I’m that person at the theater: Slouched to the right, encroaching on your armrest territory. Maybe I’ve drooled on your shoulder. Twice. Then, back in the parking lot, you’re waving your hands and mimicking the sounds of explosions through puckered lips and spit as I huff and puff through the cold, pretending that, yeah, I know that scene! Oh, that one. That was a good scene!
Actually, I was asleep. Sorry.
Maybe I’ve inherited an undiscovered, media-unfriendly genetic disorder from which my mother has been accused of suffering for years. But keep in mind that it’s my father who’s doing the accusing here, resentful and worn weary after two decades of dates dragged to the latest Tom Cruise premiere as mid-movie smooches drift into snores. Mom, is this really my future?
Or perhaps my $8 nap (half price if I squeeze into the local MJR before 4 p.m.!) is a deeply rooted psychological issue. Would Freud propose that it’s a regression to childhood habits; have I been channeling dim middle-school classrooms and cool desktops as “The Temptations” drones from the projector speakers and that Julie girl kicks an origami-ed note across the floor?
“Jeez, just pick better movies,” you complain. Excuse me, my taste in film is paralleled only by the Oscar-winning elite — just refer to my last column in which I practically piss praise over a movie that earned a solid 21-percent rating from RottenTomatoes. C’mon, it received double digits; that must mean something! (I should pick better movies).
But, if so, what’s my excuse for snoozing through both halves of Harry Potter’s final adventure? Watching zero minutes of “Zero Dark Thirty”? Retreating into sleep from the booms and boobs of the third “Transformers”?
The ways in which audiences engage with a media text are as diverse as the audiences themselves: actively, passively and interactively; creasing corners and highlighting text; clicking, typing, watching and surfing. But unlike television, literature and new media, film isn’t flexible.
It is what it is, and you are what you are: a viewer. And me — well, I’m technically a viewer until I fall asleep.
A movie requires your full attention; shush the back row, blacken the room and just watch. Watch at a theater, watch in your roommate’s beanbag chair, watch in the passenger seat or between blankets, but watch. Just watch.
Some may argue that most entertainment media offer a passive experience; after all, television is responsible for crops of couch potatoes, the epitome of a lazy Saturday (or every day) night. But, as viewers, tweeters and readers, we’re allowed a degree of circumscribed agency in how we use and engage with media; but it’s a spectrum on which film is, dare I say it, at the bottom.
The Internet lures users into communities, offers forums for multilogue, encourages creation and continually weaves webs of associations and hypertext that we directly and actively navigate. Books and magazines demand that we turn their pages, marking recipes or jotting notes. Even the television industry has revived the text-user relationship, drawing viewers to shows, and fandoms together, through live Twitter hashtags. So, film, where you at? Why hasn’t — or can’t — film adapt to our fast-paced, multi-tasking, social network-needy culture?
Film, you are my high-maintenance significant other in this way. You provide me with no commercial breaks, no fully efficient come-back-later format without missing plot points or disrupting the escapist experience. I have no say in our relationship: I passively sacrifice hours and attention as you present a distinct, carefully molded and unmalleable product.
Maybe this makes you more pure, closer to your artsy ancestors, untainted by the demands of short attention spans and wifi connections. I can appreciate that. I just don’t always have the time (or the energy) to keep up. I hope you understand.
So, my theory? Film is one of the few art forms and media industries that has yet to conform to, or adapt to, the very strategies — from real-time fan interaction to the Plato’s Closet commercials that serve as opportunities to race to the nearest fridge — that keep me awake.
But, then again, maybe it’s just in my genes. Thanks, Mom!