Observation Study and the Cinema
We all have hobbies and observation activities; one of mine from my earliest remembrances, has been studying the habits and mannerisms of people while going to the movies. When it comes to going to the theater to see a movie, I may have an old soul, or maybe most likely, I am just a creature of habit. I know I can sit at home and watch the movie once it is on Netflix, or accidentally on purpose watch it on a P2P (point-to-point) site, but I like the old fashioned feel of going out to a place to sit and watch a movie. As a kid, we did not have many air conditioners in our little row house in Brooklyn, so I would go to a movie theater 10 blocks away, pay for my movie ticket and sit in the theater all day and enjoy the cold temperature the theater always provided.
As a child of the streets, as it were, I spent a lot of time just walking the wonderful and gritty storefronts of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, way into the night and because none of us had any real money from the neighborhood, we all just sort of walked everywhere. With this daily repetition in place, habits such as people watching and the ability to anticipate interactions just naturally it seemed start to germinate. This ability to become aware of patterns of repetition among people has been a measured talent that in some ways has served me well in my life.
I bring up these two points to set the backdrop, for some thing that I have noticed the last few times I have been to the movies and waited in line at the concession stand for my own personal kryptonite, movie theater popcorn. For fun and for knowledge, the next time you are standing in line for a purchase at a place like a movie theater, for your own edification, don’t look at your phone or digress to a distraction, instead with out judgement or comical set up, just observe. What you may find may be illuminating not just to how our current society may be, but actually how we as individuals may be. Remember, when doing this you are not looking to cast judgement. As any one who has set up a scholarly experiment, you are just monitoring results. What you find may be of great interest if not as the great C.S Lewis has mentioned and wrote in the past, I am paraphrasing, “If it need not help you, throw away the information and look at it no more.”
I will share some insights and examples, as to what I have monitored during my last few experiences. I have used the staging of the movie theater concession stand because it sets a baseline of statistical certainty meaning the prices at the concession stand, selection of items and turn over time (time to receive requested orders) are some what consistent. The data if I could use that term, was generated from three different movie theaters located around the Fresno, California area. A concession stand works well because the various movie goers come willingly to the stand, and the type of movie they are destined to see, that may augment the superficial data collected will not be skewed by the possible demographics of the movie choice. It may be important to mention, I picked two weekday and one weekend to attend a movie to make sure that I had a cross stitch of variables covered regarding the demographics of who may go to a move on a certain day of the week.
Now, here are the reflections and what may be insights one may ascertain from this very brief observational study. One example to start off with was interesting. On an early Friday evening at one of the movie theaters I was in, a line developed not of a overwhelming size but one in which it was apparent that a person was not able to just walk up and buy an item without waiting. Specifically, as the person at the counter called out next, what appeared to be a father and a son of 7 years old walked up to the counter. The parental figure, asked the child what he may like and the boy paused for a brief moment or two and then suggested hot dogs for both of them. The line of about 4 people or couples behind them was very interesting to observe. Each set of people in line seemed to close their eyes in a somewhat disappointed fashion about the pause to order and then what was ordered. Two of the people or couples behind the child and parental figure ordering took a deep breath and just smiled patiently.
One person who appeared to be in his mid-60’s visibly rolled his eyes and the group or teenagers that made up the forth group of people waiting in the same line, deferred back to their phones to keep them occupied. I found the reactions very interesting from the stand point of perceived wrong line choice or even victim-hood. DO not we see this type of visceral response when someone consistently lane changes during rush hour traffic? That response many of us have heard from the driver who somehow believes, “Every lane I pick is the slowest.” The teens were heard to jokingly, it appeared at least, to say to each other, “How can you not know what you want to order?” This reaction seems not to be age specific, as I heard it multiple times during my study. The variables of a parental adult teaching a child the age appropriate lesson of ordering on their own or a simple act of a father and child bonding over the ability to make a decision, seems to get lost in the victim-hood mentality that seemed to present itself.
On a different occasion during my study, I observed a very short line of only a group of four female teenagers at the front of the concession stand line, and a pair of women about 40 years of age. For whatever reason, the teenagers, seemed to order everything a la carte. This meaning, they ordered a large popcorn, then decided to order a soda, then when the cashier thought to ring them up, they came up with the idea of maybe ordering nachos. This decision was debated a few seconds and then the decision was made, yes on nachos! The two women behind the four teenagers literally stomped their feet and again rolled their eyes. One woman said to the other some thing along the lines of , “They are going to make us late.” This may seem like a common response, but if you pause for a moment are they making the pair of women late, or are the time variables specific to the pair of ladies actions prior to entering the movie theater variables that need to be examined as well and the culprit of the potential lateness? Is this yet another example of “Skinner’s box” being alive and well about automated response int his case of victim-hood?
The last observation I would like to bring up in this article took place at the third theater I visited for my observational study. It took place during a mid-day weekend. It was the interaction between a child of about 8 or 9 and a parental figure about 40 or so. The child seemed not to be to concerned about the length of the line at all. Holding the female parental figures hand who appeared about 30, the child was singing to her self, and pointing at all the visual attractions a movie theater had to offer. The child was attempting what appeared to be a conversation with the parental figure, but the adult seemed distracted in phone interaction in a text type format and then preceded not to acknowledge the child’s seemingly inquisitive questions, but rather responded with a very short almost stern list of price points the child could not go past when making a buying decision and that the child should be grateful and I am paraphrasing again because I could not hear all of the exchange that, “You should feel lucky you dragged me here.” The child simply smiled at said nothing and looked away. Is this an example of a precursor to exchanges between these two individuals as the child grows? I do not know of course, but the question certainly entered my mind.
It is interesting what you can notice while you stand quietly and observe. Silence can bring l many times, both visually and audibly, a fascinating story of conditioned responses and insights into the human condition.
Contributing Author: Darren Redmond
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