Cell Phone Etiquette in the Cinema… are you breaking the rules?

I love movies, but in all honesty, I don’t go to the cinema that often any more… However, recently, a friend and I received free tickets to see “The Gunman” starring Sean Penn, so it seemed like a good excuse to go.

However, this also proved to be a reminder as to why I rarely go to cinema these days!!!  Just like you have issues with road rage when driving, it seems that a culture of cinema rage has built up these days as well.  Long gone are the days of going to the movies with friends, sitting at the back and throwing popcorn or Maltesers at other cinema viewers.

You are now wondering… well, so what happened?  Well, I knew some of the people sitting behind us were going to be difficult, because one of them was making a fuss about some people sitting next to him who were checking their mobile phones during the commercials.  Myself and my friend chuckled when we overheard the conversation.

However, later in the movie (at about the 2/3 mark), my friend quickly switches on her mobile phone to check the time.  It was on and off for 2 seconds and held low in the seat.  Immediately, a booming voice pipes up behind us demanding that the phone be switched off immediately.  My friend couldn’t hold her tongue and she responded that she had the right to just quickly check the time.  The response (same loud booming voice) was she was required to keep her phone off at all times during the movie and she didn’t have the right to check her phone.  At this point, I decided to pipe in with my court-room voice and explained that she actually did have such right at said cinema.  The rules required her to keep it on vibrate, but didn’t dictate that it had to be off nor that the screen couldn’t be switched on.  Fortunately that was the end of the discussion during the film.

Afterwards, my friend left her seat to exit and I was behind her.  The booming voice guy sitting behind us sat there and stared at her as she left, as if he was trying to burn her to a crisp with laser beam vision.  Seriously?  Okay, maybe she wasn’t as conscientious as she could have been, but now you are going to resort to trying to stare down a girl?  So I did what any good friend would and I stared back at him, only difference was I was standing full frontal and watching him, so he turns to me and asks me if I had something to say (what, was he expecting an apology?)  Well, fine, I thought, so I suggested to him, how about we go chat to the cinema manager and get him to clarify the rules on mobile phones versus loud talking in the cinema.  He agreed, but made no move to get up, and then switched arguments, claiming now, not that she had broken the rules, but that she was “selfish” for turning her phone on.  Instead, she should have gotten up, left the theatre and then checked her time… really?  we were sitting in the middle, so she would have had to squeeze past a lot of people to do that… disturbing even more people by actually physically blocking their view of the screen as she squeezes past.  Anyway, at this point, I just left.  If I stayed, I would have been tempted to punch out his lights as he was acting a bit aggressively as well (putting his face close up to mine) and I didn’t really want to lose my legal practice certificate over a stupid incident.

Anyway, as I do, I decided to do a bit of research about mobile phone etiquette on the internet.  The results of my research were very interesting.  In the UK for instance, two of the biggest cinema chains (Odeon and Empire) have an express rule that cell phones must be kept off at all times during the movie.  However, also interesting, is that in research conducted in the UK in 2012, only 17.48% of respondents actually stated that they were annoyed by people checking their phone during a movie.  I don’t have the research (just a news report on it) but I assume that means that the other 78% either don’t care or aren’t bothered at all by people checking mobile phones in a film.

For me personally, I do think it is a bit annoying when someone does check their phone during a film.  However, if it is a good movie, I tend to be less likely to notice or be distracted (action films for instance, there is so much flashing etc on the screen that a bit of extra flashing from a phone would go unnoticed.  In a drama (which I typically don’t go to cinema to see), I could see how it could break your concentration… especially if someone spent the whole movie texting to their friend.

However, yelling at someone to turn their phone off is a bigger distraction… to everyone in the cinema.  Perhaps a cough, clearing of the throat etc… but for someone just quickly checking their message or the time… I think even that would be an over-reaction.  I mean, yes, it is annoying, but seriously… let it go.  Just like with road ragers that get worked up about little things that have no consequence, chill out and watch the film, rather than stewing over someone doing something that in the scheme of things, is harmless.  Getting so worked up about little things and feeling the need to vent on that person is also selfish behaviour incidentally.  People really do need to learn how to compromise more.

So for me (and I am a polite and conscientious person), the cinema experience is ruined, not because of people talking on phones, or chatting during the movie, or texting, or eating popcorn noisily etc, but because of cinema ragers who create an unpleasant environment.  Especially when there is a menace to their demeanour and their gestures take on threatening forms.  Cinema used to be such a great social place.  So sad!

So how about you guys?  Anyone else guilty of mobile phone etiquette breaches?

Oh, and what did I think of the movie?  It started off really good, but there were a few holes in the plot that were unforgivable, and the ending was predictable… it started off original, and then morphed into a second rate Bourne Identity.  Still worth watching as Sean Penn is a quality actor, but just lucks out with the roles he lands.

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