Among the myriad fabulous topics we cover here at Tiger Beatdown is pop culture, the many ways in which it manifests, and the fascinating things it says (or doesn’t) about groups of people such as ladies, and queer folks. A pretty critical pop culture event is unfolding across the US tonight and in the small hours of tomorrow, as people file into movie theatres to catch the midnight showings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part the second, because apparently there was just so much they wanted to cover that they had to split it in two. (Surely a desire to attribute this decision to a plan to drag out the franchise for more profits is churlish and unkind of me.)
I was looking forward to talking about the film, and the franchise as a whole, because, better or worse, the Harry Potter franchise has had a profound impact on pop culture. Rowling’s characters are so well known that you can pretty much always toss off a Harry Potter reference and people will get it; it is the franchise that launched a thousand ‘ships (and an ocean of fanfic); these are the books that allegedly taught those rascally young folks that those square things with pictures on the cover have words inside; these are the stories that made a single mum wealthier than the Queen of England.
The gender dynamics of the franchise are particularly interesting to explore, especially looking at the handling of Hermione, everyone’s favourite geeky heroine who sure slicks up nice and mysteriously for a ‘positive female character’ seems to utter every statement ‘shrilly’ when she’s not ‘shrieking’ or ‘twittering.’ For that matter, the very public role Emma Watson has occupied over the last 10 years because of her role in the films is also fascinating, as are the predictable responses to the rise of any young female celebrity. Hating on Emma is easy, but few people are ashamed to take the cheap shot, apparently.
I was getting excited about this grand post I would write, a reflection on the films and the books and the way they tie together, the gender and race and class and queer dynamics and how people deal with them and respond to them. You’re probably getting excited just reading me talk about how great this post was going to be, for that matter, although you’re getting a bit suspicious because of all the past tense, aren’t you? Judging from the emails in my inbox wanting to know if I’ll be commenting on Harry Potter, it seems that people are actively expecting and looking forward to this post.
Too bad it’s not getting written.
Earlier this week I took a gander at the movie theatre schedule to doublecheck that they were in fact having a midnight show, and to find out how they were handling tickets, since it seems to change with every mega release. Now, you have to understand; when I say ‘the local movie theatre,’ I mean ‘the only movie theatre.’ Fort Bragg has a population of approximately 7,000. I remember when we had one stoplight and the movie theatre had two screens. Now we have a few stoplights, and the movie theatre has four screens, but, still, we are a very small town. I lay this out for you so you understand why I often miss new releases, because I would have to drive an hour or so to get to another movie theatre that might have different offerings. And I lay this out for you, also, so you can understand how devastated I was by what I found on the schedule.
‘Starting July 15,’ it informed me. ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.‘ My eye skipped ahead to the next part of the notice, about the midnight show and tickets being on sale in advance at the box office, and I made a note to drive into town and pick some up, before my eye danced back and saw…
Let me explain something to you, about me and 3D movies: I cannot watch them. What I see, glasses or not, is a series of blurred, pixellated images that refuse to match up and give me a mighty impressive headache. That’s because I have lost most of the vision in my right eye and effectively see with my left only. Going to the movies causes eye strain, so I often decide to cover my right eye entirely (I slip my eyepatch on in the darkness of the theatre, because I do not like to attract attention with my one-eyed freakishness, nor do I enjoy endless pirate jokes, both of which occur when I wear it in public). Thus, at the movies, I effectively have monocular vision. Monocular vision and 3D movies do not play well together. Monocular vision and 3D anything do not play well together.
For that matter, there are a lot of things that do not play well with 3D movies; some people can’t watch them for other neurological and visual (and sometimes both) reasons. My fellow contributor Emily gets vicious migraines when she watches them, for instance, and she is far from the only person who reports this problem. 3D movies are fundamentally inaccessible to a section of the population. A section of the population that is a lot larger than I thought it was, as I learned when I took to Twitter to whine register my protest about this situation. Elon James pointed out that increasingly, in urban areas where you can choose between a mixture of theatres, the best theatres get the 3D versions, and the crappy theatres get the regular ones. So if you can’t watch 3D movies, you are forced to go to a shitty theatre if you want to see releases on the big screen.
