Thursday, November 25, 2010

Let's all go to the movies…

…and shut the hell up.

[WARNING: This is my cranky, caffeine-laden intellectual-persona speaking.]

AXIOM: There is a direct proportion between a person's intelligence and how little he or she speaks during a movie in a theater.

PROVISO: This holds unless it is a larger cultural exigency that everyone is allowed, and even encouraged, to natter on during a movie.

SUB-AXIOM: There is a strong correlation between a person's intelligence and how much he or she speaks after a movie in the theater.

This afternoon I went to see The American again and would have enjoyed even more than I already do, had I not been stricken with what I call "cinemal sub-vocalizers" in the seats behind me. Sub-vocalization is the name of a reading deficit wherein the reader vocalizes the text as she reads. Children are taught to outgrow this crutch, and advanced readers do not sub-vocalize. Rather, they read with "the voice in their heads." Famously, this ability was a marvel to Augustine when he witnessed Ambrose reading silently in Milan. (Read this post for a discussion of Ambrose's broader impact on Augustine.) By now, silent reading is par for the cognitive course. In the world of reading, at least, but not yet in the deteriorating world of public cinema.

In a theater, cinemal sub-vocalizers are "those people" who, as soon as they hear dialogue, see an object, ponder a plot twist, misunderstand an event, or, really, just let their eyes and ears get stimulated by anything in the room, involuntarily and promptly vocalize every passing reaction: Why'd he do that? What's that? Who's she? Where are they going? These are the cinematic equivalent of backseat drivers, the movie world's mouth-breathers, and they inspire me to train my neck muscles just so I perform Olympic-level reverse headbutts over a chair.

I'm tempted to call cinemal sub-vocalization a kind of audio-visuallly induced epilepsy, since it's like "those people" take a mental bathroom break every few seconds and come back to ask what they missed. Then, without fail, as soon as the credits roll––if not sooner!––, the sub-vocalizers begin nattering on about something completely unrelated as they scurry out. By the last third of the film today I lost count of how many times I sighed and face-palmed, to no avail. Was I really so wrong to hope a bullet or two from George Clooney's gun might have broken the fourth wall and 86'd the mouth-breathing on my neck?

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