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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - Sharyn Shu­fiyan

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.

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