I’ve never been particularly concerned with etiquette.
Using the proper fork, keeping elbows off the table, not wearing white after Labor Day — these are not the sort of things that matter to me, and I don’t see why they should.
But there’s a certain type of rudeness that really gets on my nerves.
And because I’ve been going to the movies a lot lately, I’ve been encountering this type of rudeness quite frequently. In fact, I’ve experienced it at each of the three movies I’ve seen in the past week-and-a-half. At every screening, there’s been a moment when I’ve looked around, trying to figure out who’s responsible for the asinine chatter distracting me from the film.
In one case, it wasn’t asinine chatter that distracted me — it was a man with a cellphone that beeped repeatedly and kept lighting up. Decent people are embarrassed when their phone goes off in the theater. Not this guy. His phone beeped again and again, and flashed nearly a dozen times. I was sitting next to this guy at a screening of “Amour,” and I finally decided that I couldn’t allow him to ruin my filmgoing experience.
“Are you going to let your phone do that through the entire movie?” I asked this guy.
“I’m doing everything I can to keep my phone quiet,” he replied.
I expressed skepticism, and the man insisted that he was powerless to stop his phone from making noise. And yet, despite his protestations, I didn’t see or hear his phone again that evening.
Still, I think this encounter does beg the question: Should I start bringing a hammer to the movies, so that I can smash noisy cellphones to pieces? I have the feeling that my fellow moviegoers would stand up and cheer me on. However, I’m not sure becoming a folk hero is worth being arrested and banned from the movie theater.
On Sunday, I went to watch the Oscar nominees for best animated short film at the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany, where a woman sitting several rows back kept making comments like, “Uh, OK,” and “Well, that was weird.” (Wait, the animated shorts are weird? Who could have predicted that?) But she was only a little irritating, and so I decided not to confront her.
I made a similar decision while watching “Titanic” at Proctors — a decision I later regretted.
Two of the women in the audience snickered their way through the early scenes, but then appeared to settle down, which is why I left them alone. Unfortunately, their snickering resumed during the final half hour of the film, when the passengers who didn’t make it into a lifeboat are screaming for help and drowning, and Leonardo DiCaprio is professing his undying love for Kate Winslett.
There’s plenty to make fun of in “Titanic,” but if that’s what you want to do, why don’t you watch it at home? Nobody else at Proctors was guffawing their way through these final scenes — they were watching the movie. But because the movie was almost over, and because the women weren’t totally insufferable, I decided to just let it go. I mean, whatever.
But in retrospect, isn’t this a pretty low bar for audience behavior? Should people really be given a pass because they’re only 60 percent annoying, rather than 90 percent, or 100 percent? Is a little class and self-awareness from our fellow moviegoers too much to ask for?
If such behavior occurred once in a blue moon, maybe I wouldn’t be so sick of it. But it occurs a lot, which makes me think that it’s time to launch a campaign directed at rude moviegoers, and rude people in general. It could be called “Don’t Be a Jerk,” or something like that.
Now, I don’t enjoy confronting people and calling them out on rude behavior. I’m not itching to fight with people at the movie theater. But I’m not really sure why I should have to put up with loudmouthed yahoos, either. And I suspect that most people feel the way I do. I once asked someone at work to quiet down, and immediately received an email from a colleague who works about 10 desks away. “THANK YOU,” the email said. “IT WAS GETTING ANNOYING.”
Which made me realize that there’s a silent majority out there comprised of polite people who see little alternative but to put up with other people’s noise.
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be this way. Whenever I’ve managed to work up the nerve to tell someone to be quiet, or to shut off their cellphone, they’ve done what I wanted with a minimum of fuss. Maybe they know that their behavior is indefensible, and are simply trying to get away with it for as long as possible.
In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to confess to having behaved poorly at two movies, and offer my apologies to whoever else was in the theater.
Back in 1997, while attending college, my friend Hanna and I snickered our way through “The Wings of the Dove,” an adaptation of the tragic Henry James novel. Perhaps this is why I went a little easy on those women at “Titanic” — I understand the impulse to turn a doomed love story into a giant snarkfest, and I could see a little bit of myself in them.
That same year, my friends and I behaved somewhat raucously at a campus screening of the Paul Newman classic “Cool Hand Luke.” We drank shots of whiskey beforehand, arrived at the theater in a noisy pack and settled into the front two rows, where we cheered at key lines, such as “What we’ve got here is ... failure to communicate” and “I can eat 50 eggs.”
In my defense, I was 21 years old.
I don’t act that way anymore. And I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else act that way, either.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.