Game, sssh! and match to the chatters

From the Wimbledon stands to a Texas cinema, the need for silence is absolute, but how do we decide what calls for quiet and what needs noise? David Stubbs finds out

At the Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin, Texas, they're cracking down on noise. If you talk, tweet or text during any of their movies, you will, and they mean will, be ejected. Their pre-movie ad gleefully incorporates an indignant message left on their answerphone from a patron who found herself ordered from the cinema for texting during a show. As the text pest blusters away in protest at what she sees as an infringement of her right not to pay attention, it is hard not to punch the air that at last, the ranks of the anti-social and inconsiderate are getting their comeuppance.

Mobiles have certainly added a whole new dimension to the blight of noise during public performances – Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, master of the Queen's music, has called for those whose phones go off during concerts to be fined and the proceeds given to the Musicians' Benevolent Fund. But it's not just phones that are the problem. It's the out-loud talkers, who cut across the demographic range from rowdy yoofs to foghorn-voiced middle-class greybeards unable to resist expressing themselves via speech balloon rather than thought cloud.

Inconsiderate, anti-social. And yet, perhaps the problem isn't the noise but the expectation of silence. When John Cage wrote his piece "4'33"", his point was that the condition of "silence" is actually impossible to achieve and maybe something similar should be conceded with public performances.

Take the so-called "silent" era of movies. In the cinemas, it was anything but. The cranking of the machinery, the running commentary, the accompanying music and the chatty audiences themselves made for a cheerfully noisy experience.

Take also the Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur, India, whose meringue-shaped auditorium is among the biggest in the world. It's an ear-opening experience. During the show you'll see and hear rows of young mothers with babies screaming away, men taking and receiving calls on mobiles and a permanently high level of chit-chat. Who could "shush" in these surroundings? It would be anti-social to do so. Inconsiderate, even. Once you accept that this is the norm, you can relax, your enjoyment and ability to follow the film unimpeded.

I've been shushed at twice at public performances – both times at rock concerts including a show at the Tate Modern by the once incredibly noisy Throbbing Gristle. Sitting in the upper tiers of Arsenal's Emirates stadium recently, I was dismayed to find below me silent spectators whose presence at a football match was mystifying. Stand up and bellow, as is a football fan's wont, and they would crane round and stare quizzically at you.

In other sports, the same expectation of silence is similar to that required by cinema-goers – as Andy Murray throws to serve at Wimbledon this week, or as Rory McIlroy putted to win the US Open or in snooker, or darts, key moments are watched in silence. The fear is that a single yelp might put them off their stroke. Suppose, however, there was a constant thrum of noise, like in football – would that be a distraction, if it was simply the norm?

It is proper that there should be "quiet zones" in this life, the possibility of uninvaded peace and contemplation. It is good that the Alamo offers the choice that it does. Maybe it's also worth examining the value, the cultural origin, of the expectation of silence at public performances. Is it merely about consideration, or is there a bourgeois aspect to it? A means for certain people to distinguish themselves from the boors, the riff-raff, the culturally different?

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?