Watching a Movie with 10,000 of My Favorite People

This past week, we were in Knoxville, TN for Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals.  DI is a program that teaches creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and public performance to children.

On Friday night, they were premiering James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge 3-D documentary out in an open field.  They were targeting the right group of people.  The place was packed.  It was an interesting opportunity to observe human behavior, particularly when it comes to crowds.

We arrived about 30 minutes early to see a line disappearing out of sight.  We had come from a different direction and paused, wondering whether to walk to the end of that thick line or not.  We weren’t sure there was a safe place to stand as the line snaked down to a busy street.  We decided that maybe we’d just stand there and wait, not in line at all.

Plenty of other people were doing the same and still more were coming from the same direction as us.  Before long, a new line had branched off in the direction we had come from.  The leaders of this new line were sort of de facto merged into the existing line.  With the sheer number of people present, I didn’t find this to be a problem.  The new line was nearly as long as the original and there simply wasn’t room for all those people to trek past the first line to find its end.

A man in the original line, near the point of the merge, found it quite objectionable.  I caught his raised voice berating the family near him: “The line goes back there!  You need to go back there.  Fine.  Go ahead.  What a great example you are setting.”

I looked at the family, intrigued.  They weren’t moving to follow his orders and didn’t look particularly put out or embarrassed by his rant.  They just stood there.  On the one hand, he was technically right.  It wasn’t fair that they were closer to the gate than all those people farther back in the line.  On the other hand, there were already at least a hundred people lined up behind them.  For them to move would not resolve the man’s problem; it’d just change which people were benefiting from the split line.

When the gate finally opened, a woman started handing out pins to the kids.  As he walked by, he asked for one, actually, sort of demanded one.  She remarked with a wry, humorous rebuke, “Wow, you must be one of the University participants.  Your voice sure is low.”  He indignantly muttered he planned to give it away.  I couldn’t help but think that her non-confrontational rebuke of him had been considerably more effective than his attempted guilt trip of the others.  And also illustrated that any time we get up on our high horse, we are quite likely to be knocked off it.

We merged with the two lines shortly behind him but made it to the viewing area first, since he realized he had left his family behind and had to look for them.  We quickly grabbed seats on the edge of the front row of seats while people with blankets filled up the area in front of us.  It was a madhouse.  There had to be thousands of people there.

The people between us and the screen.

The people between us and the screen.

At first, there was a thin walkway between the ground sitters and us.  People walked through constantly.  The woman next to me began to get agitated.  “If they are going to do this through the entire movie, I’m going to have to move.  I can’t handle this,” she said.  “I’m sure they’ll stop when the movie starts,” I said.  I was frustrated too but her attitude was oddly calming to me.  She was being ridiculous and I didn’t need to join her.

She pulled her chair forward and crossed her legs, thinking it would discourage the traffic.  It did not.  Eventually, she gave up and joined her party on a blanket nearby.  Soon, a family with a towel plopped down in front of us.  (The number of hotel towels and blankets present was amusing).  People still walked by.  Then a group of girls sat down on a trash bag.  People still walked by.  Eventually, as I predicted, the traffic stopped as the movie started.  Some people still moved about but it was not particularly bothersome.

Before that, though, I saw a young boy, maybe 11 years old, plop down a chair next to ours.  He commented to us, gesturing toward the back, “I was all the way back there and couldn’t see a thing!”  He settled into his chair, pleased with himself.

I pointed to the large crowd of blanket sitters that he was now in front of.  “It’s going to be hard for them to see,” I said.  He looked back, disconcerted, and then moved his chair a little closer to ours.  Not my concern, I decided.

A woman and group of boys found themselves trapped in front of us and she asked if the vacated chair next to me was available.  I indicated it was.  She cried success and plopped two of the boys in it and then she and the other two inexplicably found space between us and the towel family.

After some introductory remarks and loud music, with everyone on their feet dancing and cheering, and a huge group selfie moment, we prepared to settle down for the movie.  A young girl was standing slightly in front of me, turning about.  She was looking increasingly worried as it became clear that the lights were about to go out and she was alone.  I could see in her face that coherent thought was gone, replaced rapidly with panic.

I reached for her arm to draw her toward me.  “Do you need some help?” I asked.  She nodded, apparently only needing that level of interaction to snap her back to reality.  She began moving toward the edge of the crowd where I saw a woman waving her arms over her head.  I pointed to the woman and the girl nodded.  Crisis averted.

The view behind us (note the woman with her fingers in her ears).

The view behind us (note the woman with her fingers in her ears).

The movie was loud.  I mean, extremely loud.  I watched much of it with my fingers in my ears.  I had seen how far back the crowd went though and resigned myself.  After all, if you sit in the front, you’ll see well but it’s going to have to be loud in order for the people in the back to hear at all.

A group off to the right was not so relaxed about it.  I eventually heard a hubbub over the movie volume.  People were standing and chanting “TOO LOUD!  TOO LOUD!” in an attempt to get it turned down.  I smiled at the attempt to mob control their problem.  I also smiled at the fact that they were thinking only of their own ears and not of those in the back.  I couldn’t help but think they should move if they didn’t like the volume.

Then the chair dragging child on our left started shouting at them to sit down.  This nearly had me laughing out loud.  Not only did he fail to see that one young boy could not possibly be heard over both the crowd’s chanting and the movie, nor that they were not directly impacting him at all, he primarily failed to see the irony of him trying to help the viewing angle of the people behind the standers while wholly unconcerned about the viewing of the people behind him.

