There’s no argument that we live in a world of unprecedented connectivity. Most of us, it seems, are never out of arm’s length of an internet connected device, putting us a few button clicks away from the knowledge of the entire world as well as our nearest and dearest friends. Technology has changed interaction to the point where a certain amount of distraction is almost expected. Even shows these days tout a two-screen experience, with networks encouraging you to log in and live tweet with the stars or gain access to behind the scenes information as your show is playing in the background. Despite all of this, the one place we could expect to be free the inviting glow of our smart phone screens was the movie theater.
The tenants of basic courtesy have long dictated that the darkened room of the cinema had room enough for only one glowing screen, the giant one you paid ten bucks or more to see for two hours. Texters, like the gabbers of yore, were shunned and ejected, punishment for ruining the magic of the theatrical experience for the rest of the paying audience. That all changed recently when the new CEO of AMC theaters, Adam Aron, suggested that asking audiences to disconnect themselves from outside world was no longer a viable request. No, audiences at his theaters might not be subject to the standards of decorum long held as sacrosanct for cinema goers and that texting would, from this point on, be considered no big deal. The internet’s reaction was swift, and furious, eventually leading to a statement from Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League regarding the importance of distraction free movie going.
After days of fending off the PR nightmare set off by Aron’s potential decision to allow texting, AMC Theaters has backtracked. According to a Twitter post made earlier today, the chain is no longer considering allowing patrons to use their devices at their leisure, assuring the sanctity of the movie theater against the perils of incessant texting once and for all.
NO TEXTING AT AMC. Won't happen. You spoke. We listened. Quickly, that idea has been sent to the cutting room floor. pic.twitter.com/JR0fo5megR
— AMC Theatres (@AMCTheatres) April 15, 2016
The whole to do was kicked off by an interview Aron recently gave to Variety, where the newly crowned CEO discussed innovation meant to improve the theater going experience. There, Aron opined that,
"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.'"
While the approach was tone deaf, the idea was meant to spark a renewed interest in going to the movies in an era where competition from streaming services, video games, and smart phones has taken a bite out of theater’s profits. While there’s no doubt that theaters need to start thinking outside the box in order to draw in and retain customers, this proved to be a step too far for most movie goers, who’ve taken to social media for the last several days to voice their displeasure over this direction.
The statement issued today acknowledged these concerns, proving that sometimes the mobs of angry masses taking to Twitter can make a difference. With many customers promising never to return to an AMC theater again for their cinematic experience, Aron said today that,
"We have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. In this age of social media, we get feedback from you almost instantaneously and, as such, we are constantly listening. Accordingly, just as instantaneously, this is an idea we have relegated to the cutting room floor."
Honestly, that a major theater chain such as AMC was even considering this idea is somewhat baffling. The movie theater is one of the few places we can go in today’s world to bask in shared experiences without worry about being surrounded by people mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or live tweeting the minutia of their existence. The last thing audiences want after paying their hard earned money for a ticket to the movies is the possibility of scores of tiny glowing screens threatening to take them out of an experience that should be immersive.
While the chain has clearly made the right move, it forces us to wonder whether or not the damage has already been done. What kind of disconnect between the higher ups and their clientele is necessary for this to even come up as an option? That it did reinforces the kind of aggressive approach to texting that Alamo Drafthouse has become famous for. That chain has made a name for itself via their zero-tolerance philosophy, with no bones being made about asking movie texters to leave and never come back.
Hopefully, everyone has learned their lesson and no other chains attempt such a change in policy in the near future. We go to the movies to get away from our day to day life, which includes the incessant need to stare blankly at the warm glow of our iPhones. It’s an ideal that’s sacred to the movie going public and, for now at least, that ideal is safe.