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Clapping at the Movie Theatre (CATMT)

Nov 27, 2017

Written by Jared Sargent

There is a certain phenomenon that I feel impelled to remark on. It occurs in the dark, where no one can see who started it, and amongst strangers, so one can be assured there is no predetermined or even singular motivation at play save for 'monkey see, monkey do'. I find it confusing at best, and foolish at worst. 

I am talking, of course, about CATMT (Clapping At The Movie Theatre)

Whenever this comes up, my reaction is invariably the same question: why?! This seems like bizarre behaviour. As far as I am aware, applause, or ‘showing approval or praise by clapping,’ is used to signal to an individual or group that their work or message is agreeable, and to be celebrated.

Citizen Kane Clapping

Applauding a stage performance signals actors and stage crew, for example. Cheering for a band or a sports team, clapping after a speech or at a rally, all of these signal to the subject that we are in agreement. At fireworks displays we alert the pyrotechnic engineers that they have, in fact, succeeded in blowing our collective socks off.

When we clap at a movie, however, all we are doing is clapping in the dark at what Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes might call "an inanimate FUCKING object!"

Inanimate Object

Is this an attempt at a bonding experience between the two-hundred-something strangers who want to communicate their shared enjoyment of the film? If so, I would definitely advise against it, since it assumes everyone in the theatre agrees--unlikely.

For the same reason, I have heard it argued that one might applaud at a midnight screening of a particular favorite film. Certainly this occurs regularly, though I would disagree that it is acceptable, instead pointing to the likelihood of attendees having consumed something which might impede their feelings of embarrassment.

Plus this would be even more redundant; we know you like the movie, that’s why you’ve paid to see it again.

Clapping on Airplane

Another related, though different, phenomenon is CWTPL (Clapping When The Plane Lands). The issue with CWTPL, in my opinion, is that it is an overreaction to the successful performance of an essential element of the pilot’s job. A simple ‘thank you’ upon exiting the aircraft seems sufficient when the captain and crew have not provided any service above or beyond what is expected with purchase of a ticket.

A possible exception may be if the motivation is excitement upon arrival at one’s destination; a bachelorette party arriving in Vegas, say, or a small plane touching down in the tropics after multiple delays. These could be considered logical. 

Like CWTPL, CATMT also has an exception: if one is attending a screening of the film at which members of the cast or crew will be present, then applause is certainly warranted. Clap away. You may even see someone stand, turn, and acknowledge the crowd! This is applause functioning as we as a society agree it should. Look at us go.

The More You Know

So, Vertical Viewers, I have thus far assumed none of you to be sufferers of this Gonorrhea of the Cinema, presuming you are wise enough to keep the clap where it belongs. 

I have taken several informal polls of laughably small sample sizes, and received some mixed responses, but I still feel safely in the majority in this regard.

Am I a curmudgeon? Am I wrong? Do you have a different opinion? Tell me, what do you think? Let me know how YOU feel about CATMT in comments below.


Keep it Vertical kids!