The social contract and cinema

Hobbs, Rousseau, the social contract and Cinema

I was at the cinema last weekend, and while blissfully enjoying myself and trying to not be interrupted by people using their mobile phones, a pet hate of mine, I ended up thinking about the parallels that can be found between cinema use, and one of the classic political theories most people should have an idea of the concept, but don’t: the social contract.

The notion of the social contract addresses the overarching question of why governments have legitimacy over our lives. In summary we, as humans, have given our sovereignty/ freedoms to the state, and in return we receive the protection of the state from humanities natural desire to kill everything. It’s a theory that underpins the very essence of society by giving the state the ability to make decisions and laws on our behalf and punish those who break said laws. This whole idea came about through a period in the 18th century called ‘the age of enlightenment’. You know what I also find enlightening? A mobile phone screen on full brightness two rows down from me when I’m trying to watch a film in the cinema.

When we enter a cinema, we enter what I call, the cineocial contract: we as a singular people would seldom be able the affordance of viewing a film with an entire cinema screen to ourselves. Therefore as a society of film lovers, we pool our freedoms to the cinema in order for all of us to enjoy the film how it was supposed to be shown. But due to the number of people viewing at any time, we must abide by certain rules that benefit everyone as a whole. You won’t find people talking during the film, anyone having a mid film rave, and something you’d be reminded of at the beginning of every film, NO MOBILE PHONES to insure you don’t get distracted by a sea of people texting or hearing the song of the mobile phones people over a dramatic point within the film. The idea of these rules is that we as a people can enjoy the film as a collective, and not as individual people.

Now, by this point you should be thinking to yourself ‘but what happens to a government/ cinema that doesn’t enforce its rules or creates poor rules. After all, I’ve actually never seen anyone kicked out for using a mobile phone, even when someone I know complains about it who instead simply got their ticket price returned (funny that you’ll certainly feel the wraith of cinema employees when you sit in the ‘vip’ seats with standard tickets). Actually, when have you been in a cinema and seen anyone kicked out?

This brings into question the legitimacy issue within the social contract. If I know of a particular cinema that is full of barking dogs on their mobile phones while also smoking that charges £5 over the normal ticket price, I will remove myself from that cinema. Also removing myself from the ‘cineocial contract’ because I don’t find that cinema a legitimate provider of rules or punishments for breaking them.

But what if that was the only cinema in town, and you have an unhealthy film habit? You have four options. You move to a new area that has a better provisions; you seek to overthrow the cinema by creating a new local cinema, or by positioning yourself into cinema management; or you also disobey the rules and face the wrath of the cinema. All but one of these put you in contest with the current cinema. To explain your options again: You could become a migrant, and seek life in a new cinema (migrate);  you could create a new cinema, but the current one could uses its pre-exiting wealth to run you out of business (civil war); you could attempt to join the system but the current management may seek to ruin your reputation in order to secure power and their current rules (creating a joining/creating political party or seeking election); or you can break the rules and the cinema will use its power to ensure you are punished (justice). However, if the cinema has lost the legitimacy of all its patrons it will be easier for you to take up competition with the state.

This demonstrates the concept the social contract is only viable when the state/cinema has enough support to ensure it can enforce its rule/power or domination of the cinema screen to choose to go to. What I’ve tried to explain is why we as a people will seek to give our freedom to a higher authority to ensure a better viewing pleasure for everyone and the protection from rule breakers. But at the same time, if we don’t receive the projection promised, this will lead to a lack of legitimacy in the cinema chain and create viable alternatives. Real life examples can be seen in the Arab spring, with populations showing their dissatisfaction of how their governmental systems are conducting the social contract and therefore seeking to replace the government.

Most of all, what I really want to convey here, as a direct message to Didsbury Cineworld, by using political theory of what can happen if they don’t stop little shits on their mobile phones.