I have a friend who is hesitant to go to movies with me anymore. A couple years ago, during a screening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I got fed up with the people behind me talking. It wasn’t the first time I’d taken a movie-talker to task, but it was probably the first time I went beyond shushing or requesting (albeit, curtly) they be quiet. In this instance, the person was literally talking through the whole movie. As in, an hour plus into the movie (I refuse to call it a film), this person had described nearly everything that happened on the screen since the flick started. The group they were with was seated just two rows behind us, in a nearly empty theatre.
Fed up, I tossed a balled up napkin in their general direction and visited customer service to see about getting them properly silenced or escorted out. I indicated them to the usher, and he proceeded to do nothing, at which point the “gentleman,” and I use the term sarcastically, began a tirade about how he was going to sue me for assault with a deadly low-velocity wadded-up napkin.
The usher stood by as the man went on to insist that his party had every right to talk during the movie, because there was no law against it. I told him he was still being an asshole, and to go fuck himself, and walked out of the theatre.
Which really brings me to the crux of my issue: there are all sorts of things that aren’t against the law that we as a society still do not do. It is, for example, considered rude to let a noxious fart rip in an enclosed space, particularly among strangers. It is rarely done. There is no law against cutting in line at a store or restaurant, and yet the practice is largely shunned. In fact, there is no law against showing up to work and doing nothing, and yet you will still get fired for it! Coughing without covering your mouth? Completely legal.
Society is rife with examples of “common courtesies,” and they are general guidelines for behavior that exist to keep our crowded existence from becoming unbearable. This is sometimes referred to as “being polite” or, in some instances, “being responsible.” The idea behind them is an even simpler concept, one that has been floating around for millennia: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Asshole’s defense is that this is a free country. And they’re right, they are free to be assholes. But there is nothing in the constitution about being free from the consequences of their actions. Indeed, these are often the same jabber-jaws that opine ceaselessly on the subject of “personal responsibility” while in effect playing a game of blame the victim. It is always about getting things their way, no matter what the effect on others.
But here’s where it gets really ridiculous: people feel the need to stand up for assholes, and I have no idea why. They are absolutely willing to make complete fools and spectacles of themselves, and need no help speaking their mind. We have reached a point where intense effort is put into protecting the individual at the cost of the group. This is stupid. Individual freedoms are important, but, to quote a US Supreme Court Justice:
In the case of a public event, someone else’s actions preventing me from enjoying the event — particularly one I paid for — could easily be argued as in infringement upon my freedom. A petty argument, certainly. But no less petty than talking on your phone during a movie.
I say it is time to fight fire with fire. And I’m not referring to a single, quick incident. If a person checks their phone or makes a glib comment during a movie, it is usually annoying to anyone not sitting next to them, but it is not the end of the world. It’s repeat offenders that draw my ire. To that end, I implemented my simple plan today at a screening of Oz The Great And Powerful at Old Orchard. A schmuck several seats down was playing with his phone for several minutes, lighting up the general area and causing an obnoxious amount of glare on my 3D glasses. I turned on my iPhone’s flash and pointed at the person after their first refusal to stop making a ruckus, then asked if it was distracting. The result? He threatened me and flipped me the bird. But he didn’t take his phone out again.
I’m counting it as a win.