immersed in understanding

BCM241 class of 2019, we are an odd bunch.

We all, it seems, are very particular about our cinema tastes. We have a favourite seat. A favourite snack. And a devotion to whatever it is we’re watching.

We hate talkers. We’re afraid to crunch on food out loud. And we have no qualms with getting up and leaving mid-movie should the situation call for it.

After a closer ethnographic examination of our cinema rituals through participant observation, we now also are more aware of how Torsten Hagerstrand’s (1969) constraints of coupling, capability, and authority unconsciously impact our cinematic experiences.

When Mikayla Stott of Generally Unimpressed tried to see ‘The Lion King’, her experience was ruined by unexpected capability problems, culminating in her taking early leave of the movie.

It took Taylah Ide-Miller of TayTay’s Blog three attempts to have an ideal experience when she tried to see the much-anticipated ‘Avengers Endgame’ movie. Mostly thanks to a series of authority and capability issues.

Such deep understandings would not be possible had these researchers not observed these experiences from the inside-out through participation. 

This immersive approach distinguishes itself from anthropology in accordance with Erik Lassiter’s reflections in his article ‘A Brief Guide to Collaborative Ethnography’ (2005).

He notes that ethnography avoids the harmful phenomenon of ‘othering’; of portraying the observed culture as separate, merely a shallow curiosity. When applied to the ethnography of the cinema, this form of research places ourselves in the context of viewer/experiencer-culture and our understandings are enriched.

I hope to use these insights about the power of participant observation in my capstone research project. 

One of my ideas revolves around the retail space; how different the discourse surrounding retail employment is between ‘real-life’ and online spheres, such as the subreddit titled ‘Retail Hell’.

Another concept I believe will be interesting is the interaction between the built environment and the digital world; how one prompts action in another and vice versa.

Whatever I choose to explore, I know that I must dive deep into the experience because adventure awaits.

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ritual cinema

Twenty films in, seeing a new Marvel movie at the cinema has become a ritual. Everything is planned out like clockwork and done with the same feeling of fevered excitement.

Every action is unconsciously molded by Hagerstand’s theory of space and time in geography. The constraints of capability, coupling, and authority guide its logistics. Each of these factors contributes toward a shared social experience, elevating patrons beyond mere ‘spectator’ status.

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The sacred rite of Marvel-Movie-Watching can be understood in my most recent experience watching ‘Spiderman: Far from Home’.

My roommate, my friend and I chose the closest location, Wollongong Cinema. We were so keen (as always), we HAD to go on the opening day—but were forced to choose the evening time slot because we were all busy during the day.

Every time, we arrive at least 40 minutes early. We park next to McCabe Park to avoid paying in the centre parking-lots; my roommate drives because I don’t own a car. We do this because Wollongong cinema is very popular and doesn’t have assigned seating. Being early allows us to be first in line outside the cinema door.

This aspect of the ritual relates to ‘capability’. My movements were limited by the lack of local cinemas (a physical factor) and the willingness of my roommate to drive us only so far (an environmental factor).

The next part of the ritual is the candy bar. On this one occasion, we scored $9 tickets, and I also got my usual packet of overpriced peanut M&Ms (the tour-de-force of cinema snacks).

Once we’re stocked up, the real wait begins. We camp in front of the door, marking our territory at the front of the line. I use the bathroom twice to prevent my bladder from forcing me to bail out of the 2-hour 9-minute extravaganza early. (The twice part is a tried and true method.)

The ticketing relates to ‘authority’ held by the cinema. They own the screening and can, therefore, allow entry only whom they choose. The aspects of lining up and taking a bathroom break relate to the constraint of ‘coupling’. They establish ideal conditions for myself as I will need to be ready for the movie to begin at a specific time, and prepared to be there for a length of time there-after.

We rush in once the doors open. Our seats are always near the front—in the first row after the door. Far enough back to see comfortably and with no view of the door lights or people entering/exiting.

Nobody talks during this movie. The only motions are hungry hands pinching up more popcorn. The only sounds, our laughter and cries in unison as the movie hits the right chords of emotion.

We don’t simply watch the movie, we are enveloped by it; together.

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