Phones ringing at the flicks call for gulags
First Sputnik, now this. Russia, the first nation to put a satellite into orbit in 1957, has shamed America yet again exactly 50 years later, beating us to another threshold in the advancement of civilization: It's jamming cell phone frequencies in theaters.
Well, one theater. But just like Sputnik, it's a good start.
Reuters reported last week that Russia's oldest playhouse, the Alexandrinsky in St. Petersburg, has installed expensive equipment to protect actors, opera singers and ballet dancers from "unpleasant surprises." Prior to the upgrade, one actor snapped, yelling at an audience member, "Turn off that stupid phone and let me finish my soliloquy!"
Da, comrade, da.
If only our Federal Communications Commission would let U.S. multiplexes rule with a similar iron fist. But the "What about emergencies?" argument gives it pause. C'mon, FCC, if we thought like that 50 years ago, a flag with the hammer and sickle would by flying on the moon.
In the pressure-cooker Digital Age, we've broadened "emergencies" to the point where the word has lost its meaning.
For example, if you're at the movies and your cat is suddenly killed in a hit-and-run accident, is that an emergency? Must you, and everyone around you, know right away just because your cat-sitter has you on speed dial? Wouldn't Fluffy have wanted you to enjoy a few last, blissful moments watching the latest Will Ferrell film before the grieving begins? Remember how she'd tap the screen with her paw whenever you popped in the DVD of "Talladega Nights"? The bad news can wait. Fluffy would have wanted it that way.
If that sounds cruel, consider this: Cats died in 1959. People cried about it. But it never got in the way of the 7:30 p.m. showing of "Some Like It Hot."
Of course, there are higher-level emergencies, but they, too, fail to explain the need for cell-phone operability inside the Cineplex.
If you're Special Agent Jack Bauer and you're waiting on an important call from CTU about some suitcase nukes, you probably shouldn't be trying to squeeze in a matinee between life-or-death plot points.
Unfortunately, both emergency-prone groups are filling up more and more seats, and if this trend continues, the only time the rest of us will mix with strangers is when we go to Sears to buy a replacement bulb for our HDTV projectors.
Thankfully, the prospect of millions paying exorbitant prices for home theater systems instead of extra-large popcorns has at least one U.S. theater chain trying to bring "civil" back to our civilization.
According to Reuters, Regal Entertainment Group recently started handing out gadgets that give moviegoers the power to alert theater managers of cell-phone miscreants with a covert push of a button. If successful, Regal might distribute the devices nationwide.
Whether it's via corporate greed or government initiative, we need to take Russia's lead and engage in a little picture-show perestroika of our own. Otherwise, public gatherings could be forever canceled due to emergencies until further notice.