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The Movie Palace Guard: Anti-Texting Done Right

RadicalCivility.jpgI have the answer for those of us who want to see movies without being distracted by texters: Move to the midwest.

Extreme? Possibly. But while the theater you frequent (or used to frequent) may just shrug its collective shoulders at texters, two multiplex chains in our nation's heartland take a different approach. Warren Theatres is based in Kansas and features a little button on its Web page touting its cellphone policy. "Click for more" it says. So I did. Here's what it said:


On Friday, September 19th, 2008, Warren Theatres introduced a zero tolerance cell phone policy in all their luxury theatre auditoriums. People using cell phones (phone calls or text messaging [emphasis added]) during the on-screen presentation will be asked to leave, without a refund. The policy is in response to increased cell phone use during movies by some theatre patrons, and increased complaints from others.

According to company spokesman Dan Gray, “Having the person next to you talking on the phone or even sending text messages [emphasis added] during the movie is disruptive. We hope the new policy will help ensure a quality motion picture experience for all of our customers.”

Is that great or what? The no-refund part is crucial, I think. Hit rude people in the pocketbook.

Up in Michigan, Celebration Cinema also fights the good fight. "We believe that the vast majority of our customers feel that they should be able to watch a movie without being interrupted by someone talking on the phone or the beam of light coming from someone texting," Steve VanWagoner, the company's vice president of marketing, told me.

About a year and a half ago, after a series of complaints from customers, the chain launched a campaign called "Respect Your Neighbor." Because all their theaters are all-digital, it was relatively inexpensive to create a series of animated shorts to show before the features. They use a local animation house to produce new clips whenever they need one. The shorts are gently amusing and feature Celebration's anthropomorphic (and, let's be honest, slightly disturbing) popcorn kernel, Flick the Movie Kid. flick.jpg"Keep Da Feet off Da Seat!" is one of his slogans. The most critical one for our purposes is: "Blinking lights are for landing airplanes, not watching please turn off your blinking stuff!"

Celebration solicits other movie-watching tips from the public and if they post yours on the Web site you get a free movie pass.

I find it interesting that both these efforts are in the so-called flyover states. Steve said Grand Rapids, where Celebration is based, is known as a conservative area. "Being conservative, people are policing themselves a little bit more than maybe they are in other markets," he said.

He noted that people often return to Grand Rapids unpleasantly surprised by their moviegoing experiences in other markets. "They say, 'Wow, we've got it made here. People really know how to watch a movie.'"

AMC Entertainment is also based in the midwest--in Kansas City, Mo.--and its blanket program about movie theater etiquette is called "Silence Is Golden." Not a bad sentiment, but it isn't texting-specific. AMC did run a texting-specific message before screenings of "Kung Fu Panda" last year, said spokesman Justin Scott.

Said Justin: "We worked with the studio and we had an actual spot where Jack Black as the voice of the panda came out, did some kung fu and actually commented on texting. He does his shtick and he points to the audience and says 'I'm watching you' about texting."

I think theaters need to deliver that same message--whether it's by an animated popcorn kernel, an animated Jack Black or an actual Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep or Jamie Foxx--before every single movie. Only then will it sink in.

Which theaters have you noticed provide an enjoyable moviegoing experience? Conversely, which places do you avoid? Share your observations in the comments section below. Let's see if we can't get some of that cornfed courtesy--that Radical Civility--back here in D.C.

By John Kelly  |  June 24, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Radical Civility  
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To the person in yesterday's post who said "When one bends foreward and says, "Excuse me. The light from you cell phone is extremely distracting. Could you put it away please?" The response...100% of the time...will be, "&%@# you!"

I guarantee that is not the case if you have one atom of assertiveness in your body. It may not work all the time, but it will definitely work some of the time.

When simply asking does not work, I challenge people to start doing the following (with the disclaimer that you need to make your own judgement about chance of success and stability of the offender): When someone is texting/using cellphone/talking in the theater/blasting headphones on the metro/whatever...stare at them in a blatant manner, and/or lean in to encroach their space and act like you want to listen to the call or read over their shoulder to see what they're typing. When you get some time of "what's your problem?" response, you say "you're distracting me from what I'm doing, so I'm returning the favor". Most times the person will either get the point and knock it off, or think you're crazy and get away from you, but either way you win.

People wouldn't be rude in public like this if they knew this is the kind of response they can expect, but behavior isn't going to change unless people that are knowledgeable about manners start speaking up about it, en masse.

Posted by: dr_klahn | June 24, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, in my previous post "When you get some time" should have been "When you get some type".

Posted by: dr_klahn | June 24, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Can I still roll the empties under the seat in front of me and listen for them during the movie.

If we started summary executing drivers for using their cells and texting even w/ Blue Tooth while driving these morons would be dead and not in movie theaters annoying patrons.

Maybe we can import the technology from Iran and stop folks from using their cells and texting when not appropriate.

Posted by: sheepherder | June 24, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Herding business must be've been trolling a lot of columns lately. I'm tempted to go to the herding trials in Berryville on July 4 just to see if you look as ignorant as you sound in your posts.

Posted by: dr_klahn | June 24, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

No need to move to the Midwest. Just come to Arlington. The theaters at Ballston have no texting signs on the theater doors and an announcement before the movie. I thought of you last time I was there.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | June 24, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I live in the Midwest these days - part of the issue is that in some parts of the Midwest, cell phone reception suuuuuuuuuuucks.

It's a moot point to have no-texting signs - you're lucky if you get a decent signal inside the theater. Sometimes you see it, but 9 times out of 10, it's people who are meeting each other at the theater touching base with each other (i.e. "We're in the middle of X row").

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | June 24, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure simply posting signs prohibiting certain behavior would work with more than a few people. What would work is enforcement, and the public shame that goes along with it. But enforcement is totally lacking, not just in theaters, but in virtually every public venue. The management of the venue tolerates bad behavior for fear of losing customers (though they don't seem to fear losing mannerly customers), and we the public tolerate it for fear of being labeled intolerant, or prejudiced, or the most evil label of all, JUDGMENTAL. If instead of tolerance, boorish people were met with public disapproval, behavior would change. BTW, there must be something in the water out in the "square states." I recently read about a bakery in Kansas with a sign saying "Don't even think about approaching this counter to place an order if you're talking on a cell phone!" I would gladly patronize a business with that attitude.

Posted by: Cathy3 | June 24, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

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