The cinema is a unique form of entertainment; it provides a private sphere within a public space. The dark shrouds an otherwise densely populated area with a veal of privacy. Within this synthetic privacy new couples can hold hands, cuddle or even kiss without public embarrassment. Others may simply pretend they are watching the movie in the comfort of their own home. But the cinema provides broader consideration in its uniqueness. The cinema provides a space where random individuals and groups from different social classes, cultures and ethnicities enter a room to share in watching a movie in the dark. For the most part you don’t get to choose who you sit beside and you have little or no control over the space other than your ability to enter or exit the theatre. This space is governed by explicit and implicit rules that are learned through socialization and through gentle reminders from witty adverts prior to the movie.
For our valentines date my wife and I, went to see ‘The Woman in Black’. Upon queuing to give the usher our tickets, I noticed a young girl in front of us who I happened to previously teach. To say this girl did not like school would probably be a mild understatement. In school she was like a Tasmanian devil who fought with teachers day after day. You would be right in assuming that neither I nor indeed any of my school colleagues would have been on her Christmas card list! My wife noticed this girl and her friends. It would have been hard not to. They were loud, rowdy and disruptive in the foyer. They jumped around shouting; knocking into other patrons and laughing at each other’s horseplay. They certainly didn’t seem familiar with the hidden social etiquette adhered to by others. My wife passed comment hoping they were not going to the same movie as us. However, her fears were realised when we entered the theatre and behold!
Initially they sat a few rows down from us. But as fate would have it our row must have been more appealing. And so, our romantic valentines date was shared with this rowdy group of four. As the movie began, so did their antics. The veal of privacy provided by the dark may have afforded this group with extra ammunition. They joked and laughed, punched each other and roared. They also provided a running narration to rival David Attenborough. It only took a few short minutes before gentle requests for quiet from other patrons, turned into a full blown row in the presence of security guards. The group pled innocence and said they were being picked on. My wife and I cringed and squirmed in our chairs, hoping it was clear that we were not associated with this group. Like the ‘General’ Martin Cahill, I shielded by face, doing my best to hide my identity from my past student. Had she noticed me, surely it would have been fuel to her fire of antics. I did not want my wife witnessing what I imagined would be a scathing attack on me had I been outed! As you can imagine we saw little of the beginning of the movie as our eyes were pinned to our isle neighbours. The group promised the security guards and other patrons that they would quieten down, but I knew otherwise. As soon as the opportunity arose, I motioned to my wife to join me as I decided an exit now was the best course of action.
As we fumbled out the isle, the group turned their attention to us. I silently prayed I would not be identified as I knew it would not bode well. The group accusingly shouted ‘are you leaving because of us?’. In my scramble, my wife was lagging behind or as she would later clarify I was leaving without her. After our exit we found the cinema manager, explained our situation and asked for a refund. It was at this point I realised I had been the instigator of a mass exit and we were quickly joined by our fellow patrons. There is a particular scene from the movie Frankenstein comes to mind at this point. It is the part where angry villagers armed with pitch forks and flames form a violent mob outside the castle. Despite the absence of weapons and fire, such a mob had formed around us and we were its instigators. My
unease grew. I had visions of the rowdy group following also. Here under the bright lights my ex-student would surely recognise me and I would have been the identified as the cause of this exodus. I anxiously reiterated a requested for
our refund. Refund in hand my wife and I made a dash, leaving this scene to further unfold.
Many might wonder as to why I was so anxious about being identified and shortly after this incident I would have
joined those wondering. I reflected on this incident for quite some time. My anxiety of being identified was not that I was afraid of this young girl or her group; rather I was afraid of being publicly named, shamed or embarrassed. I did not want to have to deal with a publically awkward situation. Likewise, I did not want to lose my anonymity nor my honour. I was worried that my wife would be upset should I be the subject of a public berating. Had I been alone maybe or in a school setting, I would have inhabited a different social role; allowing me to 'handle' the situation differently. Within this context I would not have had such anxiety or fear. However, I was not alone nor in school. I
inhabited a different social space, dictated by alternative social rules. My role as husband influenced and guided my functioning within the cinema space.
This incident clearly illustrates how our social role changes depending on our environment. In this setting I was not a teacher or an authority figure, I was simply a husband on a date with his wife. Was I less of a man or less husband because of my anxiety? Some might say yes, that maybe I was cowardly for having such anxiety. However, upon reflection I think I acted appropriately, in a way I thought would best preserve my anonymity and keep my wife safe from upset.
This account highlights the vulnerability certain social settings can provide. Publicly open spaces, where onlookers are plentiful, present us with challenging environments when trying to protect one’s honour and privacy. Hegemonic masculinity perpetuates images of men being strong and facing adversity head on. However, male honour as demonstrated by my valentines date appears to be tenuous and fragile in certain social contexts and when fulfilling certain social roles. When faced with the fear of experiencing public embarrassment; this man decided best course of
action was to hide one’s face and run!
© Clay Darcy, November 2013.