It’s the big things that count: 80s hair and “brick formation” seating

“It’s the little things that count”. Sure… keep telling yourselves that. But it’s usually not true. Here’s a great example of how much big things matter, as illustrated by the ways in which 80s hairstyles changed the design of move theater and theatre-theatre seating.

I learn something new every day, and not just because I live in a new country now – America, instead of South Africa – but also because I live in a new country where it’s possible to surf the web very fast and pick up new and useless information at lightning speed.

Today, while idly googling “Rwanda Liberation and Entrepreneurship”, I wound up on sites about “Rwandan Refugees threatened by South African coke dealers”, and from there traveled to “cocaine: history of” and next thing I knew I was looking at this photograph.

80s hair. It was designed to be big enough to hide your actions from overhead cameras while you snorted coke in public toilets. Which you needed to be on to get your hair cut this way. And so, the addiction cycle is born. For a more recent example see: Amy Winehouse.

One of the pictures took me to another site, where I found out all about why theater seating has changed so much. You see, before people had massive hair, theater seating looked like this.

Verona - Italy. By being raised slightly, you could generally see over your neighbor to the action on either side of them, or simply over their heads. Pigtails occasionally got in the way, but it wasn't too bad.

Then things changed. 80s hair was born, and suddenly, it was very, very important to create gaps in audiences. While theaters had already offered individual seats, in their efforts to be orderly, they’d lined the chairs up in neat, matching rows, assuming that people would simply be able to look through the gaps between the people in front of them. With 80s hair, that all changed.

You're going to need a lot more drugs than they're on to see through them. And they're on a lotta drugs.

To solve the problem, architects designing theaters during and after the 1980s combined two techniques. The old European technique of tiering, and the “brick formation”.

The creation of a slope just like those used in Greko-Roman amphitheatres gives the people in the cheap seats a hope in hell.

Brick Form Theory: Imagine the horizontal cement is an audience member. Now imagine the brick is their hair.

By raising the rows towards the back, they enabled people to see over the 80s hair. By staggering the seating, they enabled people to see between the 80s hair. The effect was satisfactory. However, years later, you’d still pay more to sit at the front of the theatre, where you were protected from the unexpected lingering effect of multiple rows of 90s hair. (Studies have proved that the cumulative effect of inhaling the perfume contained in cheap hair gel may be as, or more dangerous than passive smoking.)

Interesting, right?

Since the 90s, seating hasn’t needed to change. The movie theatres are so rarely filled to capacity that it’s no longer necessary to worry about people’s hairstyles, or even whether or not they choose to continue to wear headgear while indoors.

But the theaters remain, tiered and staggered. A quaint reminder of our ‘hairitage’?

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