When a retired cop shot and killed a fellow moviegoer who was texting his 3-year-old daughter's daycare center on Monday, Twitter exploded in a variety of directions. A subset of movie writers -- who spend more time in motion picture houses than almost anyone else -- tapped out blog posts and tweets that were irresponsible at best and, at worst, contribute to a hostile environment in which violence over differences in movie theater etiquette don't seem that far-fetched.
Here's a sampling of flippant and worse responses to the shooting (the details of which are still unfolding and developed beyond the initial texting), presented in order from least offensive to most deplorable:
From Movies.com managing editor Erik Davis:
— ErikDavis (@ErikDavis) January 13, 2014
From The Wrap's Jeff Sneider:
— Jeff Sneider (@TheInSneider) January 13, 2014
(Sneider said he was tweeting about the shooter, who would "run out of bullets" if he went to Sundance.)
From Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells, a perennial standard-bearer when it comes to a reckless disregard for humanity in the internet-movie-writer industry:
He obviously didn't deserve to die for texting, but you can't say he didn't at least flirt with the possibility of trouble by doing so.
These men are not alone, of course -- Anil Dash noted that he was inundated with threats for even suggesting that the cinema industry think about ways to incorporate texting into the movie-going experience in less offensive ways. Many folks writing on the internet, whether they're paid for it or not, have a loose relationship with tragedies -- if it could be twisted into any shade of comic relief or tie into someone's personal agenda, even the shooting death of a young father checking in with his daughter can be the butt of a joke.
But movie writers should know better, and the reaction to Chad Oulson's killing is not the first time select bloggers have placed their precious movie-going experience above human decency. Wells recently published a fantasy of pouring soda on a black moviegoer (who Wells referred to as an "ape") and beating him with a bat after said individual spoke during a recent movie. At the Toronto International Film Festival, critic Alex Billington diverted emergency resources when he called 911 over cell phone use during free film screening. There's a streak of thuggery in the film blog world which sullies the reputation of countless other writers who rightly see their mission as discussing art.
On CriticWire, Sam Adams smartly notes that what happens when a man kills another over some light pollution isn't simply about texting, but about "men and their overblown sense of entitlement," and shared a story about a texting-related fight of his own, convincing him that "in spite of my liberal political views and generally shy demeanor, there's a part of me that's essentially a lizard." (It's also, of course, about whether or not folks should be allowed to walk into movie theaters with handguns.)
The likes of Jeff Wells would likely bristle at that suggestion, because their mirrors are too clouded with their own hot breath for any meaningful self-reflection. In tweets defending his blog on the Florida shooting, Wells claimed his bat-beating post was simply "a delicious fantasy scenario" and said he "respects the movie-church experience." But what kind of maniac would empathize with the impulse to shoot someone (or pour soda on a stranger, or beat them with a bat) for texting or talking in church? And when is it OK for would-be film journalists to publish violent revenge fantasies?
We of course have no reason to believe that Florida shooter Curtis Reeves (or anyone, really) reads Wells' drivel, and it would be reckless to hold any of the writers mentioned in this piece as culpable for the death of Chad Oulson. But it's high time that some writers try to shake off their myopia and get some perspective: Seeing a movie may feel like a sacred experience when you make your living writing about film, but there are far more important things in life than the glare of a cell phone or a neighbor remarking about what's unfolding on screen. More important things, like life itself.