The Ruined Visit

I do not like going to the cinema anymore. I like watching movies on a massive screen, and the atmosphere is still a positive thing for me, but the people ruin the entire experience.

For example, a few friends and I went to the movies to see “The Visit” when it came out. “The Visit” is a horror film, and one of my friends had been really looking forward to watching it since he found out it was directed by the notorious M. Night Shyamalan. But the movie was ruined by the people in the theatre.

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We were sitting two rows in front of a group of teenage girls who had probably been drinking something other than frozen cokes. Throughout the entire movie, they were loud, kicking the seats, talking through the scary parts, texting, and being generally obnoxious. Our group, along with a few other disgruntled cinema-goers did the “be quiet look-back and stare” move, as well as actually  asking them to keep it down or leave the theatre, but they just laughed at us.

Since then, I haven’t enjoyed going to the movies. There is always someone who is loud, or talks through the film, or has crying children. For me, going to the movies is only fulfilling if it allows me to be completely emerged in the experience and any outside distractions take my enjoyment away from me.

The fact that I do not like the theatre but I’m still enjoying the movies is an important distinction to make. Roger Ebert believes that people “love the movies as much as ever. It’s the theaters that are losing their charm,” (Ebert 2011), and I am inclined to agree with him.  The reasons that the viability of cinema theatres is changing in today’s world can be linked back to Torsten Hagerstrand’s theory of the spatial and temporal constraints of human activity.

Hagerstrand found that how humans interact with spaces has limitations, and he identified three constraints with these spaces.

Capability: the limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors.

Coupling: the need to be in one place at and for a certain time, often interacting with people.

Authority: limitations on access and control by the owners of the space.

(Corbett 2001)

Looking at “The Ruined Visit” cinema experience through these three constraints gives an insight into why the cinema theatre may be becoming a less viable institution in modern times.

Late afternoon and evening sessions are often the busiest movie sessions to go to. With horror movies in general, night-time sessions tend to be the most popular times because of the audiences age and because it also adds to the horror experience. As well as this, movies tend to be more popular and the theatres more populated in the first few sessions of a movie. These are all examples of the capability constraints of the public movie theatre. The movie I went too had just been released and we went to the 7:30pm session, so the theatre was packed.

The sheer amount of people in the theatre meant that there were very little empty seats. If the theatre hadn’t been so full, then we could have moved away from the obnoxious teenagers, but we didn’t have that option. That is the risk you run when attending a movie – it may be busy and full of people, and you can not control the actions of those around you. This is an example of the coupling constraint. Interestingly, the cinema has “rules” where even though you are in a room with people, you do not really interact with them.

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These rules are put into place by the cinema authorities, but also dictated through social conventions. Most of the rules in place in theatres aim to maximise the cinema experience for everyone in attendance, such as no talking and no mobile phones. The authorities also dictate the prices of the movie tickets and candy bar foods, and these limitations are an example of the authority constraint. In the case of “The Ruined Visit”, no cinema employees came and removed the teenage girls from the theatre, even though someone went and complained.

The affordability of large home televisions, the ability to pirate movies almost as soon as they are released and the appeal of watching a film without having to adhere to any of the above space constraints are making cinemas less appealing. Unless it is a must-see new release where avoiding spoilers would be impossible, I would much prefer to watch the movie at home, where I could talk if I wanted, not be annoyed by other people, buy food that doesn’t cost a fortune and text if I want to text. I get the impression that many other people feel the same way in 2016.

REFERENCES:

Ebert, R 2011, ‘I’ll tell you why movie revenue is dropping…’, Roger Ebert’s Journal, <http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/ill-tell-you-why-movie-revenue-is-dropping&gt; Accessed 28 August 2016.

Corbett, J 2001, ‘Torsten Hӓgerstrand, Time Geography’, CSISS Classics, Center for Spacially Integrated Social Science, <http://escholarship.org/uc/item/2t75b8sj&gt; accessed 28 August 2016.

