Good Manners Are NOT A Sign of Weakness!!

August 24, 2011

A few days ago, my wife Lauren wrote a wonderful blog about the disappearance of manners that really resonated with me. Her blog focused on the lost art of writing handwritten “thank you” notes for gifts, rather than just taking the easy email route, which in turn got me thinking about the loss of manners in movie theaters and  almost everywhere we turn.

The “me” years seem to be signaling that common courtesy, admitting mistakes,  and polite behavior are not only no longer necessary, but are actually “corny” or, even worse, a sign of weakness. Recently, I was struck by a line spoken by Danny Glover who played the President of The United States in the film 2012. When a scientist responded to a question by simply saying “I was wrong, sir”, Mr. Glover turned to an assistant and said “You know how many times people have said that to me in this office?” He then held up his thumb and forefinger to form a 0, as in “none.” (More on the shocking lack of courtesy in movie theaters themselves in a minute.)

So many people push to the heads of lines, ignore you if you nod and say hello, don’t say “please” or “thank you”, keep texting on their cell phones while in a face to face conversation with you, etc. I was in the grocery store the other day, standing in the express line with 3 or 4 other people. We each had about 10 items in our cart when someone came up with 1 item, a loaf of bread. The first person in line kindly motioned the young man with the bread to go ahead of him, an act of courtesy that pleased me and one other person in line. Two other people, however, got noticeably irritated that they would have to wait another minute or two.

And movie theaters? The worst!!As I wrote in Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

The Decline and Fall of The Theatrical Film Experience:

Rudeness, Cell Phones, Texting, Ads, and High-Priced Cholesterol

The slide in the fortunes of The New Hollywood can also be traced to the degradation of the theater-going experience itself.

The movie palaces of yesterday have been replaced by mall multiplexes and the new theaters are, in most ways, superior in comfort and viewing to the old theaters.

Audiences, however, are very different today.

Inconsiderate, even rude, behavior is widespread.

People talk to each other during the film as if they were watching television on their couches at home. Even more vexing is that many people actually get very hostile even if they are politely asked to desist.

Cell phones ring and text messages are received and then answered.

In Woody Allen’s classic Annie Hall, there is a sequence in which Woody is standing in line for a movie, listening to another person pontificate about Marshal McLuhan’s media theories. (McLuhan’s seminal 1964 book Understanding Media coined the phrase “the medium is the message.”)

Allen then brings McLuhan himself on camera to tell the pontificator that he is dead wrong about everything he has said about McLuhan’s work.

Woody then turns to the camera and says “Wouldn’t it be great if real life really went like this?”

In today’s theaters, Woody might to have materialize the spirits of Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Emily Post to tell patrons that telephones were not intended to be used in movie theaters so they should  “please shut up!”

So, in addition to Bringing Back The Old Hollywood, can we all please commit ourselves to bringing back common human courtesy as well?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

lauren simon August 24, 2011 at 6:52 am

Bravo!

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Asha Hawkesworth August 24, 2011 at 9:04 am

That is my favorite scene in “Annie Hall.” It makes me laugh just thinking about it.

In Austin, where I used to live, there’s a small local theater chain called the Alamo Drafthouse, and before every film they showed their own spots about cell phones. They were hilarious! They used Itchy and Scratchy and a scene from a 70s film (I don’t know which one) in which an assassin is about to take someone out. The message was, “Talk on your phone during the film, and we’ll take you out.” And they meant it. They would kick you out. I certainly think the audience has some responsibility to play nice, but it wouldn’t hurt if theaters played cop, if necessary.

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Michelle O'Neil August 24, 2011 at 9:34 am

It sure is frustrating when people talk during movies. Especially when it costs so much to see one. You want the experience to be a good one. I wound up yelling at some teens for shining a lazer on the screen at one show recently. They stopped, and thank goodness they didn’t beat me up after the movie!

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Stephen Simon August 24, 2011 at 11:02 am

Thanks to both of you for your comments. Yes, theaters need to take much more responsibility in policing talkers, lazer pointers, texters, etc. Grabbing people and throwing them out of theaters would be a great deterrent to rudeness. The challenge, however, is that theater owners are terrified about alienating anyone by evicting them from the theater.

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