Remember the Alamo

One of the things I love about moving to Austin is the Alamo Drafthouse. After seeing a movie there, you really can’t go back to a regular theater. The movie I wanted to see last weekend was sold out, so I did have to go back to a regular theater. Big mistake.

The movie was a mild PG-13. Apparently, that means you should bring your 2 or 3-year-old and let him improvise sound effects and let him continuously and loudly ask questions. After about an hour and a half of it, nearing the end of the movie, a Simpsons-inspired squeaky voiced teen usher finally approached the mother. The mother in turn chewed his head off and “wasn’t going anywhere.” A security guard finally moved in to make sure the remaining ten minutes were somewhat enjoyable.

Contrast that with the attitude at the Alamo Drafthouse. They have a zero-tolerance policy since 1997. And trust me, they mean business. And they stick to it.

Tim League, the company’s founder, just posted this in response to a customer complaint voicemail:

When we adopted our strict no talking policy back in 1997 we knew we were going to alienate some of our patrons. That was the plan. If you can’t change your behavior and be quiet (or unilluminated) during a movie, then we don’t want you at our venue. Follow our rules, or get the hell out and don’t come back until you can.

But he didn’t leave it at that. He turned the actual voicemail into the latest “Don’t Talk or Text” PSA and posted it on YouTube. The video just went viral with nearly 500,000 views in just four short days (nsfw).

The policy is part of their brand. That is why people love going to the Alamo. Sure, there are countless stories of consumers posting creative videos exposing the indecent side of business (United Breaks Guitars being the most famous example). But how many companies would feel comfortable enough to expose indecent customers?

It’s gutsy. But it fits the brand. It’s what makes the Alamo the Alamo. Reactions have been overwhelmingly and extremely positive.

That made me wonder… are there any classical music organizations that would feel comfortable enough to do this?

And granted feelings about the arts are subjective, and not objective like a strict don’t-text policy, but would an orchestra ever consider putting up a voicemail complaint about a, let’s just say ‘modern,’ piece and unapologetically stand by their decision to perform it?

I doubt it.

And to be honest, I’m not even sure I would have the guts to do it. We spend a lot of time apologizing in the arts. But sometimes, sticking to what you believe in pays off. Just ask the Alamo.

Do you have any examples of artists or arts organizations taking a stance? What would you do?

8 thoughts on “Remember the Alamo”

  1. The situation is more complicated than simply sticking to one’s guns. The obnoxious texter was doing something that most everyone doesn’t like, and her juvenile rant only affirmed their dislike. Ergo, taking a firm stand against it is appealing to the overwhelming majority of the audience. Doing the same for a modern classical piece will work as well IF the piece is as universally loved as the talking/texting ban probably is. Who really expects that to be the case?

    • Exactly. Yes, there is a big difference between the objective breaking of rules, and the subjective opinions about a piece of art.

      But I was also thinking in the lines of Colin Firth’s criticism of edits in the King’s Speech for the US general population version. Or in the lines of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in my Belly” at the Smithsonian.

    • The interesting thing about that though, is that the reaction to her outburst was much more varied. The strict silence at classical music concerts and theater performances is often time mentioned as one element in the stuffiness of the performing arts. Yet, it seems to be respected at the movies!

      • I was not all that impressed by the Alamo Drafthouse story. They sound utterly full of themselves. If I want the rules and protocol and a stultifying etiquette learning curve before I’m allowed to enjoy a presentation, I’ll go to the symphony!

        I do get annoyed by disruptions from the audience while I’m trying to watch or listen to something. But this is going beyond ensuring the rest of the audience can enjoy the movie. This is throwing red meat out to that audience.

        • Yes, it’s snobbery and perhaps they’re full of themselves. But there is no mistaking. You know what you are going to get.

          And this message wasn’t put out there to try to change the behavior of movie disruptors. It was really a message to fortify their brand to supporters.

          It reminds me a bit of the Mac vs. PC commercials. Sure, it makes the Mac fans seem douchy. But you know what? Honey badger don’t care.

          • You’re absolutely right. It’s about helping movie watchers find the place where they’d most like to watch a movie. It is product information, which greases the wheels of economic decision-making. I think Alamo Drafthouse ought to send that angry customer some Loews gift passes or something, just in thanks for all she’s done to help them in their branding.

            And as long as this is just one sort of movie house, there is not a problem. If all movie houses started acting this way (which they won’t), then you’d start to alienate audiences.

            P.S., I call Beatrice honey badger when she’s inconsolable.

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