I got a flood of responses there and in other places when I asked who was facing accessibility issues that would prevent attendance at the Harry Potter premiere. The issue isn’t just 3D; there are also problems with captions, with mobility-related disabilities that theatres don’t accommodate, for people who need to stand or jiggle or have the lights on or yes talk during the movie. Which is why some movie theatres actually have disability-friendly screenings with adjustments to accommodate, say, autistic children who really don’t want to see a VERY LOUD MOVIE in the dark and would prefer a more mellow, toned-down environment. Movie theatre accessibility in general is a big problem, and it’s particularly acute when you are talking about a major cinematic release.
It’s hard to explain how upsetting inaccessibility is to people who haven’t experienced it. The response to issues like this is often ‘well, it’s just a movie. It’s not a big deal.’ Even people who get that accessibility of public spaces, like post offices and banks, is an issue, may not see how entertainment venues should be accessible. I guess people with disabilities don’t need to be entertained, eh? Since we’re all so busy being miserable and disabled that we wouldn’t want to take two hours of that time to go watch a movie. Chill at a live theatre production. Attend a concert, even.
But, the thing is, I’ve seen every Harry Potter movie in the theatre. I am not a hardcore Harry Potter geek, by any means, but I like the franchise and there’s some juicy stuff for analysis in there that I enjoy. I’ve tried to make a habit of attending the midnight shows and it is hard to articulate that chill that runs down your spine when the previews finally end and the opening credits begin and there’s this momentary hush before the theatre just explodes with cheers and excitement. Everyone is so excited. And they applaud and then they simmer down as the opening scene begins and I remember why I like to see movies in the theatre as the film unrolls.
Because this is truly a participatory, group experience. Everyone is united in one place for a common purpose, which, yes, is to be entertained. We laugh and gasp and scream together. There’s always that one loud person who makes the occasional acerbic comment, which would normally piss me off, because, yes, I am not a fan of Noise During Movies, but somehow it seems acceptable here, and the entire theatre bursts into laughter. It’s fun. It’s a cooperative endeavor. My experience of the film is enriched by seeing it in the theatre and I feel like part of a community, with the kids who grew up with this franchise and the adults who got into it and everyone between, even the long-suffering parents dragged to the midnight show and thanking their stars it’s almost over. For a couple of hours, the barriers between us as people don’t matter, because we are united as viewers and consumers of pop culture. And we all applaud at the end and sometimes people dance in the aisles and a good time is had by all.
And that is a uniquely midnight show experience. That is not something I can replicate at other showings, or when the movie comes out on DVD. I am not quite enough of a superfan to want to drive to the closest location with a 2D showing. And thanks to the 3D fad, this is a growing problem. I don’t understand the benefits of 3D movies because I can’t view them. Maybe they really are just that amazing, but all I think about when I see 3D showings like this one is that I am being deprived of an experience and I really don’t have to be, because there’s a way to satisfy the thirst for 3D and accommodate people who can’t watch 3D movies.
Our theatre has, on occasion, had the same film on two screens. Many theatres, actually, do this. This very film is going to be playing on two screens, as a matter of fact, as a kindly box office staffer informed me when I called to confirm the details of the matter. They could have resolved this particular accessibility problem by having two midnight shows (double the profits!). But apparently, they chose not to.
Most of the time, my vision is not disabling. I still qualify to drive in California (a thought that may disturb some of you although I have a spotless driving record. Except that one speeding ticket. Oh and that other one. But other than that, really, spotless.). I’ve never gotten those Magic Eye books and sometimes I do things that other people find humorous like dropping plates on the floor because I have no depth perception and think the tabletop is somewhere it actually isn’t, but I am better about that, these days, unless someone moves a piece of furniture, in which case all bets are off. I very rarely, in other words, run into situations where I am disabled by my own vision, although my vision is definitely different from that of people around me. But situations like this, where society disables me by doing shifty things, well, these happen a lot.
Now, I could go to the theatre and see the regular version of the film when it does run, at 3:45 daily. I could. And I could write about it, and we could all have a delicious conversation about what it all means. But, the thing is, I’m kind of pissed off right now, and I’m kind of bitter, and I’m kind of grumpy, and I think that’s going to taint how I view this film, because it will forever be coloured, for me, by the knowledge that my movie theatre chose to disable me.