Camera phones have been interfering with sight lines at concerts for years. Why, it was way back in 2010 that legendary opponents of contemporary culture the Black Crowes took an aesthetic stand against the usage of such technology, banning cameras at their own shows. Said singer Chris Robinson: “I personally think you should be too high to operate a machine at our concerts.” But progress has pushed aside such quaint notions. Smart phones are easy to operate no matter how high one might happen to be. The introduction and subsequent ubiquity of social networks such as Twitter, Vine, and (especially) Instagram have only made camera-phone usage at concerts more prevalent (and by extension, more annoying). Recently, though, bands have increasingly made requests of their audiences to cut it the fuck out.
Over the last year everyone from Jack White to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Prince to Savages to Bjork have “politely” demanded that their fans have some respect, and instead of taking pictures, just enjoy the show. Today, Gawker reported on another indie act, She & Him, laying down such guidelines. Per a flyer posted at last week’s Toronto Urban Roots Fest:
At the request of Matt & Zooey, we ask that people not use their cell phones to take pictures and video, but instead enjoy the show they have put together in 3D.
Such requirements shouldn’t come as a total surprise; Matt “M.” Ward made similar ones of his fans last year. And they’re not even unreasonable — a flotilla of cell phones can be kind of distracting even to other audience members who are engaging in the very same practice (I can’t tell you how many almost-cool Instagram pics I’ve had sacrifice because my camera caught too many other cameras and not enough of the action on stage).
Even so, though, the rules as written never fail to come off kinda patronizing and passive-agressive — there’s a prevalent air of condescension and disconnection. The phrasing used in the She & Him note sort of implies that camera-phone users have to be gently taught how to properly experience live music. Taking another tack, Savages said, “WE BELIEVE THAT THE USE OF PHONES TO FILM AND TAKE PICTURES DURING A GIG PREVENTS ALL OF US FROM TOTALLY IMMERSING OURSELVES/ LET’S MAKE THIS EVENING SPECIAL/ SILENCE YOUR PHONES.” Or, for another example, Yeah Yeah Yeahs asked, “PLEASE DO NOT WATCH THE SHOW THROUGH A SCREEN ON YOUR SMART DEVICE/CAMERA. PUT THAT SHIT AWAY as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen and Brian.” The former is precious and weirdly timid (“silence your phones”?). The latter is bossy and obnoxious. Most importantly, none address the fact that for many fans, documenting an event on Instagram or Facebook is a crucial element of the total experience. Each assumes that the audience as a whole will be more rewarded if that whole audience is forbade from these activities (activities that are inherently creative).
None of this is to say camera phones don’t create a distraction at concerts. But they’re part of the show, a way in which the audience expresses enthusiasm. Sort of like singing along. Sort of like applause.