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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Guidelines for Being a Good Audience

It’s the holidays! And to paraphrase a popular seasonal song, it’s that time of year when the world falls in love with going to the movies. The kids are home from school, workdays are shortened, and lots of people are on vacation. It’s the ideal situation for catching up on all the films flooding theaters in preparation for Hollywood’s own favorite time of year: the awards season. So, with so many people packing the theaters I ask you, as a fellow movie watcher, to remember a few common courtesies that will help keep the season bright for one and all.

I’m sure that you need no reminder of how to behave properly in a movie theater. However, you may find this list handy to share with your friends and family members. Ideally this list would be posted at the entrance of a theater, or handed out with the purchase of a ticket, but until that day comes we shall have to lead by example, and let it be known that some behavior, while perfectly acceptable in the privacy of your own home is best left there and is inexcusable in a public movie theater.

1) Don’t Talk: This would seem to be an obvious statement to make, but we all know that people do it. I don’t care what the reason is it’s just plain inconsiderate to those around you. This includes talking during the opening titles. It may be no big deal to you, but the opening titles are a time to draw an audience into the mood of the picture. That’s difficult to do if people are talking. Far more annoying are the people who find it necessary to express out loud their thoughts during an important moment in the plot. It’s usually something that everyone in the audience is realizing at the same time. And since the filmmaker didn’t think it was necessary to provide an explanation in voice over, I don’t think anyone else should either.

2) Don’t Eat Like a Cow: I know it’s common to have a big bag of popcorn, some candy, or even a hot dog while watching a movie, but is it necessary to constantly shovel food into your mouth and then proceed to eat in a fashion you wouldn’t normally subject another living soul. We’re all aware of basic table manners. We should do our best to use them whether or not we’re actually at a table. This concept extends to drinks as well. I can forgive the accidental slurp of the straw, but when a drink is done, it’s done. Please, remember the concession stand is only a few hundred feet away. You are not in the middle of the desert in danger of dying of thirst, so please don’t act like your life depends on getting that last drop from the bottom of the cup.

3) Don’t Fiddle Around with Wrappers: Just as eating makes a lot of noise, so does unwrapping the food. It’s a simple thing to resolve; just open all wrappers before the movie starts. Worse case scenario, and you’ve forgotten to break open the cellophane ahead of time – unwrap quickly. Nothing appears to be noisier than someone trying to open a wrapper slowly and quietly. It only prolongs the agony. Just like the guillotine; a quick smooth movement is much less painful for all those involved.

4) Don’t Chew Gum: Chewing gum in general is considered to be a rude habit, particularly since these days most people are incapable of chewing with their mouths closed. And unless you are a cow on a farm, there is no excuse for sounding as if you have cud in your mouth. The same goes for chewing the ice from your drink. Both are impossible to do without making noise that is disruptive to others. Remember, you are sitting in close proximity to others, far closer than you normally would to a total stranger. Would you want to listen to them incessantly chewing?

5) Don’t Press Your Feet into the Chair in Front of You: It’s bad enough when people place their feet atop an unoccupied seat as if they were at home in a lazy-boy, stretching out their cramped legs. But it’s unforgivable to press any part of your appendages into the back of another person’s seat. You wouldn’t do it to someone driving a car, would you? You apologize when you knock the back of a seat in an airplane, don’t you? So, wouldn’t you think it likely to be very distracting to someone trying to give their undivided attention to a movie? The same can be said to those who switch crossed legs. Not an offense in itself, but please make an effort to avoid knocking the back of the chair in front of you when you do it.

6) Don’t Bring Infant Children to the Movies: Again, this seems like an obvious no-no, but it’s done more and more often, particularly when one considers the cost of a baby sitter added to the growing expense of theater tickets. But everyone else in the theater paid to see a movie. Why should they have to sit through the disruption of a child incapable of controlling their own behavior? I actually think it’s partly the theater’s responsibility to discourage parents from such a practice. Some theaters have special days and times set aside as Mommy/Daddy screenings where a parent can bring a child and the fellow moviegoers are already aware of the likelihood of disruption.

7) Don’t Sit Directly in Front of Someone If Avoidable: Most theaters theses days have raked seating, and stager the rows for optimal viewing for all audience members. To that end it’s up to us to seat ourselves intelligently. It’s understandable if a theater is filled to capacity and there are no other options, but to purposely sit directly in front of another patron when there are plenty of other seats available is just plain inconsiderate. And remember, that if the person you sit in front of is forced to move because you’re too tall, too loud, or otherwise obtrusive, they just might move to sit right in front of you.

8 ) Don’t Spread Your Germs Around: There was a day when everyone carried a handkerchief, and adults always had a cough drop, or a lifesaver. You know, something they could suck on if their throat got dry. But it seems that these days it’s extremely common for someone to sniffle, sneeze and cough their way through a feature film. Meanwhile, not only are they disturbing fellow audience members, but they are exposing the entire audience to whatever bug they brought with them into the theater. If you have to go to the movies when you’re in less than perfect health, please be prepared. Better yet, just stay home until you feel better and we’ll all be better off.

9) Don’t Use Your Cell Phone, Period: It seems that moviegoers have made some progress regarding cell phone use in the past ten years. It’s actually been a very long time since I last heard the ring of a cell phone in a movie theater. However, I can’t remember the last time I made it all the way through a film without seeing the glow of a cell phone screen. Somehow, many people ludicrously believe that checking to see whose call they just missed is acceptable behavior. Let’s make it perfectly clear that it is not. The only screen anyone should be watching in a movie theater is the big screen used to present the movie. And by no means is it ever all right to text! If what you’re doing in life is so important that others must be disturbed by your communication then get up and go outside. You’re not paying attention to the movie any way, so why not be considerate of those who are and come back when you’re done updating your busy life.

10) Don’t Be An Ass: If someone should catch you breaking one of these rules and asks you to stop, please be gracious enough to stop the offensive behavior. I was very impressed with the conduct of a young woman recently. She had been talking to a friend in a very animated conversation, and even though the lights had gone down, and the credits had begun, she continued as if she were not prepared to stop. Someone nearby very succinctly asked her to be quiet. She was noticeably embarrassed and apologized. More importantly, she didn’t talk the rest of the film. This is a far cry from the time when someone responded to my similar request with abject rudeness and a threat of physical violence. Obviously, most reactions are not as militant. But, most people naturally respond negatively to criticism of their personal behavior. It’s not necessary to apologize, but there’s no need to go to the other extreme either.

I don’t think any of the above rules are unreasonable. Although, I do understand it may be a lot to expect from a modern movie going audience. After all, it’s a known fact that the nature of film audiences have changed over the years, and will continue to do so as movies and how we view them expand beyond the scope of today. Home movie watching has had a noticeably adverse effect on the general behavior of audiences, and it seems that online streaming, and a virtually inexhaustible access to media through a plethora of personal devices will inevitably continue to contribute to this phenomenon. The result is the loss of a unique cultural event, and the transformation of what was once an ideal group experience into a battle for personal space. In the meantime, if we can manage to adhere to some rules of common courtesy, then we can all enjoy a great American pastime without getting on each other’s nerves – at least for 90 minutes or so.

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