Phone Rage

Last week, Kevin Williamson took matters into his own hands when a fellow audience member wouldn’t stop using her smartphone during a theater performance:

The lady seated to my immediate right (very close quarters on bench seating) was fairly insistent about using her phone. I asked her to turn it off. She answered: “So don’t look.” I asked her whether I had missed something during the very pointed announcements to please turn off your phones, perhaps a special exemption granted for her. She suggested that I should mind my own business. So I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage.

He was subsequently ejected and could face criminal charges. I’m with Kevin 100 percent. He didn’t grab the phone before talking with the management. The management simply refused to stop the disruption. It was only then that he lost it. And I fully understand why.

I refuse to have dinner with someone constantly consulting their iPhone. I ask them to put it away or end the meal. I’m also an Acela Quiet Car Nazi. The plague of smartphone chatter is slowly destroying whatever space individuals once had to separate ourselves from the maddening crowd of gabbers. When some of us are allowed an oasis of calm – the quiet car – and others refuse to abide by its strictures, talking loudly with one another or yelling into their phones, I simply point to the quiet sign and remind them that this is supposed to be a library atmosphere. Others are too polite to address the rudeness. But they seem grateful for my being the necessary asshole. My gripe is that I am forced to be an asshole by the poor manners and contempt for others of gabbing phone-addicts. In my Acela experience, it’s often the executive white male types who simply ignore me and force me to find a conductor. Yes, in the end, my objections can make more noise and disruption than the asshole on the cellphone. But he started it.

I’ve stopped going to the movies entirely because of this. You cannot ignore a sudden light appearing three rows down. You cannot ignore the tippity-tap of the texter behind you. You can try – but there’s a reason the lights are kept low in theaters – so you can focus on the stage or the screen. These anti-social yahoos are destroying the performance for everyone – and then act all affronted when told how douchy they are. John Del Signore is among many calling Williamson a hero:

How many stern warnings do obnoxious assholes get before there are actual consequences? Unlimited, apparently. “I don’t think we’re going to start a new policy of ejecting customers,” [said Howard Kagan, one of the producers of the show Williamson was attending].

[But as Williamson notes,] “The Alamo Drafthouse has a very strict policy about this sort of thing. If you talk, if you use your phone, you’ll be thrown out. And it’s a very successful business model. People are willing to pay more for it! Theater managers have to do something about this… I wish twice a month some Broadway theater would jack somebody, do a high profile ejection. I think you would establish a new set of social norms.”

Me too. Or maybe one movie theater in a complex where cellphone use is explicitly barred. Alas, there remains some kind of deference to these morons, as if they had some kind of right to spoil Tyler Coates thinks Williamson acted just as selfishly as the person he was admonishing:

Williamson engaged in an angry conversation with a stranger during a musical performance, one that is set in an intimate cabaret environment. Surely that was distracting to his fellow audience members, not to mention the actors. In the end, he was forced to leave the show, and I can imagine that the scene of watching a woman slap her neighbor and then having security escort him out disrupted the performance for many more people than the woman’s silent Googling. I don’t find it inspiring; I find Williamson’s actions to be just as (if not more) rude than the woman who annoyed him. It’s not commendable, and it’s a shame to see an amateur provocateur take the attention away from the people on stage in the show whose job it is to perform for an audience.

There is no “silent Googling”. The management should, in my view, throw the Googler out. Dreher sympathizes with Williamson’s vigilantism:

More and more people, it seems, simply do not understand how to behave in public, and how to respect others. I wouldn’t recommend seizing the phones of rude old ladies and throwing them across the room. But I understand the impulse, and would pay Kevin Williamson’s court costs, if it came to that.

And Tod Kelly doubts that the incident really happened:

[N]othing in the exchanges Williamson notes sound or feel like the exchanges real people have in real life – it reads more like something he imagined doing while stewing in his seat.  Being the latest in a long, long line of Irish Storytellers, I can usually tell a story from an account, and Williamson’s feels like the former.

Well, we’ll see as the legal process unfolds.

(Video: Hugh Jackman discussing when he, from the stage, had to admonish an audience member whose phone kept ringing through a crucial scene in the play A Steady Rain.)

(Thumbnail photo by Jenny Cestnik)