Over the past three days, as I’ve suffered from the most unholy of stomach viruses (losing eleven pounds in the process), I’ve spent a great deal of time lying on the couch, watching old, bad movies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles. As a result, I’ve reached the following conclusion:
With the advent of the cellular telephone, writers, especially in comedy, have been forced to become more creative, and as a result, movies and television are better today.
The classic situation-comedy in which confusion or misunderstandings occur as the result of an inability to communicate were blown up because of the cell phone, and good riddance. These contrived situations were overused, overblown and deserving of retirement. I contend that nearly half of all Seinfeld plots would need to be re-written had the cell phone been ubiquitous in the 1990s, since so many of those episodes hinge upon characters who are unable to communicate with one another.
George and Jerry lose each other on the highway in the Bubble Boy episode.
George, Kramer, Elaine and Jerry are unable to find one another while attempting to see a film together, forcing George to purchase multiple tickets.
George and Kramer drive from airport to airport as Jerry’s plane is re-routed.
All plots that would have been ruined if the characters had been carrying cell phones.
And many older action-adventures and thrillers would also be ruined by the ease of cellular communication. No more nail-biting, last-minute, near-misses. With characters able to call one another on a whim, there is no more opportunity for dramatic tension via the breakdown in communication.
Hell, almost every Shakespearean plot would be ruined as well.
Friar Lawrence calls Romeo and Juliet before either one has a chance to commit suicide.
The shipwrecked survivors of Prospero’s tempest call one another so there is no mistaking who is still alive and well.
Hamlet calls Laertes to inform him of Ophelia’s death before Claudius can get to him first and poison his mind.
The list is endless. In fact, when I have time, it might be fun to re-write some of Shakespeare’s plays with the advent of the cell phone. See how things might have turned out instead.
If only I had that kind of time.
Of course, when the cell phone becomes troublesome for plot purposes, one can always do what Stieg Larsson does:
Have your characters turn off their phones at the most inexplicable and inconvenient moments, or better yet, allow for the batteries on these phones to run at at the most inopportune time.
But I don’t recommend this strategy. I think it annoys the reader. It annoys this one.