Is respect for the cinema dying?

Following last week’s news that local teens had been causing mayhem at the Mallard during a screening of the latest Minions film, Nathanial Eker-Male wonders what has happened to cinema etiquette.

The Mallard Cinema cancelled showings of the new Minions film due to groups of youths disrupting the showings. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30996529)
The Mallard Cinema cancelled showings of the new Minions film due to groups of youths disrupting the showings. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30996529)

IT’S a really rather simple set of guidelines.

You buy your ticket at the Mallard, or the UK’s Odeon or Cineworld, or wherever you are. You stock up on your popcorn, soft drinks, sweets, and whatever else you need to get you through that three-hour screening of The Batman without bursting your bladder. Once you’re inside, you chat to your mates about the film, anticipating how the filmmakers will use music, cinematography, props, sets, make-up, special effects, lighting and actors will deliver something (hopefully) very special.

Then, when the film starts, you shut up.

Somewhere along the way, this simple practice was lost. Cinema-goers found it acceptable to check their phone, have a conversation, or, quite unbelievably, combine the two by loudly telling someone on the other end of the phone that they’re at the cinema. Yet, at the Mallard in recent weeks and in cinemas across the world, this unbelievable selfishness was taken to an even more extreme level.

Young adults dressed in suits attended screenings of Minions: The Rise Of Gru with the explicit aim of disrupting everyone’s viewing experience with zero empathy or respect for their fellow movie-goers. They shouted, shone torches and were described by staff at the Mallard as ‘generally aggressive and quite nasty’. Yes, the irony of such behaviour occurring at a screening of a film within the Despicable Me franchise was not wasted, as commentators and media outlets alike defined their behaviour as simply despicable.

The incident was based on a viral social media trend which originated on TikTok, as young people across the world took to the film to show an ironic over-appreciation for it, based on the series’ generally low quality and meme-worthy status.

Look, memes are funny. I’m (just about) a millennial on the brink of Gen Z and have grown up with banterous memes and an ironic appreciation for bad media. Heck, I recently attended a screening of infamously bad drama The Room at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, where the audience were given plastic spoons to throw at the screen and were generally encouraged to loudly take the mick out of this appalling movie.

I and many others understand ironic enjoyment and meme culture. It’s hilarious to feel above a multimillion-pound enterprise to such an extent that you’ll mock it mercilessly with fake praise, even wearing suits to show it an extreme satirical ‘respect’. More than that, it’s fun to get together with your friends and share in something current that speaks to this generation’s subversive sense of humour.

However, this isn’t a private cinema booking. No matter how worked up you’ve gotten each other that this is going to be the most hilarious prank ever, neglecting the feelings of others is, sadly, the most common sign of emotional immaturity. People spent their hard-earned money to attend the cinema, some as a treat, and to have it so wilfully disregarded by a group who couldn’t care less about their fellow audience members is really quite sad.

Furthermore, and it’s pretty tragic I have to remind people of this, Minions is a kids’ franchise. The affected cinemas, including the Mallard, have described how the experience was ruined for children, some of whom could grow up to be the actors, film directors and critics of tomorrow. To hear that a child’s cinema experience was so irreparably damaged that they ended up leaving in floods of tears speaks to not only the extent of the perpetrators’ adolescent mindset, but a severe disrespect for the art of cinema and its associated establishments.

The Mallard is on the smaller side, but it’s run effectively, gets almost all the latest releases and deserves respect. It’s not up to the staff to have to police incidents of antisocial behaviour: people of any age should have the good sense to know when a joke goes too far. Crying children is usually a good indication.

The incidents of last week demonstrate that respect for the cinema is dying, perhaps owing to the universality of streaming services making us feel that we have cinemas in our own houses. But the Mallard is not your lounge. It’s a public establishment that people pay to attend and when we’re inside, it’s on each one of us to show our fellow islanders the respect they deserve. It’s really not hard to sit still and watch a film without talking or checking your phone for two hours. Try watching nine super-slow arthouse films in one day: that’s tough.

Cinema has become so commercialised that people now view it as their right to do as they please at the Mallard. They paid their money, if they want to talk, why shouldn’t they? Because it is a shared experience. Having even an ounce of respect for others would help you see that both the people around you and the people who worked incredibly hard to bring this product to the screen, even a film as rudimentary as Minions 2, deserve your respect, if not your silence. If you can’t hack it, there are well-marked exits aplenty.

I also want to make clear that while last week’s incidents are the catalyst for this piece, young people aren’t solely at fault here. I’ve been in screenings with people of all ages, from teenagers to pensioners, and, trust me, age is not a guarantee of good cinematic manners.

So, if you’re heading to the cinema, just try to think of others. You can be excited, you can laugh and cry and let yourself go at this magical place we call the cinema, that’s fine. But do us all a favour and turn your phones off. There is zero reason to speak or check any kind of device during a film. From the minute those logos appear, your mouth should be zipped. It’ll make the experience better for everyone. Even you, I promise.

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