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Militancy at the movies - Joel Hall

For me, going to the movies has always been a luxury I am willing to pay for.

Despite the skyrocketing cost of tickets, popcorn, and snacks with no nutritional value, I have always welcomed a trip to the movies as a respite from the harsh realities of daily life.

Whenever I pay my $9.50 and park myself into one of the oversized viewing chairs, whatever deadline or difficult situation that has me frazzled any particular week, seems to fade away into obscurity under the glow of the projection screen. Race, politics, and all the touchy topics I deal with on a regular basis are of no importance, and for a few hours, I'm just anybody else jumping at the whir of a chainsaw or laughing at an off-color joke.

Lately, however, going to the movies is not the same carefree experience that it once was. The place I once considered to be a Shangri-La of escapism has slowly been encroached upon by the heel of fascism. A trip last month to my local movie theater really put things into perspective for me. It was Valentine's Day, and like all good guys with girlfriends, I took mine out to dinner and a movie.

The movie was "The Wolfman," staring Benicio Del Toro. In my mind, it wasn't my first choice for a romantic movie, given the blood, silver bullets, and men getting torn limb from limb by a savage, mythical beast and all. On Valentine's Day, however, baby gets what baby wants, and I wanted that night to be as romantic as possible.

When I entered the theater, however, I immediately noticed a lot more rope -- not the kind made out of licorice, but the kind that restricts your movement and tells you where to go, kind of like at the bank or at the airport before you go through the metal detector. At every cordoned-off checkpoint, there was an angry-looking man with a suit, tie, and an earpiece, checking the ticket I just paid for, to ensure authenticity for the umpteenth time.

After getting through the various checkpoints, I finally made it to my seat and got comfortable with my girlfriend. Just as the lights were beginning to dim and the previews were beginning to start, two guys in suits begin shinning flashlights on everybody and demanding to see their ticket stubs.

Of course, the management was looking for some punk kids who had probably paid to go see one movie and had screen-hopped into another. However, this was the most aggressive I had ever seen movie staff on the hunt. I felt like one of the Zeppelin passengers in the scene from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," when Indiana Jones throws the Nazi solider out of the aircraft and threatens passengers unable to present their ticket with the same fate. After having my ticket checked every 10 feet from time I purchased it, I literally had to present my ticket once again to a man in a suit with a flashlight.

I've been to other movie theaters since then, and I have noticed a similar trend of increased security measures, mostly to deal with teenagers who screen-jump or loiter. As much as I understand the desire to keep petty crimes from happening, the movies shouldn't become as stressful as going to the airport. Teenagers have been loitering and not paying for movies since the movie business began, but there are ways to deal with the problem without making it difficult for the people who paid for their movie.

Within the last few years, The Mall at Stonecrest recently placed limits on unaccompanied youths. Some theaters are already starting to do this. Enforcing policies like this would stop a lot of petty crime before it happens and would help the movie theaters from becoming daycare centers for big kids.

The movies are a great place to go, and if operators use more finesse, rather than strong arm tactics to deal with young people, they will continue to be that way.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.