The Dubious Social Life of a moviegoer.

Like most people, I enjoy going out to the movies with friends or my family. In the olden times (when movies were first made, and small patches of gray began to show in my beard) I loved going to movies alone. To be near other people in a dark environment was always pretty good, but it wasn’t really being social. Then I came across this article about what movies even are in the era of Netflix (and I assume other streaming services).

The article is fresh, interesting and got me thinking about it. On the one hand, I can see how not staying at home and actually hitting the road to spend a little time next to total strangers in the dark can feel somewhat like you’re being social. But then I wondered about the fact that (at least from my own memory) I never actually spend any time observing the people around me that I don’t know, don’t speak to them, and they don’t speak to me. I know there are gregarious people who do sometimes make a quip or comment in an offhanded manner to anyone and everyone who might be around to listen, but it’s not the same level of social interaction you get at a restaurant, the grocery store, or even your local pub.

Having really tried to understand Sergi’s point of view I have failed. Here’s a quote:

“Consider the fact that we live in a time when we are so divided. What are the opportunities for people to go and share a communal space and enjoy an experience together, without worrying whether or not you voted for Trump or for Brexit? Almost every country right now has a fundamental issue of a lack of social cohesion and a lack of opportunities where people can remind each other that, fundamentally, we love stories. We love laughing; we love crying; we are not aliens here. If you remove that element, if you say, ‘Cinema can die, it’s not a problem, we can still watch films online,’ what you are doing is, you’re removing the social contract—and you do that at your own peril.”

To his first question, how about a diner, or any restaurant? What about the grocery store (I work at one)? How about the Laundry Mat? The Shopping Malls of America are all places where you can, as a citizen of these United States, visit in a day and truly speaking actually engage with more people than you ever will at a movie. Then there’s your local park, or–I know this might sound crazy–even your local public library? These are just some basic ideas off the top of my head. I don’t hold the view that there’s a shortage of places for people to go and hang out around each other. Think of the various cute towns where people go to shop, mingle, look around, eat, and in general be around each other in broad daylight?

I get it though. Sergi’s point is that movie theaters are yet another bastion of public space (but the cover price does make it feel pretty exclusive, am I right?) where people can go and forget themselves and everything but what’s on the screen for a little while. To my mind, movies are an arena of escape.

In fact, movies are a great way to escape other people. Same thing for books. And really, we can just stay home to experience these non-active-activities. Wait, are there non-verb-verbs? Probably, but here’s my point: we go to the movies to get away from it all, to experience other people who can’t see us, who don’t know that we even exist. That’s incredible! Just think about how you’re viewing people who don’t know anything about you. But you’re looking at them in ways that they can never really see themselves (unless they too watch their own movies). I’m not attempting to get into an article about theory of mind. Maybe Chris Hemsworth is on screen and wanting to scratch an itch but can’t and so instead he delivers his line a little heavier than he might otherwise. It’s a slam dunk for the movie director so they keep it in. But what you and I see is that he’s exasperated or some other such emotion.

Yesterday, as it turns out, my family and I went and watched Avengers Endgame, and it was entertaining (if a bit long) but there were aspects of it I didn’t specifically appreciate–no spoilers here. And then I had just read this article (linked above) before we went to see it. It got me thinking about how strange the argument by Sergi is, and how I’m not buying it. Kind of like I’m not buying the hype on the movie either. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad movie, it just wasn’t amazing. And I’m not sure why we all bought it. But I’m not exactly buying the argument that cinema is here to stick around or that it makes you a more social creature–I don’t think so.

What do you think?

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