When I recently saw The Town in New Jersey, fellow moviegoers shouted back at the screen as if they were watching a football game or at a contentious Thanksgiving dinner. To be honest, I expected it -- in the battle between the well-mannered and the manner-less, the talkers win every time.
But one distraction surprised me: A headphones-wearing 50-ish man to my left who kept his Blackberry lit throughout, texted or tweeted every few minutes, and even allowed an audible ping! every time a new message came through (about six times, by my irritated count). At one point, we all heard a full brrrrring! To him, a movie theater is as good a place as any to conduct business.
It makes me want to watch Die Hard 2 in that guy's cubicle, and see how much work he gets done.
But he's not alone. When it comes to movie theater etiquette, texting is the new "talking", and just as rude. The mere backlight of a smart phone is as distracting as a constant sneeze, an usher's flashlight, or someone getting up and out. A friend of mine described a recent experience watching Let Me In during which smart phones were illuminated like lighters during a rock concert power ballad. And nobody -- nobody -- tweets or checks his email just once.
What's wrong with people who need to tweet or check emails in the middle of a movie? Why do they need to punctuate a full cinematic experience with their own banal ones? I'm not even the first Huffington Post blogger to ask. Charitably, I'd guess they suffer from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disregard).
I'm reminded of two teenage girls who sat behind me during an evening movie a number of years ago in Los Angeles; they were chattering away like we were at a school lunch table. I loudly shushed them
"Mind your own business!" one of them spit back, followed by the kind of profanity that would make my mother blush.
I eventually changed my seat, but what I wanted to say was, "Minding my own business is exactly what I was trying to do!"
It's what we all try to do in a theater -- enjoy a movie in peace, not have our attention be held captive to someone's ridiculous rudeness or obsession. Now, every time I go to a movie, I size up each audience member as a potential threat (like some of us do on airplanes), and plot my seating choice with the calculated effort of a chessmaster (behind talkers, in front of single patrons, far from teenagers, outside the seat-kicking distance of little kids).
But I can't sniff out the texters... not until it's too late. Where's that vampire kid when you really need her?
I created a Facebook Group called "Stop Talking During Movies" for people to share their stories, vent their anger, to show that there's more of us than there are of them. But I fear that even those who shut up during a movie think it's perfectly okay to text, check mail, take and send emails.
So, to those folks, in the clear-ringing words of Gordon Ramsay, SHUT IT DOWN! If you're not here to see a movie, then why are you here at all?
Joel Schwartzberg is a rabid horror movie fan, occasional shusher, and author of "The 40-Year-Old Version"
Follow Joel Schwartzberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joeljest