Two stories this week feed into the narrative of General Ongoing Awfulness. At first glance they don't seem connected, but just add a columnist who doesn't think he could get a full column out of either one, and bingo! Strange connections emerge.
Story #1: The Guthrie will permit tweeting during performances of an upcoming play; they'll be in a special Tweeting Loggia. Standard grumpy reaction: I don't have a smartphone. Can I bring in a cage of messenger pigeons? It's another sign of the decline of Everything, the intrusion of nattering trivialities into the temple of art, proof that our gadget-addled fidgety moderns cannot spend more than 90 seconds without stabbing their glowing rectangles, lest they twitch and sweat because they haven't shared something.
All true, but you say it like it's a bad thing.
While the ability to focus is a good thing, and hold on I just got an alert -- go on, I'm listening -- no, it's just a picture of a cake someone took in Costa Rica -- these devices do take you out of the moment, really. Theater depends on a communal delusion, I don't know if I follow this person, it's just all cakes -- I'm sorry, OK, what were you saying?
Right. Attention spans, social media, whatever -- there's absolutely no point in telling anyone you're at the Guthrie watching an amazing performance #TyroneFTW! and what's more, no one cares. If this is encouraged, the next step will be dropping a big blue Facebook "Like" button after every scene and encouraging people to throw tennis balls at it.
Don't we want people to turn off their devices? Surely you've seen those clever little spots in the movie theater imploring you to shut up while the movie is running, because a $350 million artistic project probably doesn't need you shouting, THOR, YOU JUST GOT TOLD! when Iron Man gets off a quip.
It's an old problem. When Al Jolson ushered in the era of talkies by saying, "Wait a minute, wait a minute," someone in the audience said, "Hurry it up, I got someplace to be." In Shakespeare's time, the groundlings no doubt chattered amongst themselves -- Hey, I'm sorry, I was out in the privy, I missed the answer to that "to be or not to be" question. What was it?
But here's the clever part: The theater is segregating the tweeters into a stall of their own. Now hold that thought, while we move to:
Story #2. St. Paul candy store is busted for selling confections that appear to be cigarettes, except they're made of sugar and cornstarch, cannot be lit, cannot be inhaled and contain no tobacco. Otherwise, yes, they fall under the category of Disapproved Cylinders.
You might be surprised to learn they're banned; you'd think the state would mandate that the price go up to eight bucks a box and take half of it in taxes. If that's still too tempting, require the candy to be coated with syrup of Ipecac, so kids will throw up immediately upon trying them. Just like the real thing!
Or we could relax. I enjoy a cigar now and then, but it has nothing to do with the childhood purchase of a pink tube of malleable gum. We used to buy Snaps, which came in a box that made a hellacious razzing racket if you blew through one end; this did not make anyone pursue a career as a professional vuvuzela player.
The effective power of the anti-smoking campaigns reminds me of the great Cooper theater, a Cinerama palace out on Hwy. 12 -- gone for many years, but if it were facing destruction today, every "Mad Men" fan in town would form a human chain to face down the bulldozers. It had smoking lounges on the side. In the theater. If you wanted to fire up a Lark in the middle of a movie, you strolled to the Tobacco Platform so you could readjust your blood chemistry to the desired nicotine level without missing the show. This was progress. It was a new era in comfort: Never miss a minute of the movie while smoking.
So now tweeting during a show is something we have to live with and must accommodate with a special section. Meaning: Tweeting is smoking.
Flash ahead to 2024 AD: No tweeting within 20 feet of the theater entrance. I believe that's the plan. Well played.
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