Nov 26, 2012

Politics, when the lights go down

Those who know me well can confirm that I'm by nature averse to conflict, and if I had to make a list of my biggest character flaws, it would be a guaranteed contender for number one. It's a reflex that roots itself in all manner of circumstance to nearly equal disastrous effect. Trying to look inside oneself and discover where one's behavioral traits come from is to get lost in the vortex of memories, nurture, and nature, and more, and through much I've learned (mostly recently, and perhaps only through negative reinforcement) that too much self-awareness is usually a bad thing and the only way to progress, sometimes, is to do exactly what you absolutely do not want to do, however you were raised be damned. Passive aggression is like a bad drug from which one only experiences withdrawal, and in my life experience, the majority of the people who are victim to it are the ones who needn't be so apologetic in the first place. Simply put, we're too fucking nice, which has a way of being cruel in the long run. I've a ways to go yet as far as my own standards and expectations are concerned, but it's already been a most empowering thing to kick obsessive self-effation to the curb.

Which is a very long-winded way of introducing the topic of dealing with rude people in movie theaters. These kinds of folks weren't unbeknownst to me growing up, when I certainly went to the movies less but still with regular frequency, but as of late (say, the past three or four years) has been reaching nearly epidemic levels. There remains guilt for a few of my offenses: the cell phone I forgot to turn off before The King's Speech, the outward mocking of films I felt deserved such intrusions, etc. Although I'm not yet old enough to be considered a worthy applicant for the title of Film Critic by a certain New York writer who himself aspires to the rank of the gadfly, I feel much older, and yet my eyes are open and I cannot simply chalk this up to the younger generations, although a significant chunk of the pie chart they almost certainly compromise.

Need I even mention the rise of cell phones, what with those evil little screens popping up during everything from Skyfall to the one-day rerelease of The Godfather. I can't pretend to have been perfect in this, or nearly any other, regard, but I make it a point to either step out if my phone beckons or reach far enough under an adjacent seat so as to extinguish the glow from patrons behind me, even if it's just a matter of checking the time. Lax theater owners who tolerate this nonsense because, well, they depend on priveledged (or financially shortsighted) kids to pay the bills and haven't thus far minded (or minded enough) their scaring away of other demographics should also be held accountable. I'm not intending on exploring this topic for ultimate causes and solutions; I'm just trying to justify the broad conclusion that there seem to be more assholes in the world now than a few years ago without seeming like one myself.

The latest example of this rampant assholism came this past Saturday evening at a 10:20 pm showing of Lincoln, my second time seeing the film, currently in the running as my favorite in a very competitive year. My brother Alex, who had not seen it yet, was along for the ride. For whatever reason, I was not excessively bothered by the frequent, semi-hushed chatters taking place a row down from us on the opposite side of the moderately sized theater, but I was rather persistently aware of them (and they effect they were having on my brother) enough to both regret not saying anything about it up front and appreciate the theater employee who came in to re-announce the no cell phone/talking policy about halfway through the film, with reassurance that offenders would be escorted out. For most of the rest of the duration of the film, they as-of-yet-unseen offenders stayed within the lines of acceptable theater behavior. Most.

As I've discussed in the past, the end of a movie is usually the best part, or most important, and especially so in a good one, and the final five or six minutes of Lincoln is already very close to my heart. And so it was with volcanic heat that my rage escalated as the same pair of ignoramuses began talking, quite constantly and almost casually and with no awareness or consideration of their surroundings whatsoever during those final five or six minutes, and during which time my brother was noticably distracted. When the film was over and the credits were rolling, we looked at each other, and then at them, like velociraptors might silently communicate whilst planning an attack. What follows is a recreation of the exchange that followed. As you read this, imagine the offenders in question as pudgy forty or fiftysomethings who might give Hobbits a bad name by mere association (the lights were still dimmed so I didn't get a closer reading on their features). Minus my initiating comments and the small chorus of praise, this series of events was relayed to me by my brother, though I overheard bits and pieces.
Me (across about fifteen feet and so the bulk of the auditorium could hear): Next time stay at home in front of the stupid box if you can't keep you mouth shut.

Several other people throughout the theater: Agreed! Yes! Thank you!

Male sub-Hobbit: Fuck you. (Or some derivative.)

Alex: Excuse me?

Male sub-Hobbit: You're excused.

Alex: No, excuse me, because I'm his brother and I feel the same way.

Male sub-Hobbit: You probably voted for Obama.
I suppose it bears mentioning that, while typing this at the public library, someone's cell phone not only went off, but they answered it, with zero response from the librarians on duty, despite it being expressly forbidden. Like the three offenders at a recent screening of Trouble with the Curve, this person was also elderly. This reinforces my developing thesis that perhaps it isn't just a greater abundance of assholes, but the greater tolerance of their behavior. I'm very much liberal (go figure), and usually willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and second and third chances and whatnot, but this is not a step in the right direction.

I'm don't even want to begin unpacking the brainless political jab this doofus managed to come up with (see the Season 1 episode of Louie, "Bully," for a similarly simpleminded partisan association), as I'll have to first get into the disgrace that is our current two party system before all manner of basic courteosy and etiquette that should smack of common sense to, I hope, the majority of people reading this. The fact that this absurd exchange took place during a film about a master of public and political relations underscores a certain elegant brutality in the whole affair.

The conscious effort to engage conflict has been a positive force in my life of late, although not always. A close friend of mine who thought I wouldn't mind her friends talking during a late-night showing of Dracula (a movie I'm not even particularly fond of) was taken aback when I essentially lost it after the screening (I'm amazed I didn't swear, although I did say that I wanted to - not that I would - punch the primary offender in the mouth), the experience not much aided by the fact that I loathed her best friend from the first time I met her and thus found her infantile quips and impatient foot tapping and scab-picking all the more infuriating for interrupting a movie that depends on silence to work at all. Similarly, I probably overreacted when I yelled at the young girl (and her enabling mother) who was on her cell phone throughout, and then constantly during the last few minutes, of Titanic (which I'd never seen theatrically before its 3D re-release), or the enabling father who allowed his daughter to use her phone throughout most of The Wizard of Oz, etc. But I remain convinced it's better than not reacting at all.


  1. I've lost track of the number of times I've told people to be quiet or to put away their phone when they were checking Facebook or who knows what else.

    During a movie, I tend not to yell across rows: it's an action that might be more disruptive to the rest of the crowd than the people making the noise. (Because I'll have to be loud enough for the people not paying attention to hear me and know it's them I'm talking to.)

    But if I am close to the person or can walk there without walking over someone, you bet your ass: I'm saying something.

    For what it's worth, when constant talking is involved, my go-to most effective phrase has become, "Excuse me, could you possibly stop talking for at least 5 minutes." It underlines that they weren't just loud RIGHT THEN, but that they've been annoying for a while. It also is softer than "Shut up!" -- which just gets people defensive and (with some teens) sometimes inspires them to keep talking just to stick it to you -- and yet just as awkward for them. You're welcome to use it.

  2. In a large, near empty auditorium I'll just move, but otherwise I will ask people to stop talking. I try to be polite and calm but sometimes my exasperation gets the better of me.

    Texting is the worst these days, both because it's overtaken talking as the most common problem and because it's incredibly distracting. The flashlight in the eyes effect occurs even when the person's too far away to speak to without disturbing everyone in the theater. On that note, "it's like you're shining a flashlight in my eyes" has been pretty successful at getting people to put their phones away.