The etiquette of public spaces (e.g. movie theaters)

movie-theater-audienceTo the middle-aged woman in a MOM sweatshirt sitting next to me during my long-awaited viewing of ‘The Battle of the Five Armies:’

Ma’am, I’m guessing you were there for your second viewing. Only this can explain the way you started reacting to dramatic moments just before they took place. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why you were there in the first place. When Galadriel grew dark with mighty magical power, you burst into uncontrollable giggles. When Oakenshield battled for his life toward the end, you broke into snorts of laughter. And why? Were you amused by how unrealistic the movie was? It’s a bloody fantasy. There’s CGI. There’s dwarves and orcs. For next time, allow me to recommend an independent movie, or maybe a rom-com where you can guffaw to your heart’s content.
Because the thing with movie theaters is, they are public places. You share them with people. You share them with hard-working fantasy fans, parents of young children who have been waiting for weeks and maybe months for this opportunity to watch – yes, a movie about a hobbit and elves. So if you are entertained by the death of a beloved character in a movie, how about keeping it to yourself? Or here’s a suggestion: wait for the DVD. Watch it in your living room and scream for hilarity if you wish. But in a movie theater, you are sharing space with me. I am paying for the dramatic pause, the suspense, the wonderment of theater. In movie theaters, there is a certain etiquette: generally, people watch silently. They gasp at times, and at times they jump and spill popcorn, but this applies mostly to horror movies. Sometimes people laugh, and this is usually in comedies.

If you are inspired by a source of amusement different from the majority of viewers, perhaps keep it down, as you would control the volume of belches and farts in public. To do otherwise is the equivalent of chewing loudly and getting into an argument over religious polemics in a restaurant. It is inconsiderate. It is narcissistic. As I tell my elementary-aged child, there are other people in the world. In a collective entertainment setting, we are individuals who balance our personal enjoyment with our consideration and awareness of the other individuals. This entails a degree of social awareness. If my 8-year old can keep her comments to an inaudible whisper, surely you, a middle-aged woman with teenaged kids in tow, can do likewise. This means being considerate and respectful of people who want to cry at the death of an imaginary character, and experience the solemn awe of imaginary magic. That’s why we’re there – to escape into imaginary experiences. And your blasted loud snorts of laughter destroyed my escape. You owe me $7.

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