The Conversation

Impolite society cannot function

Ace, I see you've got a post about National Review's Kevin Williamson going vigilante on a cell-phone-wielding boor at a theater.  As Williamson tells the tale:

The lady seated to my immediate right (very close quarters on bench seating) was fairly insistent about using her phone. I asked her to turn it off. She answered: “So don’t look.” I asked her whether I had missed something during the very pointed announcements to please turn off your phones, perhaps a special exemption granted for her. She suggested that I should mind my own business.

So I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage. She slapped me and stormed away to seek managerial succor. Eventually, I was visited by a black-suited agent of order, who asked whether he might have a word.

He says he'd have been given a medal in a civilized world.  If I'd been there, I would at least have bought him a drink.  If my girlfriend had been with me, he'd probably have gotten free dinner, too.

I confess myself baffled by the "People do what they will and be who they are" populist defenders of cell-phone barbarism you mentioned in your post.  Granted, taking matters into his own hands and seizing the hell phone was extreme on Williamson's part... but who on Earth could possibly defend the obnoxious dimwits who ruin movies by jabbering on their phones, or filling the darkened theater with screens full of Twitter messages and Angry Birds?

(I'll admit one exception to my general disdain: when I saw the move "Gladiator" in the theater, at the end when the evil Emperor asked the captive hero, "Do you hear that, Maximus? Your people are calling for you," someone's phone rang, and the entire theater dissolved into helpless laughter.)

A movie theater is an example of a communal endeavor where a certain degree of social cooperation is necessary, or the entire experience collapses for everyone.  It's very difficult to get obnoxious people ejected from a theater, and of course if you have to leave to summon an usher, you're going to miss some of the film or performance yourself.  Perhaps because of budgetary limitations, very few movie theaters seem to dispatch ushers to randomly patrol the aisles any more.

Thanks to cell phones, large numbers of annoying people have now been armed with assault weapons of rudeness.  Those who might have generally sat still during an earlier age think nothing of flipping out their phones to do a little web-surfing halfway through a movie.  The number of voice phone calls I hear in theaters - the ultimate act of incredible self-absorption - seems to have declined, but I can't remember the last time I got through a movie without seeing a few glowing screens appear in the seat before me.  I am astounded that it's necessary to explain to these people that they're being rude.  The "me first" attitude has degenerated into something approaching solipsism.

As for people who fool around with their phones and try to send texts while driving, or jam intersections by texting at traffic lights... if the technology existed, it should be legal to vaporize them on sight, provided you had a dashboard camera that could confirm their offense to a judge.


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