Ssshhh ... be quiet!
We should (politely) tell off people who talk or text non-stop in a movie theatre. Otherwise, they will never learn the meaning of common courtesy.
IHAVE a reputation of being a fiery one, to the extent that my ex-colleagues half-joked that I needed to go for anger management sessions.
But I have made efforts to change and generally have become quite dormant these past few years. Although I get irritated fairly easily, I now think twice before snapping and choose my battles carefully. But when it comes to my personal space – and I have a heightened sense of this – it’s a nerve as thin, and as snappable, as a piece of raw spaghetti.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to watch 12 Years A Slave at the cinema. It was a night slot and the cinema was not very full. On my right were two girls who were very chatty with each other. I said to myself, never mind, maybe they will shut up when the movie starts. The movie was about to begin when they were still chatting, so I gave them a soft sshhh. The girl who was next to me apologised and I thought that was the end of it. But no. They went on whispering to each other as the movie progressed. And these whispers were audible because the movie is slow-paced. It’s not some dumbed-down action movie that ignites your visual senses and violates your eardrums with deafening sound effects. This was an excellent movie with such emotional and psychological undertones that require much of the viewer’s attention and thoughts; I did not want the experience jeopardised by excessive whispers on my right ear.
So I turned to face the girls and asked if they were going to keep talking. We had a bit of an exchange, to which the girl closest to me uttered sarcastically, “Outburst”. They then moved to the row in front of me, which I appreciated, but from the corner of my eye I could still see their heads bobbing towards each other in whispering mode ... throughout the entire movie.
Before 12 Years A Slave, another slow-paced drama, Ilo-Ilo, was showing. A phone went off in the middle of that movie but instead of silencing it, the owner, an old man, carelessly spoke loudly into the phone and then hung up without any remorse. A few chuckles broke out in the cinema, because we couldn’t believe just how ignorant he was to his surroundings. We let him go – he was an old man after all.
You’d think with all the reminders to silence your phone and to keep quiet before a movie starts, we would cultivate a society which understands common courtesy and public etiquette. That we would actually silence our phones the minute the ads come up, or zip our mouths when the opening sequence fades in. But to some, the ads are just a few more seconds added to the anticipation of the movie.
But it’s not just a Malaysian thing: I relayed this annoyance to my mother and her reply was, “Did you read about the man who got shot for texting in America?”
Chad Oulson was fatally shot by Curtis Reeves, a 71-year-old ex-cop for refusing to stop texting in the cinema. It was later found that he was texting his babysitter to check on his daughter who was unwell. Oulson and Reeves had been arguing over the matter. The cinema was still showing previews when Reeves took his gun out and shot Oulson in the chest.
If Oulson had just walked out of the cinema, gone home to his daughter and seen the movie some other time, she would still have a father. If America had implemented tighter gun control, a man wouldn’t have just waltzed into a cinema in the middle of the afternoon with a loaded gun.
Of course, this is an extreme example, and no violent action is ever justified over some irksome behaviour. We know Americans carry guns in their pockets like a box of mint, but let’s just go back to the moment Oulson decided to not put his phone away. Instead of apologising and putting his phone away or walking out, he chose to defy common courtesy; it’s just texting, what’s the problem?
Because people pay to enter a cinema, the audience may feel that they have added authority to do whatever the hell they want. It’s no longer about sharing a public space; it’s about how we make the public space, private.
If we are used to cozying up on our couch and putting our legs up, we will bring this attitude into the cinema. If we are used to answering the phone while watching at home, we will do this in the cinema.
We paid for it, so we will do our best to be comfortable, even if it’s at the expense of the comfort of others. We become selfish, arrogant and inconsiderate because the cinema – the wide screen, the surround sound, the dark hall – gives the illusion that we are the only ones that matter.
For us Malaysians, what fuels this even more is the fact that we don’t make our displeasure known either. We have cultivated a culture of not saying anything. If this kid kicks the back of my chair one more time, I swear I’ll rip him apart!
But we often swear only in our hearts, we won’t really rip him apart. Instead, we quietly endure as the irritation continues to seep into our inner core. The last thing we want is to make a big fuss over a “small matter”.
But therein lies the problem; by not saying anything, you are justifying the action as “okay”. And the kid will continue to kick the chair, the parents will continue to ignore the kid’s insolence, and the kid will grow up into the two girls who wouldn’t stop talking in the cinema, arrogant and defiant because no one had ever told them to shut up.
Of course, I’m not asking you to start shooting people who annoy you in the cinema. But if you feel the person next to you is spoiling the movie by talking non-stop, texting non-stop, or kicking the back of your chair non-stop, politely tell the person to cease being disruptive; unless you do, you will walk out of the cinema feeling robbed of your cinematic experience.
Sharyn Shufiyan believes that cultures adorn a society, much like Tapestry on a piece of cloth. She puts on an anthropological hat to discuss Malaysia’s cultures, subcultures and society (ies).
Going to extremes: retired police captain Curtis reeves appears via video conference before a judge for shooting Chad Oulson for texting in a movie theater.