As we approached the end of the movie, I wondered if some people would attempt to sneak out early to beat the traffic.  They did.  Not many but some.  The ones that cracked me up were the ones that stood, waiting for their group, blocking the view in the meantime before awkwardly squatting back down as they realized their group wasn’t ready.

All in all, it was an enjoyable movie.  And an enjoyable opportunity to sit back and watch people in a crowd.  My conclusion was that many people are inclined to get indignant when other people’s action negatively impact them while failing to notice neither 1) how their own actions impact others nor 2) how those people aren’t trying to be a bother.  For the most part, we are a remarkably self-centered lot, we are.

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Destination Imagination Global Finals 2014

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This past week, we were in Knoxville, TN for Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals.  DI is a program that teaches creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and public performance to children.  There are several different categories of events, called challenges: Technical, Structural, Scientific, Performance/Fine Arts, Improvisation, and Community Service.  Each challenge has a central problem to solve with particular rules and scoring elements.  Each team develops a skit around the solving of that problem, referred to as their ‘Central Challenge’.  Each team also competes in the ‘Instant Challenge’, a short timed event where they are given a problem to solve and they must work together right then to solve it the best they can.  Teams then place based on a combination of their Central and Instant Challenge scores.

In Texas (I can’t speak for the other states or countries), teams first compete in a Regional competition.  The first so many teams in each Challenge and age division (Elementary, Middle, Secondary, University) qualify to go to the State competition.  Since DI is a big deal in Texas, qualifying for State is exciting.  And that’s exactly what Daryl’s team did last year, their first year to compete.

They didn’t go on to Globals, but his sister, Jane, was enamored by the hype and excitement of State and fascinated by the older teams’ skits.  She declared her intent to participate in DI the next year.  Lucky for her, a friend’s parents decided to coach a team and invited her to be on it.  I was a little bit worried about this.  Daryl loved loves DI.  And it was kind of his thing.  His sister has a powerful force of personality.  It’s not often that he has the opportunity to do something before she does.  I feared that he was always following behind in her big footsteps and now she was taking over something that was his.

It didn’t seem to affect him that way, although he was annoyed when her team picked the same Challenge as his.  Both children loved their team and their team’s implementation of the solution.  At the Regional competition, the Elementary winners were announce with no mention of Daryl’s team.  Jane’s team, however, rocked the house with special awards and a ticket to the State competition.

Daryl insisted he wasn’t jealous, that he was happy to return to State even if his team wasn’t participating.  And it seemed genuine.  He, after all, had gone to State his first year too.  So off to State we went, wondering if they’d go on to the next step.  They had performed so well at Regional, that when we reserved our hotel room in Austin for State, we went ahead and reserved a room in Knoxville – just in case.  The rooms fill up fast.

That turned out to be a good thing.  The girls won another special award at State and qualified to go on.  While everyone else was frantically making hotel reservations that night, we calmly walked to our car and hugged our excited daughter.  At this point, there was no jealousy at all… provided, Daryl said, that we let him go with us.

Global Finals truly is a big deal.  I had someone snidely ask me if it was actually global or just Americans being full of ourselves, kind of like baseball’s World Series.  Well, I wrote down the countries participating as they walked in with their flags and signs during the Opening Ceremonies.  Besides 42 of the states in our Union and most, if not all, of the provinces in Canada, the following countries or territories had representation:  China, Guatemala, Romania, Cayman Islands, Poland, Qatar, Turkey, Singapore, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, US Virgin Islands, and Ecuador.  We saw indication later that over 17,000 people were in attendance.

It was impressive.

There were three and a half days of competition, each Challenge running a team every 15 minutes all. day. long.  Hundreds of hundreds of teams.

There were also side activities like the Luau, the Duct Tape Ball – where they set a record for the most number of people wearing Duct Tape clothing, a sneak preview of James Cameron’s DeapSea Challenge movie coming out in August, a Passport Party to provide information and food samples from the different countries (rained out by the time we got there), expos of exciting educational toys and fun opportunities, a Graduation Ceremony for seniors, and more.

We had a blast.  The rest of my posts this week will chronicle some of our experiences there.  We went to the Closing Ceremony Saturday night hoping for something great but working hard not to get our hopes up too much.  After all, there were around one hundred teams participating in her Challenge.  Top 20 or 30 would make us happy, her team manager had said.  The top 10 would be posted on the Jumbo-tron.  The top 3 would walk the stage.  So probably we would know nothing about how they had done until the complete results were posted online later.

And then, there they were.

They had finished in the top 10 and they were up there on the screen.  I screamed in excitement and struggled to take a picture – grateful that sleeping Hal had moved his dead weight off my arm moments before.  I began to cry.  No special awards, no walk across the stage, but still.  They were one of the best in the world.

We asked Daryl if he was jealous.  He said no and he seemed to mean it.  He had had such a good time that he was grateful for the opportunity to be there and even, in a way, grateful to experience Globals for the first time without having to worry about a performance of his own.  He plans to return next year in his own right.

DI is a big deal in our town.  I’ve heard people talk about how their teams did before.  I’ve heard the pride as they said they went to Globals.  I’ve heard the pride as they said they finished seventh or twelfth or whatever.  I’d always wondered how they could be so proud of something lower than third.  I mean, really.  If you aren’t getting a medal…?

But now I get it.  Having been there, I now realize that there’s a whole range of things to be proud of.  Her team on the Jumbo-tron?  So many teams sat through that entire ceremony without the opportunity to cheer for themselves.  They went home pleased that they had made it, maybe pleased with how they’d done, determined to do even better next year.  But they weren’t called out.  Our girls were and I couldn’t be prouder.