Question: When a cultural form is imported (on both sides willingly) into another culture should the 'adopting' culture adapt itself to the etiquette of said form or should the form and its producers / promoters expect and accept behaviour which they might ordinarily find offensive or distracting?
Anyone who has read back far enough on this blog knows my feelings regarding cinema-heathens. Well, a heated discussion with Indian friends the other night led me to realise that there are cultural issues at play here... They understood the etiquette of not talking on the'phone and turning off the ringtone but the fact that I could get annoyed at people texting in a cinema caused them much mirth.
The way I look at it is simple - cinema is a visual medium. If someone flashed torches or turned on the lights it would be very distracting and piss most people off. When someone uses their 'phone to sms, or even just to look at the time, the light caused by their tiny screen is actually very noticeable in a darkened cinema. To me it would be like trying to listen to a string quartet with some arseholes watch alarm going of intermittently.
But then I forget that - aside from certain screenings of films like Rocky Horror or The Sound of Music - western audiences are very much brought up to silently immerse themselves in films whereas many other cultures, especially in the Bollywood sphere of influence, see films as a release, an arena to "let go" of themselves in. Whereas the social interaction of a film in the west tends to be in dissecting the film in the pub after the credits, in the east the social interaction seems to actually be the film itself.
And so I am brought back to my original question... as someone who can happily watch - nay, embrace - a piece of performance art (be it celluloid or whatever) in the environment and atmosphere it belongs, do I then have a right to expect to be able to watch films from my own cultural background in the manner that I would be able to were I back home? Likewise, should those enjoying their own eastern cultures in the west be made to conform to viewing them in a manner which follows western etiquette?
There is something akin to this in sport... very recently Sinless City hosted a Pro Golf tournament and today the papers were full of the western players who had complained that spectators were using flash-photography as they were taking their swings and that children too young to exercise noise discipline at crucial times had been allowed in. Was that a case of the stuffy colonial sportsmen being *ahem* bad sports? Or should the local populus, in their eagerness to embrace the international competition, have exercised more care in learning the etiquette of being a golf spectator? One local who attended commented that the players shouldn't have come if they didn't want to be photographed, but I think he misses the point here (there were countless photo opportunities that did not have the potential to upset the outcome of the game) and the attitude does smack of cutting off ones own nose to spite the face - what incentive is there for these sportsmen to come back and provide further entertainment or photo opportunities if that's how you feel?
But is this a cultural thing or is it just a selfishness? "I want it, so I will take it, etiquette be damned". That is an aspect of life in Sinless City I see every day, on public transport, in queues at foodstalls, on the street hailing cabs, on the escalators... there are a lot of people here who seem to exist in the 'bubble-of-one' (please note that I am not accusing my Indian friends of this - far from it!). The truth is that in this country there is an underlying sense of individual self-importance and self-righteousness and one way in which this could be seen to manifest itself is in the way people act in the cinema.
The worst examples of this behaviour, the most selfish that I have seen on a mass scale, were at the Night Safari. This is a one-of-a-kind zoo experience where you get to see nocturnal and semi-nocturnal animals in the near-wild, pretty much under natural moon-light with very little artificial lighting used. Everywhere you go there are signs pleading with people not to use flash photography as it can blind (or in extreme cases even kill) the animals concerned. Yet on my three visits to the Night Safari I saw flash after flash as the modern 'big-game hunters' regarded their trophy-photographs of higher value than animal welfare.
Okay, it seems like I am stretching my point a little - cinema irritation to maiming animals in two easy steps - and the Night Safari experience cannot really be equated with my original question. But, despite cultural differences undoubtedly playing a part in so many upsets and misunderstandings in this diverse country, I firmly believe that the root of all these problems is a lack of respect. Let me watch these films how I am meant to watch them. And I will happily watch films from other cultures the way that they are supposed to be watched as well. Let the sportsmen get on with what they are supposed to do without getting unnecessarily parochial about it (I am just imagining a Formula 1 car at next years Sinless City Grand Prix being confronted by a local cyclist going against the traffic flow...). And for fucks sake - let those animals keep their corneas.