Everyone has probably watched a similar report, where an independent lab swabs several public areas to see what disgusting bacteria they can find.
What was the number one contaminant found in KLTV’s theater seat study? FECAL MATTER! That’s right, the movie you are watching isn’t the only crappy thing in your favorite theater. Microbiologist Dr. Richard Wallace, with UT Health Science Center, spoke to KLTV:
“You never know what’s hiding underneath or what’s hiding on top of those seats. What I expected was skin organisms, the typical type of staph species things and those were almost universal in all the samples. You expect that because of people laying their hands on the seats. What I didn’t expect were what we call stool organisms or fecal organisms.”
So just how does something as vile as human feces make its way onto movie theater seats?
We’ve all been in the bathroom at a theater washing our hands and hear the familiar sound of the toilet in the stall behind us flush. We expect to see that person join us at the sink, only to feel one’s stomach turn as the stall patron walks briskly past us, grabs the door handle, and heads back into the theater. Well that guy or girl just took the collective poo-particles back to their seat and deposited them all over their arm rest – the very same armrest that you could be touching next time you go watch a movie.
Is it any wonder that DVD rentals are on the rise? Some attribute the trend to the economy but I say… maybe not.
However, problems would persist even if you stood up during the entire run of a film, never touched a bag of popcorn, a door handle, or a theater seat – you are still susceptible to airborne germs and viruses. People seem to think it’s okay to go into a crowded, closed-in theater with a cold or flu and spread the virus like it’s a bag of Christmas cheer. Over at WebMD, Rod Moser, PA, PhD. takes the act of sneezing in a theater to an extreme level:
“This is not an innocent spread of disease, but rather a form of urban biological terrorism. During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, movie theaters in all major cities were closed.”
Calling it “biological terrorism” may seem a tad alarmist but is it? Anyone with a communicable disease can walk into any public venue unchecked and unchallenged and share their unhealthiness with everyone around them – and that includes movie theaters.
Staph Bacteria (Pink Eye)
The last thing I want to touch on is the supposed cleanliness of those 3D glasses being passed out in movie theaters today. They come in wrappers and we’ve been taught that anything in a sealed wrapper is safe and clean to use, but are they really clean? A recent report by ABC News presents the results of a test that Good Housekeeping performed back in June of this year.
The Good Housekeeping Research Institute tested seven pairs of movie theater 3D glasses, both wrapped in plastic and unwrapped, and found a number of germs, including those causing conjunctivitis, skin infections, food poisoning, sepsis, and pneumonia.
A completely nasty list of ailments. If you hated 3D movies before, then I doubt your opinion will change after you get pink eye from watching Avatar 2.
I would think that movie theater owners would rather keep their patrons healthy (and not creeped out) so that people continue to watch films in their establishments. If that’s the case, why are there so many horror stories out there and why are theaters getting discovered to be less-than-sanitary? I’m not naive enough to think that every theater can be as clean and sterile as a hospital room in ICU – but I also think it’s realistic to expect to watch a film while not wallowing in filth, refuse, bugs and bits of fecal matter.
How do theaters combat a serious problem like the cleanliness of the buildings and seats?
To a certain degree a vast majority of the responsibility falls upon the general public to maintain a high level of self-cleanliness to prevent the issue from even happening in the first place. Practice basic hygiene, don’t go into a public place with a bed bug or lice infestation on your body (seems like a no-brainer on that one) and for the love of popcorn, please wash your hands after using the restroom.
Do you have a horror story regarding unsanitary conditions at a movie theater that you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments section below.
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