Strangers in Public



After speaking to my grandmother recently, I was surprised to learn that when she was younger during the war, the cinema was once a public space where audiences gathered for much more than just watching a movie.

She explained to me that her Aunty Kath would take her to the movies, not just for something social to do, but because the cinema was the one place that the public could view news the way we have it now on TV, with a presenter and with moving images that would usually depict what was happening in the war.

She then mentioned how everyone would arrive before the movie, stand up together and sing God Save The Queen, watch about 15 minutes of news, in which my grandma always had to keep extremely quiet, as Aunty Kath would be intensely watching, because her like many others within the cinema had a loved one fighting overseas. Then, after the news had finished everyone in the full cinema would relax and the movie would begin.

That was my grandmother’s audience experience of the cinema, united as a group by singing, nervously becoming informed whilst watching images of the war on the news and then relaxed once the movie began. Completely different to what we experience now.

This really got me thinking just how the development of technologies have changed the audience experience in many media situations, especially in places such as the cinema.

With her experience in mind, I went down to the Wollongong cinema with four other friends one Tuesday evening to watch The Inbetweeners 2 and to observe how audiences now acted in this changing public space.

Organising to all go to the movies was particularly easy. Everyone in the group who came live at Camus East and it was over dinner that night that all of us sitting there decided to go after dinner. Getting there was also easy as we all jumped in a car and headed into town.

As our group was one of the first groups to enter the theatre and we decide to sit in the middle row and in that rows middle seats, with the idea that those gave us prime views of the screen.

There ended up being an additional 17 people to join our group of 5 in that viewing. With all others in groups of 2 – 3 and with one person there on their own.

Interestingly, nobody sat behind us, nobody sat in the side rows and nobody shared a row with anyone else besides the people they came with. It was also interesting seeing that every single person chose to sit in a seat in which nobody was sitting directly inform of them for at least one of two rows, even if it meant being a little further over to the side. .

So in the end, once everyone one was seated, it appeared that every group in the cinema was essentially isolated from one and other.

Another thing that was apparent was the use of mobiles. Being behind everyone else made it easy for me to see that most people used their mobiles right up until the actual movie began. Even through the trailers some people couldn’t put their phones down, as if they were trying to extract every last bit of it before they were really unable to use it for the next 2 hours.

Throughout the movie, not many people moved, not even to go to the bathroom, people laughed but that was about all I heard from anyone in the cinema.

It’s interesting looking back at my experience, where the cinema was virtually empty and for the people who did go, it seemed they wanted to pretend they were in a private space, rather then a public one.

It’s interesting to look at how the introduction of technologies have enabled and accustomed us to watch and experience things in privacy or on our own with traditional public and social places like the cinema fronting the impact from this. With more and more people choosing to stay in and experience things in privacy, it seems that the few who do venture to the cinema, bringing this new idea about need to be experience things on our own and try to employ it, evening in public environments. Seen in my experience by everyone voiding contact or closeness with other audience members.



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