Movie Theatre Etiquette: Why Can't We Get Tougher on People Who Use Cell Phones?

There's been lots of discussion about movie attendance going down, what with wide screen TVs and shorter embargo periods to rent or download films. While it's not yet as dramatic as some have predicted, I can foresee that day coming if an exceedingly annoying aspect of film going doesn't disappear.

As a writer in the entertainment industry, one of the perks is getting into free movies, whether a preview on a studio lot or attendance with the public during awards season at one of the multi-screens in a local mall. I generally preferred screenings, because it used to be that watching a film with professional colleagues afforded a classier experience. Not as many kids fooling around or talking. There was respect for each member of the audience.

Not any more. A new generation has come up, and by this I mean everyone born after 1920. People seem to think it's okay to comment with a neighbor as if they were watching a TV show at home. And even worse, with the advent of cell phones which almost everyone now has, there's hardly a film I attend where one or two doesn't ring.

Now, this might be understandable -- not excusable but understandable in that everyone makes a mistake. Although I just about always check to see if mine is on before a film starts, there was one auditorium instance (though not at a film) where my phone rang. I was mortified and immediately shut it off. However, I've noticed more and more that people take their time to do so, and some even answer the phone and talk in a whisper, as if the lower volume makes it okay.

Even more prevalent are those who think that, while they certainly shouldn't talk during a film, it's perfectly okay to respond to a text message. They open their cell phones repeatedly, the light exuding in almost klieg-like force in the rows just around them. And not just once, but over and over again. Like it's all right to do so, because there's not any sound.

They just text away, looking back and forth to the screen almost as an assurance to those they disturb that they are fully aware of why they're really there. I find myself steaming in anticipation of the next text incident which invariably comes, interrupting my concentration and enjoyment of what's unfolding in the movie. If it's a person right near me, I have occasionally summoned the courage to tell them to shut the phone off. I actually tapped a woman, who was whispering into her phone, to take the damned thing outside, all the while in fear that she or someone sitting with her might pull out a gun and shoot me, as if I were in the wrong.

Why do we have to put up with this? And why do film goers feel no obligation to turn off their phones or leave them on a vibrator mode that cannot be heard. Having said that, it's uncanny how many of those "silent" vibrators are actually louder than some rings.

And why should we have to be policemen? Yes, we can storm out to the lobby and exhort some minimum wage security guard or high school student to intercede on our behalf. But by the time they confront the evildoer, the deed has already passed and you wind up bothering the other moviegoers more than the perpetrator has.

Is there some method to prevent cell phone entry to a movie hall or to impose such a heavy penalty if caught that audience members will think twice before committing such a thoughtless act? Something ought to be done, perhaps by everyone in the immediate vicinity of the creepy jerk standing up in unison to tell him or her to stop. It might annoy everyone at first, but perhaps if it were done often enough the thought of being subjected to this public outrage and possibly being escorted out of the theatre by an acne-faced employee would inhibit others from following suit.

Perhaps not, but I can dream.