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Texting-friendly movie theaters are a great idea

No, really

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The collective internet seems to be completely outraged by the fact AMC Entertainment head Adam Aron suggested it may be OK to text during a movie.

His argument was actually based on a question of how to grow or even maintain the business. What's the best way to make sure people still see movies, or see more of them?

"There does seem to be a consensus that there are pockets of consumers who do not see as many movies as other segments of the population and that we can be doing more to attract those people," he told Variety in an interview. "Millennials come to mind. We need to reshape our product in some concrete ways so that millennials go to movie theaters with the same degree of intensity as baby boomers went to movie theaters throughout their lives."

Those pesky millennials, always looking at their phones and not going to movies! How do we get them to pay a lot of money for popcorn?

"When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don't ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow," Aron continued. "You can't tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That's not how they live their life."

You can begin to see why people are so quick to anger about these quotes, but keep in mind his thought isn't quite so tone-deaf as it seems when taken out of context.

"At the same time, though, we're going to have to figure out a way to do it that doesn't disturb today's audiences," he said. "There's a reason there are ads up there saying turn off your phone, because today's moviegoer doesn't want somebody sitting next to them texting or having their phone on."

Wait, so he's actually thinking about other people? How will they handle this?

"What may be more likely is we take specific auditoriums and make them more texting friendly," he said.

Problem solved. I'll just treat texting-friendly theaters the same way I treated that dumb sing-along version of Frozen. I'll go and enjoy it.

Seriously though, let's calm down

I think many of us have peeked at our phones during a film, and as long as the brightness is down and it's not for long I've never found it that distracting when those around me do so. It can also be amusing to see the brief flashes of light when a film's pace seems a bit slow.

But let's not pretend that current movie theaters do much to halt the spread of texting, or rude people in general. That's the infuriating thing about theaters in many situations; it's one of the rare places we go where the people around us can so easily and effectively cause us to have a miserable time. Rudeness in a movie theater is like a fart on an airplane: It stinks and there's fuck-all you can do to avoid it if it happens.

But I'm not angry at Aron for considering that maybe there should be theaters where texting is allowed. In fact, I'm happy that he's considering the idea that different people want different things out of the theater experience. That's a different approach to a business that seems stuck in time, assuming everyone wants a church-like atmosphere for every film they watch.

It's all about context and explanation. This is why no one gets mad at the rowdy crowd during showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; they go in knowing what to expect. The admission that movie theaters may not be offering an experience that fits every film and audience is a huge step forward, and it opens all sorts of fun possibilities.

Sing-along versions of Disney films is one such idea to get families back into the theater to see the film a second time. Many theaters offer regular showings of children's movies that are explicitly aimed at families with smaller children, and these help everyone. I get to bring my kids to the theater knowing that other children will likely be talking or laughing, which means I don't have to stress about my own children's behavior quite so much. It also means my kids aren't in your theater asking for popcorn a bit too loudly and annoying the hell out of you.

A texting-friendly theater may sound like anguish to you, but by offering the option it's very possible movie theaters will be decreasing the amount of phone use in the theater of those who don't want to be distracted from the film. I would never go into a theater that encouraged you to text, but I would hope the people who do want to text would take that option and leave my grumpy ass alone.

Let's not pretend that current movie theaters do much to halt the spread of texting

The idea of AMC tailoring the theater experience to the film being shown and the audience it's hoping to attract isn't a bad one. Aron just picked a terrible example that's easily taken out of context. The thought of finding creative ways to get people who may not see many films back into the theaters opens all sorts of interesting doors; if I were building a theater today, I'd add a supervised Ikea-style playroom and charge $40 per ticket for "date nights" so parents can see R-rated movies with built-in babysitting.

Hell, I'd pay for that ticket in a heartbeat some evenings when I'm struggling to find someone to watch the kids so my wife and I can see Deadpool.

The thought that every theater needs to have the exact same environment with the exact same rules is rubbish; one of my favorite moviegoing memories is seeing Velvet Goldmine at a local arthouse theater with a rowdy crowd that got up and danced during the musical interludes.

People laud places like the Alamo Drafthouse for being strict about the no-texting policy, but the AMC executive is talking about doing the exact same thing in the opposite direction: Changing the expectations of behavior and clearly communicating the change. Customers know what to expect when they buy the ticket.

So don't get hung up on the texting aspect of his argument. Instead, think of what's possible when you get creative with what behavior is expected of, or tolerated from, the audience. Film is a living art, and the way we're expected to interact with it can, and should, change with the times.

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