Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thank you for selecting

Here in Missoula the movie theater choices are fairly limited: two Carmike theaters, and the Wilma theater, in the old Wilma hotel in downtown Missoula. I've always been struck by a line on the Carmike cinemas intro screen: "Thank you for selecting Carmike Cinemas". Let me tell you why I find this a little annoying.

To me selection has to do with being presented equivalent options and choosing one of them based on certain criteria. A dictator is not selected, and if I'm starving in the woods and can't find any food, I'm not selecting berries if I stumble across a blackberry patch. Likewise, the movie choices in Missoula, though there are multiple venues, don't really allow for selection. The Wilma only shows indie films, and the Carmikes only show mainstream releases. Furthermore, the two Carmike theaters usually show different movies so that they aren't competing for the limited business in town. So if there's a given movie you want to see, chances are good that there is only one place to see it. I don't consider that selection.

Obviously not all markets are as small as Missoula. However, many markets are smaller than Missoula, and Carmike, as far as I know, only builds theaters in rural areas or suburbs of smaller cities. It seems that their business model is built on the premise of limited competition in out-of-the-way places. So I wonder if people ever "select" Carmike Cinemas. "Thank you for choosing" would be much more felicitous for me, and I'm not sure why. In terms of denotation, "choose" and "select" are essentially the same: you are presented with options and you pick one of them. Yet for some reason "Thank you for choosing to eat berries" wouldn't be as infelicitous in my above described survival scenario. Perhaps it has to do with "Thank you for choosing..." as a more set phrase in our society, whereas "Thank you for selecting" is essentially purely compositional for me, e.g., "...choosing..." for me is like "blue ribbon" (a coherent concept in our society), whereas "...selecting..." for me is like "green ribbon"; it doesn't really mean anything other than the sum of its parts.

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