Monday, April 18, 2011

Hell is Other People: Commercial media consumption in the age of fucktards

There was once a time when the only thing to complain about at the movie theater was either the price of popcorn, or the movie itself. To be sure there were some theaters and certain showtime that always had a reputation of the type of place you didn't go if you actually wanted to watch the movie rather than be involved in some sort of culture-specific MST3K improv. There were always "those places" which were that on the surface.

Fast forward a few years and there was the occasional pager that went off in the respectable places. Maybe it was a brain surgeon or something, and it happened maybe once every 10 times you went to a show. Fast forward a little more, and you had cell phones going off. But this was still the era of pre-reality TV, Saved by the Bell was still making new episodes, and when AOL was a legitimate way for people to connect to the internet. The type of people who could own cell phones were mostly those who were of a respectable sort of behavioral set, knowing to turn the thing off, or having forgotten, quickly silenced it should it ring during a screening. But what was happening was an irreversable forward progression of a sad march to the situation we have today.

There was a congruous curve of both the availability of mobile technology and the increase in permissiveness of obnoxitude as a virtue facilitated through the generation of toddlers told by Mr Rodgers that they were "special", then being exposed to reality TV when they reached the age where illicitly procured alcohol was plentiful. Combine all that with the kind of social and cultural malaise which comes from seeing your college tuition sky-rocket while the baby-boomers still get their medicare subsidized Hoverounds and boner-pills; (sorry kid, no free college for you like I had, but don't worry that crappy job you have will still get taxed to pay for my scooter and viagra, because I'm a boomer and I'm worth it),... all wrapped within the American blanket of individualism trumping the collective good, and you are going to produce a segment of people our age who are just terrible to be around. A ruined movie going experience is just one result of it.

From people answering cellphones, to dumbasses showing up late, to even dumber bumbasses all talking to their one smart friend because they can't figure out what's happening because there aren't explosions happening, to the shit bags that show up late and then just HAVE to twitter during the thing, and the breeders with the 11 kids in the rated R film that sit them all over the place and then have to run back and forth to tell each other things... going to see a movie in an actual theater is something I almost never do and deliberately avoid.

Perhaps having a summer-job as a theater usher back in college has something to to with it also. Nothing gave me more job satisfaction than to bounce a cell-talking douchebag or some human ashtray that couldn't wait to light up. The job satisfaction I had didn't come from the feeling that I was taking something from someone and kicking them out, but that I was protecting the value of the expensive movie ticket of all the other people who had paid their own damn money to see whatever the hell Hollywood crapfest that was playing. You using your iphone to checkin on foursquare, or talk to your home-girl isn't your individual right, it's you straight up stealing from the people around you who paid money to see a movie, a price tag which does not include having to deal with your obnoxious ass. This notion directly clashes with American psychology where Gordon Gekko espouses self initiated value creation at the expense of the "resources" around you, regardless of whether those happen to be the well being of others. From that experience, I learned the value of cellphone jammers. Something indispensable not only at movies, but also at meeting and job interviews, because let's face it if they're busy twittering while you're trying to have a conversation even if it's more informal -incredible rudeness aside- you might as well not be there (...right Patrick?).

Seriously, have one of these if you're going to an investor pitch meeting or interviewing for a job. You don't want their cell to ring and take time away from the 12 minutes they're going to give you anyway.

Hence, movie going in Tokyo. A different universe. Sold out theaters where I guarantee everyone has a cellphone (maybe 2), and never a beep, chirp, or ring, let alone someone actually pick up the thing. Old people who can't tell what's going on wait until the thing is over for someone to explain the thing to them, and no one leaves their trash behind. Because that would be YOU causing a loss of value to OTHERS, which is something that Japanese culture has always placed an inordinate amount of importance on. I found myself thinking that I was definately getting a better value for a $30 movie ticket in Japan, than a $12 one in New York despite the fact that the theaters were identical in quality and technology, there were still half an hour of previews before the feature, and a pack of Twizzlers or whatever was still at a 1000% markup.

Unfortunately, in the USA, there is no way to ensure a separation of asshats simply by paying more money. You go to a different theater, different price, and all you get is a different flavor of a-hole that ruins your experience. Not even subtitles are enough to guarantee a proper movie-going experience. So rather than pay in capital, I pay with time, and wait for these media products to become commercially available in a form in which I can enjoy them in an environment more controlled and free from the chance that a d-bag on a cellphone might fuck the whole thing up from across the room.

This dynamic also holds true for the differences in anime fandom between Japan and America, but going into that at this point would just give me more of a headache. Sufficed to say, I'll be covering it again once convention season starts up. Sufficed to say that this is one of the many many Japanese cultural nuances that fail to port over with the proliferation of anime, and many American otaku remained puzzled as to why they are treated like martians by other Japanese when the scream "SQUEE" on the middle of a train platform or something like that.

There are a number of films I'd like to see, but none so much as to take my chances with $20 on a roulette wheel where the entire experience is turned to shit if even one of the other people in the shared communal space we've all payed to experience, decides to be a fuckwit and make my ticket worthless by doing something that has no place in a theater. Nothing (not technology, not the widening of genres or increased number of indie productions) will hasten the end of the movie theater in favor of at-home media consumption so much as the obnoxiousness of others, and the desire to avoid it.

The $30 streaming of in-theater titles concept making the rounds at this point is the harbinger of the impending end of profitability for movie theaters. It's still a long way away, and the problem of "piracy through pooling" (a group of people pay to stream a movie once, but all watch it in the living room of the richest single guy with the best TV setup) has yet to have a conceivable solution present itself. But still, much like the progression of cars replacing horses, the death of rotary phones, or the CRT monitor, this line only moves forward, and movie theaters will become as alien to our grandchildren as floppy disks. The upside is that studios will have less middle men in between the consumers and producers, which will not make anything cheaper, but it will allow for instant international availability that can actually produce revenue. Streaming the latest Japanese, Chinese, or European films will be just as easy as streaming the latest Hollywood release, once things are in place. That's still gonna take a while.

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