The first film that I can remember paying for with my own money that I walked out of was The Breakfast Club. I can even tell you the scene where I walked out–it was when the kid is talking about attempting suicide with a flare gun. *
Now, I don’t want to get into a debate about the quality of the film, nor do I want to write a post bashing John Hughes (strike that, I do want to write a post bashing John Hughes, but I’ll restrain myself) I want to talk about the experience of walking out of the theater.
A little background–the 1980’s were not a good time for me. Due to a string of circumstances that were entirely of my own making, I was homeless for a while at the start of the decade. I was in and out of a couple of different programs for mental illness, misdiagnosed several times, given several different types of medication, none of which helped to manage what was actually wrong with me.
By 1985, when The Breakfast Club was released, I was self-supporting, but just barely. I was working temp jobs, most physical labor and most short term. My two great passions have always been music and movies, and it was hard to indulge either when I was usually able to pay for either food or rent, but not both.
Going to the movies represented a significant investment for me in those days. It wasn’t something that I could do often. To be honest, I never should have gone to The Breakfast Club. I do not have what you humans call “a sense of humor”. If I had seen the trailers or other promotional material, I would have known that this was not a film for me.
However, I went to see it solely on the recommendation of a young woman with whom I worked at the Southern Comfort bottling plant. We had talked about movies and she said that The Breakfast Club was (paraphrasing here) “like, the bestest movie evah!!” (Sadly, taking her cinematic advice was neither the first nor the worst mistake that I have made while under the influence of a well-upholstered torso.)
In any event, I went, by myself, by bus, to an evening showing since I was working days. I can recall realizing with a sick sense of horror just what exactly I had just spent my hard-earned money on. I had a rare evening on which I could free up enough funds to go to a theater and I had chosen this?
My first emotion was anger, anger at myself. I had given myself something that was spoiled, and it was own damned fault. I could have been seeing something that I really would have enjoyed, but I had let my judgement be clouded by someone that I scarcely knew, just because she was pretty. (For what it’s worth, I wasn’t mad at her–she’d given me an honest opinion.)
Then I got angry at the filmmakers. With all the power and magic that the art of film allows, they had chosen to recreate the most hateful parts of high-school and then pretend that suffering was funny? Very little makes me as upset as gratuitous cruelty, and the people that I saw on the screen were being ugly simply for ugliness’ sake.
I remember looking at my watch (one of those cheap LCD ones with a button that would make the face light up) and thinking I have to endure another hour of this.
That’s when it hit me. No, I don’t.
I had the power. All of the wealth and prestige of Hollywood, all of the financial might of the theater chain–none of that could make me watch a movie that I didn’t want to see.
I know, it sounds both obvious and puerile when I put it like that, but it was an epiphany at the time. They had my money (at the time my social anxiety was far too great for me to even try to get my money back from a manager) but they couldn’t take my time and my attention. That was mine, to give as I chose.
It was about then that the scene I referenced above came around (Oh boy, we’ve tormented this child to the point where he wants to take his own life, hardy-har-har!) and I stood up and walked out of the theater. Just like that.
The lesson that I carried with me from that moment into my journey as an author is that I, as an artist, have the power to get inside my readers heads and hearts–but only with their permission!
If you read my work you are inviting me into your home. I am a guest in your e-reader or sitting on your bedside table, and it behooves me to be on my best behavior. Because you can kick me out any time you want to. You can put down my book and never pick it up again, just like that. You don’t owe me your time and attention, I have to earn it.
It doesn’t matter if ten people buy my book, or ten million–every reader has the choice to keep reading or not. Obviously I am happy when people buy my work, but I don’t write to be bought, I write to be read.
I have to remember to treat my readers the gracious hosts that they are. They didn’t have to take the journey through my book with me, they chose to. That’s something I hope I never forget.
*Before you ask, yes I have sat through the entire film since then, and no, I don’t think it got any better. I hated the ending, I thought it was saccharine and unbelievable.