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Moving the Picture Show

by Robert Laughlin

Going to the movies just isn’t fun anymore. It used to be that you went for entertainment, and more: a communal experience, laughing and crying with other people who shared your response to the outside world. Participant movies changed all that.

The last time we went (the very last time), Scott helped me to my seat and put Crystal in my lap while the promos rolled. The movie started; the crazies left everything alone for the first thirty minutes.

It was a romantic comedy, with the two stars playing lawyers on opposite sides of a domestic case. After days of sparring in the courtroom, they had a private moment where their mutual attraction was revealed.

Then it happened: someone in the audience with a private obsession tripped the sensors and the female lawyer morphed into the hunky husband she was representing.

Whoever did it, it took the rest of us almost till the end of the scene to bring back the lawyer. That’s the way the movies work now: intensity matters more than numbers to the participant sensors, one person with an idée fixe trumps a hundred people who take the world as they find it.

Ten minutes later, the female lawyer, racing to the courtroom with critical new evidence, suddenly got an awful lot slower after her car turned into a bicycle trailing a “TORCH SUVs” banner from the tail reflector. A man sitting two rows up pumped his fists into the air and shouted, “Yes, yes!” One of the people streaming past his seat clouted him along the way.

With dozens of people now leaving the theater, it was even worse. Fewer unwarped minds to resist the crazies who were straining to change the reality on the screen, and just two more minutes went by before the topper. The male lawyer was grilling a testy, hugely unsympathetic witness; in a wink, the lawyer was a U.S. Marine with a crucifix over his uniform, severing the head of a bearded mullah with automatic fire from an M-16.

Leaving the theater forever would have been enough for me, but Scott stomped right into the manager’s office. “Why don’t you show movies the way you used to?” he asked the man behind the desk. “Why do you let their content be dictated by these nuts?”

The manager said, “I have to. All my ticket revenue comes from them.”

Copyright © 2007 by Robert Laughlin

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