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Texting, Talkers and Movie Theater Madness

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Someday a dinner party joke will revolve around the guy who shot another man to death at a movie theater.

"So why did he shoot him?" the guests will ask.

"I guess he didn't like the fact that he was texting."

The folks will laugh a bit awkwardly at the sheer absurdity of the situation, and life, then go on with their meal. Until someone waits a beat and adds... "Sounds like he had it coming."

The tragic shooting in a Florida movie theater is nothing to laugh about, but sometimes humor is our only way to comprehend the unthinkable. While, in our current environment, I would never attempt to argue about our nation's sickening gun addiction or Florida's role as gun warlord, I'm enough of a movie fan to add my two cents on a topic that doesn't get nearly enough attention.

Have you been to the movies lately? You're likely to leave the theater whispering, "I could have killed that guy."

The cinema experience has always been fraught with tension because, like live theater, you're not alone in the comfort of your living room. You share the space with people you don't know. While watching a movie on the big screen is still an unmatchable experience, there are several reasons why it could face extinction, and why what happened in Florida seemed more inevitable than surprising.

Here, some of the biggest movie theater nuisances and why they're adding more net worth to Netflix.

Texting: For those of you who go to the movies and text, here's something you should read: Just because you are not talking on a phone (a practice that plagued movie theaters up until a few years ago), you are still ruining the theater experience for fellow patrons. Whenever you bring out your smartphone to check emails, correspond or play games (yes, I've seen it), that bright fluorescent light hits everyone around you like a paparazzi flash.

Judging by how often I witness texters, and how nasty their reactions are to people who ask them to turn the phone off ("Enslaver" anyone?), it would seem that most people don't actually know how rude the practice is. Some people even hold their phones up high, so they can watch the movie and then type when needed.

If you can't go to the movies without checking up on friends' updates or reading your messages or chatting with the kids, or "FourSquaring" your film, stay home. If there is an urgent matter you need to attend to, allow others to enjoy the movie while you go into the lobby, turn on your phone, and tend to texting matters in private. Don't even tweet me an annoying note about how that means you might miss part of the flick.

The Previews: This one's for you, movie theaters. Nowadays, if a movie starts at 7:15, the smart-comers arrive around 7:20, which means there's still time to grab popcorn and hit the bathroom before the flick starts. Movie previews have bumped up from about three to at least 10, and it's a lose-lose for everyone.

Should the movie be very crowded and you wait, you get a rotten seat. Should you arrive early, you sit through a preview of what seems like every new movie to be coming out within the next year, including the clip of the new remake of the old "Endless Love" flick that you've already seen at least half a dozen times, and seemed endless the first time around. When the movie finally starts, well whaddya know, you've already eaten your snacks!* There needs to be a limit on previews, guys. Get it back down to three or four. If the movie is a Titanic-size three hours or so, delete the coming attractions altogether.

*Regarding snacks: If you've been to more than one movie in your life, you know that concession food is ridiculously expensive. Make your peace with this injustice before hitting the theaters, and do not yell or antagonize the counter person because your Mountain Dew costs more than a Disneyland day pass. Be happy that you're in a position where you can afford the occasional treat while the person opposite you is in a position where refilling the butter flavoring is the most exciting thing he gets to do all night.

The Children: I have nothing but sympathy for parents who don't have enough money or access to proper babysitters. I also have no sympathy for parents who drag their toddlers into R-rated movies and destroy the fun for everyone else. Watching any scene in "Last Ax Murderer's House on the Left" isn't nearly as scary as listening to some poor baby howling throughout. Not only is exposing your child to a violent film an unhealthy psychological activity, the noise kids make is unbearable. This is why they invented TV and why Pixar keeps making movies that toddlers can appreciate. And if you're pissy because you want to see "Paranormal Tendencies" but can't find a babysitter, that's your problem; you have no right to make it ours. Boo-Hoo!

The Manners: It's the sold-out show of "Big New Oscar Contender" and you arrive on-time and notice there are two seats in the middle aisle -- separated by a couple who have their coats draped over the empty chairs. You politely ask them to move over so the two of you can sit together, and one of them says, "No, the feng shui in this seat is perfect in relation to Bradley Cooper's eyes."

Theatergoers who won't move over to allow other couples to sit together during a crowed show belong in the same category as subway riders who enter before you exit and bus riders who sit on the outer seat and plop their briefcases on the window seat and gym rats who spread all of their dirty after-workout gear on the sole bench in the locker room and baby-stroller parents who will gladly knock you over into a snow bank or a puddle before moving their cargo -- they should not be allowed out of their homes.* Until that law passes, they can at least be considerate. Everyone bitches about the price of movie tickets, so wouldn't it be nice if having to sit alone were not part of the cost?

*This etiquette rule does not apply to latecomers who make megaphone-size announcements ("Hey, there's two down here!") right at the moment Leonardo DiCaprio's oddly scrunched face hits the screen. If you're late, be quiet, be courteous, and take your available seats immediately.

The Talkers: I've long believed that those "No Talking" commercials before movies begin are the modern-day versions of the Myth of Sisyphus. They air after the 65 previews have ended and you're stuck sitting alone next to a texter with your empty popcorn bucket, and they're often cute and funny, incorporating characters from a Muppet movie to urge you not to speak during the film. Everyone watches and giggles and settles in to watch the flick, and then... talks. And yet, there those PSA's are, before every movie, springing like eternal hope.

People who talk during movies have been around as long as Talkies, but in today's "comfort of home entertainment" world, they've increased to a whole new level of aggravation. They come in several varieties: The ones who arrive in groups and appear to have chosen a film simply because it's the perfect meeting place to catch up and gossip; the "critics" who spout out commentary like "oh come on, that would never happen!" and "the last six Carrie movies were so much better"; and the ones who feel as if they need to give periodic updates to their, apparently, knowledge-impaired dates, like "Did you see that? Her tear floated right up to the screen"; and the knowledge-impaired themselves -- "Is that the same girl from Hunger Games? Why is her hair blond?"

"The Talkers" are a cinema plague, and 99 percent of the time they resist polite requests for silence. You "shush" them and they shush you back. You give them obnoxious looks and they tell you to shut up. You move to another seat, and, surprise, you can still hear them!

And like plague victims, most theatergoers avoid confronting talkers, so if you do attempt to quiet one you'll often find your attempts are a solo project. If you know a talker, have an intervention before the film. If they refuse to listen, stop inviting them to movies. They may hate you for a while, but once these addicts lose all their movie pals and begin to accept responsibility, there's a good chance they will correct their behavior, step by step. And if you're as annoyed as someone else by a movie talker, help him in his quest to get the talker to be silent. Group shushes tend to get the talker to shut up or leave, even if he is swearing the whole way out.

I live in New York, and for me going to a movie frequently involves a 10-minute walk and nothing more. For many, it can mean a long car ride, parking, babysitters, missing the show you planned to see and watching something with Kevin Costner instead, standing in the concession line behind the woman who bitches and moans about the wait and then has no idea what she wants when the counter person asks her, and a lot of other hassles. If we all work a little harder at the courtesy aspect, we can once again make going to the movies an exciting adventure for everyone. If not, well, don't say I didn't warn you.