Moving Pictures

Theater in rural Texas that I photographed during the Texas Independence Relay. March 2010.

Theater in rural Texas that I photographed during the Texas Independence Relay. March 2010.

It might have been the new Spider-Man film, I'm not sure, that a friend told me she and her boyfriend went to see, adding that she only goes to movies that special effects demand seeing on a big screen. And even then, she rarely bothers.

She's more of a film aficionado than me. I used to go to movies all the time. These days, very little can get me to the theater. I feel slightly panicked at the thought of mutely sitting on my rear end watching a flickering screen in the dark for over two hours. (Whatever happened to ninety-minute films?)

My friend and I are not alone. Amy Kaufman reported for the Los Angeles Times in January 2012 that movie attendance has fallen to a sixteen-year low.


My friend posited that it's our modern-day shortened attention span. Others point to today's high-end home theater equipment. Still others say that Hollywood is just making bad movies.

I disagree.

My theory: Lack of interactivity.

The Internet has spoiled us with engagement. Web sites allow us to customize, in some cases, everything we see and everything we buy. We can comment on articles—as you can on this blog. We can have conversations with people all over the world. We can connect with people we know and don't know. YouTube and other sites that stream video allow us to comment and even respond via video. Hulu—which streams television programming—makes it possible for us to comment on shows and to share clips on Facebook.

Even TV-set television takes steps to be interactive. Television encourages people to tweet about what they're watching as they watch. Sports, news, commentary, awards, and reality shows even feature tweet streams on part of the screen. Others answer questions sent via Twitter and Facebook. President Obama did an entire town hall with questions posed by the public through social media.

Radio shows do the same. PRI BBC's "World Have Your Say" relies on social media to get input from listeners across the globe who may not be able to call into the program. Deejays encourage listeners to comment on interviews and send in song requests via Twitter and Facebook.

Movies? Not interactive. At all.

In cinemas, smart phone activity is banned. No phone calls, certainly, and no texting or tweeting or Facebooking, either. You just sit there, nearly immobile, for over two hours, staring at a screen. We aren't used to that anymore. We want our activities to be, well, interactive. We want to engage, be present in the action. Get involved. (And I rather think that's a good thing.)

That's my theory. What's yours? Why do you think we've stopped going to films?