Let’s Return To Segregated Theaters

I’m all for social change, and I’m the first to say that we’ve come a long way in this country, just during my lifetime. But for every inauguration of a black president or same sex wedding that I attend, or for every time I read about a woman CEO, I sometimes think we’ve missed the mark with what we’ve called progress.

One of those examples is the desegregation of public accommodations — specifically, movie theaters and performance houses. I’m making a case to return to segregation there. You heard me correctly: to hell with Brown v Board of Education.

We got it wrong the first time around: black folks shouldn’t be relegated to the balcony. Folks who insist on using their cell phones during shows should be, and black screens that are politely and appropriately ensconced in pockets and purses should be allowed on the main floor, right down front.

For the youngsters…er, millennials reading this, there was a time in this country, not all that long ago, when the majority of kindly white people didn’t want to interact with black folks at all, let alone at the theatre or movie house, so they passed laws that allowed for racially segregated public spaces. These laws weren’t abolished until 1954 with the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling — and it took another decade for folks to get serious about enforcing it.

But if we can put another white supremacist in the Oval Office, we can return to the days of separate accommodations. But this time, let’s let the need to use your cell phone in public be the line of demarcation.

And this time around, in our best effort to truly make America great again, the throw back Jim Crow Era-like signs could read:


Let’s banish habitual electronics users to the balcony, where they can interact with each other as they post their illegally-recorded, bootleg videos on Instagram. And let’s charge those offenders premium ticket prices to do it. That’s right: you should have to pay extra to be an asshole in a movie theatre or concert hall.

I have grown sick of the omnipresent glow from phones and phablets during concerts and movies, and it seems to be getting worse every week. At a recent Isley Brothers show at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, I listened to the venue’s CEO, Lynn Dickerson, give the most tasteful, impassioned request to turn mobile devices off that I’ve ever heard. “If you simply cannot leave without a photo, please wait until the final song of the night, so you don’t ruin the show for others,” Dickerson deftly pleaded.

Seconds later, as soon as the lights dimmed, the Gallo was aglow with phones. One inconsiderate woman immediately stood up down front and started recording the Isleys’ opener, blocking those behind her from seeing the stage. After several minutes, one of the Gallo’s heroic ushers was dispatched to shut the illicit recording session down.

And it’s become really bad at movie theaters. A week or so ago, I didn’t attend a movie during opening weekend, having decided that Pennywise could wait until I can watch It Chapter 2 in my own completely darkened, comfy home theatre. Weeks before, during 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, the guy in front of me continually pulled out his cell phone and casually scrolled through apps. His beautiful iPhone appeared to be at full brightness — Stevie Wonder could have seen it!

After a few minutes, I sat up in the recliner I’d paid $15 to sit in, set my popcorn down, got up, and quietly and politely asked the gent to put his phone away. He looked at me like I was nuts, said nothing, and got right back to his apps scroll — where he stayed throughout most of the balance of the movie.

I mentioned the exchange to the house’s manager on the way out of the theater. He suggested that, next time, I should text the theater and let them know what was happening. That way, he said, I wouldn’t have to get up and miss any of the movie.

I pointed out that to do that, I’d have to break the same policy and use my phone. “Oh, yeah” the kid replied.

Ah, youth.

I wish I could say it’s just the kids, but a few months ago, I watched a group of seniors record whole sections of classical tenor Andrea Bocelli’s phenomenal show in Sacramento. Some of them looked so old I didn’t think they were going to live to count their “likes” on Facebook…or My Space. Their withered hands trembled as they hoisted their first generation iPads over their heads and into my line of sight.

Thank God I was really there, as we all should have been, to hear Bocelli’s voice. But it would have been nice, from time to time, to have actually been able to have seen the stage at a concert I’d paid good money to attend.

The use of cell phones is becoming ubiquitous. The other day, I watched a father ride the carousel at Sacramento’s Arden Place Mall with his preschool-aged son. Dad’s face was buried in his mobile device through every spin. I wanted to tell him that one day, he’d long for those precious minutes.

This morning, a woman walked by my house pushing a baby in a stroller, while she single-handedly texted or tweeted or tapped out something that I’m sure could have waited. Another young woman rammed her face into my chest while walking downtown last weekend, because she was staring at her cherished five inch screen instead of looking ahead while she walked.

And I don’t even want to talk about the number of people I see each day trying to operate an automobile and a handheld mobile device at the same time. Wake up, people: you can’t do it! And you may kill somebody trying.

With regard to those concert offenders, Madonna and a handful of other artists may be on to something. During Madge’s three upcoming San Francisco shows, use of electronics of all kinds, including smart watches (!) won’t be allowed in the arena. According to a statement from her publicist, offenders will be escorted from the venue.

Now we know why Madonna didn’t need papa to preach: she’s more than capable of doing it all by herself. Her announcement makes me want to see her in concert, for the first time in her career.

I’ve heard all manner of announcements and seen all manner of signs in lobbies, imploring folks to allow others to enjoy shows by putting their mobile phones away, but many don’t seem to be listening.

So, let me be the first to advocate for the return of segregated theaters in the United States. The only visible screen in a darkened movie theatre should be the big one up front.

If for no other reason, size really does matter.

Published by Michael P Coleman

Freelance writer. I used to talk to strangers and get punished. Now I talk to strangers and get published.

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