Theatre: The Original Social Media




Teenagers are not dumb.

The movie adaptation of Interview with the Vampire came out in theaters in late 1994, plopping it right into my senior year of high school, and bringing Friend Davey and I to Springfield Mall one fine day to see it. Malls, at the time, were one of the few social milieu available to us in our particular environment -- not that we ever talked to anyone there, but that was more us than the environment, I think. At any rate, Springfield was well-waned in popularity at the time, making room for the cleaner, generally fancier Fairfax Mall, so it was strange that as we were leaving the movie I thought I saw someone I knew. Thought, that is, only for a moment. Where at one moment I thought I had seen a familiar pair of eyes and a flash of radiant hair, there was nothing when I checked back. Well, that wasn't so odd. I had just spent a couple of hours in the company of some rather charismatic vampires, after all.

These kids today, with their so-called vampires, glimmering and psychic and whatnot . . .
I have zero insight into what social conditions exist for the teenagers of today. They have ten thousand methods of communicating, but who knows how well that works, unless you're one of those who is newly double-digited in age? What I do know is that it's in our teenage years that it grows imperative that we become social creatures, and that a lot of our energy is spent solely on figuring that out. Not all that long ago, a teenager wouldn't be allowed out to a movie without a guardian or chaperon of some kind, terrified as we were of the assignations that might occur. Apart from serving as a rather absolute method of birth control, I can't see that there'd be much point to such restrictions anymore -- they'll only go and render 3D avatars of themselves on 2nd Life and get on with getting to know one another as well as any teenagers could ever hope to.

"Social networking media" has changed a lot of things about our methods of communicating, though it remains to be seen if the content and intention of that communication has changed dramatically. Truth be told, it is in many ways returning us to older forms. Facebook, for example, seems like a kind of oddly tiered public forum until one considers that for years upon years the borders of social circles were similarly enforced, only by money and class instead of who you know (as though the concepts were so extricable). MySpace felt like a sort of coliseum of kill-or-be-killed customization and lecherous advertising by comparison, and Twitter is . . . uh . . . man, I still don't know what Twitter is supposed to be. It feels a bit to me like the one-liner exchanges detectives on a stake-out have, or hunters gathered around a fire, except every single person everywhere is there.

They are all public forums, and there's a mistake in supposing this is something new. An easy mistake, really, because for a long time we've all been pretty focused on privacy. There's nothing wrong with that, obviously. I like my privacy too, but all things in moderation. Time was, being entertained was a social occasion. (I'm about to blow your mind.) A theatre was the place that one would do all this stuff we're now excited to do through computers. Performers and audience alike would have all kinds of dialogue, assignations and accidental encounters. They'd chat, they'd collaborate; I'm sure some of them even occasionally tweeted. That was part of the point -- not to hollow out our private space and be polite to those around us and avoid physical contact, but to engage. We all want to engage. That's what theatre is for.

Now, I'm not going to turn this car around if you all don't start using theatre for what it's for (but give your brother back his shoe, or I will). However, I like the world much more when we're all more engaged. Going to the movies to be alone is ridiculous, in other words, and one cannot live by Netflix alone. By God, yes, please: 'blog & tweet & Xbox & make that avatar dance. It's great stuff. But also, every so often, do something to see and be seen in the flesh, because when we just seek to entertain ourselves in isolation we are little more than soulless bloodsuckers, feeding from our own veins.

I should end it there, and the girl I glimpsed outside of the movie way back in 1994 might remain a figment of our collective imaginations.

On Sunday night that girl and I did some very out-of-character things. First among these was that we were out on a Sunday night; second was that we were seeing a movie; and third was that we were seeing a hopelessly, shamelessly (and I do emphasize here the utter lack of shame) popular movie on its opening weekend. These things are bad enough anywhere, but particularly redolent with practical difficulty in New York City, so I bought tickets in advance and cased the joint to find out where the inevitable line might form, and we spared just enough time to get a little oxygen out of our bloodstreams before joining said line well in advance of the opening of the doors. It was kind of nice, actually. Everyone knew why they were there, and some of us seemed more embarrassed by it than others, but no one could judge; not really. As happens with this sort of meme, this zeitgeist, casual conversations formed amongst strangers. Is this the line for tickets, or a seat? Did they say when the doors would open? I got here just in time, I guess. Look: No one's under 25 here, and there are guys! Lots of guys!

Oh, they try hard to give us plenty of material with which to accuse, but it's true: Teenagers, they are not dumb.
 
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