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Ethnography, Anthropology, and Other Academic Sounding Words.

When researching how to research communications and media, you grow accustomed to hearing the word “ethnography”. Ethnography is the direct observation of a select group and their way of life, done by people also of that culture or way of life. Importantly, ethnography is different from anthropology, which is the study of humankind, but is usually done from an outsider coming into a different culture and studying it as the other.

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So why is ethnography so important when researching communications and media? Media relies on the audience – in fact, it is arguable that you can’t have media without an audience there to consume and participate in the media space – and so studying how media consumers and participants use and engage with media is the foundation of most media research. The reason ethnography is better suited to media studies than anthropology is because it anthropology marks a separation between the researchers and the research group, meaning there is a big chance that the research will be about the media effects of the group being studied. Ethnography has less of a chance of doing this because the two groups are less separate. The research is focused more on the how and why. Why is this group consuming this media? How are they participating in the media space? What are they doing there?

There are two different kinds of ethnography – reciprocal and collaborative, as outlined in Luke Eric Lassiter’s “A Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography.”

Reciprocal ethnography means that there is some kind of exchange, for example, data about television watching habits is given (through Nielsen’s peoplemeter) in exchange for something in return, like points that can be used to buy products (for each day the peoplemeter is left on in your home).

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Collaborative ethnography is a mutual engagement between both groups “at every stage of the ethnographic process, from fieldwork to writing and back again” (Lassiter 2005). It is a process that has ongoing discussions, and collaboration between not only other researchers but with communities and the groups being studied.

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Collaborative ethnography has the potential  to open the research up to more than just academics and other researchers. In the article “Beyond Participant Observation: Collaborative  Ethnography as Theoretical Innovation“, Joanne Rappaport surmises that

“Collaboration is more than “good ethnography,” because it shifts control of the research process out of the hands of the anthropologist and into the collective sphere of the anthropologist working on an equal basis with community researchers.” (Rappaport 2008).

I interpreted this as the idea that using collaborative ethnography when researching something – like media use and its audiences – is better than the reciprocal method because it allows more people (from all aspects of the research process) to have access to and feel in control of the whole process. Real people are more likely to want to offer up information to a researcher if they believe that they are a part of the process and that their input matters.

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Maybe this outlook on collaborative ethnography is more applicable on a small-scale level, like the research we’ll be undertaking as part of this subject at university. It is significantly less realistic that established researchers would totally collaborate with their subjects through the research, writing and afterwards. This takes time and money, which researchers have to be mindful of. This is one of the potential challenges of collaborative ethnography. But for our research, there is no reason we shouldn’t be able to undertake ethical, beneficial collaborative research with the participants of our research projects.

This could be as simple as sending our research subjects copies of what we have done before submitting it so that they can double check that everything they contributed is correct, or liaising with teaching staff to collaborate with them on our projects. These are both ways we could take the entirety of the research out of our hands and into the “collective sphere”, and to ensure mutual engagement.

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It makes perfect sense that working together with other professionals and the people you are researching would give better results. It combines the academic side of research with the real-life elements of the research applicable in real life, echoed by Lassiter in the following quote:

“The goals of collaborative ethnography (both historical and contemporary) are now powerfully converging with those of a public anthropology that pulls together academic and applied anthropology in an effort to serve humankind more directly and more immediately.” (Lassiter 2005).

I think that the potential benefits of collaborative ethnography outweigh the potential challenges.

REFERENCES:

Lassiter, L E 2005, ‘Collaborative Ethnography and Public Anthropology’, Current Anthropology, vol. 46, no. 1, pp 83-106, <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/425658?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents>

Lassiter, L E 2005, ‘Defining a Collaborative Ethnography’, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, <http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/468909.html>

Rappaport, J 2008, ‘Beyond Participant Observation: Collaborative Ethnography as Theoretical Innovation’,  Collaborative Anthropologies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp 1-31, <https://muse.jhu.edu/article/367015>