My cinematic experience is dictated by this disability, but I wonder how many other people poses idiosyncratic tendencies that codify where they sit in public space? Recent research has suggested that cinemas have an important place in the social and cultural life of many Australian rural towns. (Aveyard , 2011). With the introduction of the NBN and Netflix, it will be interesting to observe what this holds for the future. There is definitely change in the wire.
Interesting Fact- When a teenager, my mother decided to skip school the day of the MMR vaccination (Measles, Mumps and Rubella). During her pregnancy with me she came into contact with Rubella and as a result, I was born with profound deafness in my right ear.
I am lucky- they were expecting much much worse.
In fact, the doctors were so concerned with the more severe side effects that the only test they did on my hearing as a baby was to clap really loudly next to my head while I slept- and as it woke me up- they assumed my hearing was fine.
It wasn’t until I was about 5 years old when I answered the phone, and promptly hung up again and again as ‘no one was on the other line’ that my father picked up that something was wrong with my ear. My right it appeared- was just sitting on my head for decoration.
As far as disabilities go, being half deaf is fairly benign. But I have absolutely no idea or concept of locating where sounds are coming from. Every sound comes from my left.
If I am walking down the street and someone call out my name, I immediately look to my left. A car beeps its horn- I look to the left. If my phone is not in my pocket, and it is ringing somewhere in the room- I am like a duck stuck in the middle of a pond swimming with only one leg- around and around in circles.
The lack of spatial awareness of sound affects me in interesting ways; and reinforces Torsten Hägerstrand theory that we need to study the individual in order to understand social and group practices. My own practices in where I sit in the cinema is profoundly different to that of my peers, for very specific reasons.
It effects the social interactions from a spatial perspective in other surprising ways. Once I was with my sister and we were hailing a cab. When it arrived she opened the door to hop in the back, and I put my hand out to stop her- she immediately knew why and what I meant by stopping her from hoping in first- I needed to be sitting on the correct side of the seat in order to hear what she was saying. So she pulled back and let me hop in first. The cab driver was gobsmacked.
He admonished me, “That was the most un-gentlemanly thing I have ever seen a bloke do! Pushing an lady out of the road so he can get in the car first!”
Me and my sister just looked at each other and immediately burst into laughter. There was no point in explaining why the interaction, which normally would appear socially unacceptable or out of order, but for us completely normal in terms of our spatial locations/formations.
We were on our way to the cinema, and as the same as in the cab- my disability directed where we sit- with my deaf ear closest to the wall so that my one good ear could pick up the ‘surround sound’. If I sit in the middle of the theatre everytime the sound comes from the right hand side I must swing my neck around and to properly ‘grab’ the sound, and I miss half of what the film is saying.
On this occasion, I can even remember the film “Step Mom” with Susan Sarandon (one of my favourites) with Julia Roberts (one of my sisters favourites). We had popcorn and our feet up on the seat in front of us. During the film, a young usher came up my, unbeknownst to him on my deaf side, (and I can assume), politely asked me if I could put my feet down. After all it was not, and is not appropriate space to be sitting with your feet all over the furniture.
I couldn’t hear him at all, so I continued to eat my popcorn and watch the film- oblivious to his request.
He leaned in again and repeated himself, only to be ‘ignored’ by me again. But this time my sister saw him.
The usher was young- just a lad, early teens- probably his first ever job, nervous and not quite sure what to do with me being so belligerent as to completely ignore his polite request.
My sister tried to tell me that there was an usher next to him, but couldn’t not control her laughter, as again, my interactions with my spatial surroundings were socially not acceptable and of course to her- hilarious.
Once I realised he was there, he had apparently asked me quite a few times to put my feet down by now, I was apologetic, my sister still in fits of giggles. I realised that my private space was actually in public, and I immediately put my feet down. We still laugh out loud when re-telling the story over dinner now.
The technological advances that we have seen in cinema with surround sound has impacted my cinematic experience a great deal- I much prefer mono. So a question for the readers out there- Do you have preference as to where to sit in the cinema? Have you even given it a thought before?
Or is it for you an automatic systematic habit?
A penny for your thoughts.
Aveyard, K 2011, ‘WHAT THE COUNTRY TELLS US: THE PLACE OF THE ‘RURAL’ IN CONTEMPORARY STUDIES OF CINEMA’, Media International Australia (8/1/07-current), no. 139, pp. 124-132.