One of the first W.C. Fields movies I saw was an early 1930s Paramount all-star film called "If I Had a Million." Given a cool million to spend as he wishes, Fields uses the money to buy a fleet of jalopies allowing him to careen around Los Angeles, hunting down pernicious road hogs. Whenever Fields sees someone hogging the road, he rams them with one of his cars, hops into the next waiting car in his fleet and heads off in search of a new victim.
I am often reminded of the grand old comic when I'm in a multiplex these days. I think of myself as a generally peaceful citizen, but it seems as if almost every time I go out to the movies I find myself spoiling for a fight with some rude knucklehead who's texting or talking during a movie. I usually just bark, "Put the phone away!" but it's hard to resist the temptation to knock some sense into them, just as Fields did to his road hogs.
Apparently I am not alone. Matt Singer at IFC News says that going to the movies, far from being a refuge from the outside world, is now an even more stressful experience than real life. He is asking people to sign a petition designed to improve the moviegoing experience. He suggests that in addition to shutting their mouths mouth and silencing their cellphones, people should never bring a baby to an R-rated movie, stop throwing their garbage on the theater floor and never, ever, bring loud, stinky food to the theater, suggesting that people who arrive at the multiplex with Chinese takeout in crackly plastic containers "should receive one warning. A second violation gets you a lifetime ban."
I'm on board with Singer's proposal, but it doesn't really deal with the prickly issue of new technology -- especially the proliferation of texting in the middle of movies. I've found that at least in my family, there is a dramatic generation gap on the texting question. My 13-year-old son considers it totally acceptable to stay in touch with pals during a movie while I find it loathsome and obnoxious, especially to everyone in the vicinity of the glowing light of a cellphone.
I tried explaining to my kid that texting was also insulting to the filmmakers, who have every reason to expect that the audience might actually give their undivided attention to their work. But he wasn't buying that, arguing that if the audience pays good money they should be able to make their own decisions about how much attention a film merits, which I'm afraid is a sign of exactly what happens to your cinematic values when you've grown up watching Michael Bay movies.
If anyone has a strong opinion on this issue I'd like to hear it. Personally, I'd be happy to have theater owners eject anyone guilty of rampant texting, at least unless they can prove that they've been in necessary contact with a baby sitter or an elderly relative. Am I guilty of being too much of a multiplex vigilante? Or would you, too, like a little more peace and quiet when you watch a movie, regardless of how much it might infringe on every American's right to big-screen free speech?