Cinema Advertising? I’m offended!

I’m not a major cinema-goer these days. But I still go around three or four times a year.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to go weekly to a cinema in Bloxwich, north Walsall, for the Saturday Morning Kids Club. Whether this was a proper cinema or a film club in a community hall, I can’t recall. I left Bloxwich when I was seven years old.

But that meant I got to go to the big cinema – the now long-demolished ABC in Walsall town centre – locally known as the fleapit, which I first went to, if my memory serves me correctly, to see Star Wars. More recently, I used to go weekly a few years back. I would drop my eldest son of at a youth group on a Sunday night, go and watch a film, and then go and pick him up afterwards.

These days it is just an occasional treat. This, more than anything, is due to the pressure of time, more than anything, but there is also a reluctance to pay so much money for a 90-minute entertainment experience in what are often uncomfortable seats, with plenty of unwanted distractions from the rattle of sweet packaging to the munching of popcorn; from the light (and sound) of people’s mobile phones to the “excuse me, I want to go to the toilet” interruptions.

Still, I do like to go from time to time. This year I’ve seen Home and Cinderella with my niece; and in the coming days I was going to see Suffragette and James Bond’s Spectre with my wife. But now I’m thinking again. I’ll probably wait for them to come out on DVD or be shown on the telly.

The reason? I’ve been offended.

Offence is the new taboo. We are told by the liberal elite (yes, I know, I’ve been told off for using that phrase before) that nobody has a right not to be offended. That’s true, to an extent. But the other side of the coin is surely that nobody should feel that they have the right to cause offence.

The three largest UK cinema chains, Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, through their sales-house Digital Cinema Media (DCM), banned a 60-second advert from the Church of England featuring a case of voices reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

The reason for the ban? Some people may find it “offensive.”

We’re not told who these people are, but we are given a clue in the statement issued by DCM where they refer to “those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith.”

This is intriguing. What faith group finds the Lord’s Prayer offensive? Not the Muslims I know; nor the Jews, nor the Hindu community and certainly not the Sikhs. And not even those that I know – people of other faiths have been posting on social media this weekend saying that it is absurd to think they would be offended by the Lord’s Prayer.

Which brings us to the second part of DCM’s statement: “and indeed of no faith.”

I think that they may be onto something here. The only group that I have seen support DCM is the National Secular Society. Its president, Terry Sanderson, saying: “The Church of England is arrogant to imagine it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience.”

Er, I’m sorry, Terry. But isn’t that how advertising works?

Having said that, I half agree with you. I don’t think cinema is the place for advertising of any kind, other than trailers for up-coming releases. If I book a ticket for a 7.00 pm train, I will get a partial refund if it is 30 minutes late. So why do cinemas think they can get away with selling tickets for a 7.00 pm film that doesn’t begin until 7.30 pm because they want to fit a load of adverts in?

But, the fact is that they do sell advertising. And if they are going to sell advertising they should not discriminate on the grounds of religion (to do so is actually contrary to the Equality Act 2010.

But let’s go back to Sanderson’s statement that it is “arrogant” for the C of E to “foist its opinions on a captive audience.” Surely this can’t be the same Terry Sanderson who was so enamoured with the “atheist bus” advertising campaign organised by the British Humanist Association?

“Congratulations to Ariane Sherine, Richard Dawkins and the BHA and all concerned with the atheist bus slogan campaign,” he said at the time. “. . . it has really taken off and has far exceeded expectations. It is hoped that the campaign can now be rolled out around the country – so even if you don’t live in London, you might still see the slogan on a mode of transport near you in the new year.”

He continued: “It seems atheists have suddenly decided that they want to make themselves heard.

Of course, the Christians — who don’t take kindly to being contradicted — were not happy with all this. They have been fazed by the overwhelming success of the bus poster enterprise. . . they have tried to make out that it was all a flash in the pan, a fad and fashion that would fade away. It is not quite so easy for them to be so dismissive now that there are more large-scale expressions from the great non-believing constituency in this country.”

So, it’s alright for people to foist their opinions on people, if the opinion in question is one that Terry Sanderson agrees with.

But, then again, the C of E’s advert wasn’t an expression of opinion at all. It was the Lord’s Prayer, with an invitation to people to “just pray”. It didn’t denigrate people of other faith or people of no faith. It was an expression of the Christian faith with a simple, gentle, invitation.

The atheist bus campaign, in contrast, was an abrupt attack on other people’s beliefs: “THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.”

Why does Terry Sanderson feel that it is okay for him and his co-believers to advertise their faith; but not okay for the Archbishop of Canterbury and his co-believers to advertise theirs?

Is this the group that the cinema chains want to avoid offending? If so, they need not worry, because – as Terry Sanderson has himself said on many occasions – “There is no right not to be offended”. Or does Mr Sanderson think that this doesn’t apply when it is the church that is being asked not to offend?

The cinema companies should make a decision to either accept advertising or not to accept advertising. If they do accept advertising (which they do) then they should not discriminate against groups on the basis of religion – something that certain B&B owners and bakers know all too well.