R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Use it

by stephanie.mlot@gmail.com. 0 Comments

"A little courtesy will go a long way," or so my fortune cookie professed this weekend.

Yeah, well, tell that to New York City.

I'm still too nice to live in this town. I watch friends argue with cabbies who won't turn around to drive downtown when they're already pointed up. I see people push their way out of the subway crowd using nothing but brute force.

Me? I simply wave the taxi driver by with a smile. And squeeze through chatting couples or past baby strollers to exit the train car, almost inaudibly excusing myself. And only because I am so irrationally scared of being rude to the wrong person – fearful of being shoved onto the train tracks in the path of a speeding hunk of steel or staring down the muzzle of a semi-automatic in a dark alley – that I let an entire island of people almost literally walk all over me.

This city is the one true love of my life, but being let out in public here should require a licensing test — one that examines someone's ability to a) be courteous toward others, b) respect personal space, and c) for the love of all that is holy, know when to shut their mouth.

I can accept that society has devolved enough that a sport coat and tie or a chiffon skirt is no longer a prerequisite to enter a movie theater. But when did we begin to accept that a 200-person cinema is the 21st century equivalent of your home's living room?

I'll happily (if not slightly embarrassingly) sing along to "The Lion King" during a 3D showing in theaters, and can even live with the elderly loudly whispering their way through "The King's Speech," because apparently foreign accents can be tough on ailing ears. But when I'm sitting in the depths of a movie theater that spans the width of my office cubicle, getting whiplash bobbing to see the screen from my non-stadium seating spot, I am in no such mood for your futile comments.

And I'm not the only one. NPR Monkey See blog host Linda Holmes wrote in a March 2010 post about being the shusher to the shushed, that there actually is a time and place for audience participation, but "A Serious Man" is not one of them.

"She [the pop culture braggart who shouted an inappropriate line during the Oscar contender] feels as you might when in a large group of people at a late-night showing of 'Fighting' or 'Step Up 2 The Streets' or something else very frivolous, where the entire crowd is yelling at the screen, because it's that kind of show. There are shows where you can do that. There are shows you can't ruin."

"Silver Linings Playbook" is not one of them, either. A story of two screwed up people who manage to find each other along the way, the movie is honest, witty, smart, and almost real. It's a film with no room for commentary or nervous laughter. Especially not groans of pleasure during a close-up of Jennifer Lawrence's cleavage.

At least Holmes understands.

"It ruined the entire sequence utterly. When this happens, all of a sudden, the string of tension that has been tightening and tightening just goes slack, because you're reminded of your surroundings — the theater, the people around you, the double reality of physical you in the theater and invisible you eavesdropping on the scene."

That invasion of privacy extends beyond a movie theater, where it is apparently my own fault for believing I am anywhere but in the comfort of my own couch.

Of course, I understand that once foot touches pavement, there is absolutely no expectation of courtesy.

The equation is simple: 400,000 people wandering Times Square + 275,000 mobile devices + countless glittering lights to distract pedestrians = the tenth circle of hell. It's like Occupy The Theater District every day, where in place of protest signs and three-day-old t-shirts you'll find cameras and baby carriages pushing their way through slow-moving herds of tourists.

Trying to comfortably ride two subway cars twice a day is another column entirely.

If only everyone in New York City could open their next fortune cookie to find such courteous wisdom. (And learn how to say "spring" in Chinese – chun tian, in case you were wondering.)

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Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

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