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Take Back The Dark: Eradicating The Cinema Talker

Shut. The Hell. Up.
by Chris Parry

You know how your parents always told you that violence is not the answer? You remember how your school teachers scolded you whenever you raised a fist and threatened a classmate? Well, I hate to tell you this, Nancy, but they were all wrong. For yes, there is a time when violence is absolutely necessary, and even preferable, to diplomacy and tact. If you learn nothing else from reading my ramblings, learn this - if you ignore people who are noisy while watching movies - YOU are part of the problem. It's time to take action. It's time to take back the theater. It's time to get ornery.

I personally can't cope with it. I just can't deal. When I sit down to watch a movie and some retarded 14 year old and his 87 friends come in and sit down behind me, all yelling and laughing and talking on cell phones to the person at the end of the row, and munching on uber-expensive candy that comes in the noisiest bags possible, and kicking my chair, and ignoring my 'shh' with the ever so stupid reply "it's only an ad, man," I simply want to hulkasize in my chair, turn to face the little truants in question and start peeling back their faces with my nails.

See, I refuse to accept that I must endure two hours of pain when I've paid ten dollars to see a movie in comfort. And how does listening to Taniqua and Shariqua exchanging, "Oh no you di'n't"s and "Oh my god, he's so hot"s even come close to anyone human being's definition of 'comfort'?

It's not a freakin living room, you ignorant swine. It's not a Pizza Hut. It's a MOVIE THEATER. You sit down and you watch the freaking MOVIE.

Okay, so perhaps I'm starting this article off a little too aggressively. The fact is, I'm already starting to drool venom as I think back at all the morons who have stolen precious cinema hours away from me with their idiotic predilection toward making noise in the one place in this world where external noise should be the least welcome experience there is.

See, there are three types of noisemakers in a movie theater.

1. THE TEENAGE RETARD - This douchebag, this fetid sphincter on the ass of mankind, can not go to a movie without friends, usually four or more of them. Once in the door, they can not be quiet. Instead, they make more noise as time wears on, apparently as some sort of rite of passage, or perhaps it's a mating ritual. I don't know. I do know that I go to sleep at night dreaming of curb-stomping the little bastards.

2. THE FEEDERS - These gormless mouthbreathers can't sit down in a theater without stuffing something into their mouths, even if they're not hungry, and even if that food source cost them 2000% more than it should have. They'll usually buy the item at the candy counter that is packaged in impossible-to-open plastic, or constantly rustling paper, and they'll eat in handfuls because, heck, they bought the family sized everything and how else are they going to stuff it all down before the movie ends if not by the fist?

3. THE CULTURALLY UNENLIGHTENED - Okay, I'll bite - you might know these people as 'black folks'. Now, now, don't get all Janeane Garofalo on my ass, I'm not being racist here. I'm pointing out a simple, sad fact that many black folks will talk more during a movie than white folks will (at least past the age of 15). They also tend to have far more rhythm, perform strongly in most sports, and are generally quite gifted in the penis size department, so hey, it's a trade-off. Black people can do most everything that matters better than I can, but they can't swim for shit and they talk during movies. Give me my victories where I can get them, okay?

So there's your three prime problem groups. The next question then, is how do we combat them? I'm glad you asked, for over the years, I have fine-tuned several methods of controlling cinema morons that hopefully can be picked up the general population and turned into a national movement. But being as most people are actually members of one of the groups in question... probably not.

Regardless, here's what you do to ensure that your interruptions are few while watching a movie.

STEP 1. AVOID FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT, AND BE SEATED EARLY - I can't emphasize this enough. You need to get to the theater early enough to stake out four seats, preferably in the furthest back row, dead center. Why the back row? Because not only is this the best seat for actually watching the film, but by sitting in the back row, you've just eliminated the 'bastards behind you' from being an issue. You're also eliminating the 'mid-movie pee'ers who like to squeeze past you to take a leak during the dramatic scene', which is a nice bonus. Lastly, you now have what is known as a clear shot, but we'll talk more about that in later chapters.

STEP 2. SAVE THOSE SEATS - Take a jacket and a bag, or pick up a newspaper or theater calendar in the foyer, and put them on the seats next to you. Then, as the theater begins to fill, hold those seats come hell or high water. When someone asks if they're free, you say no. If every other seat in the theater is taken, then you've got to be a stand-up guy and say "okay, you can have them, my friends don't look like they're turning up," but until that time comes, make people sit elsewhere. The more seats you occupy, the less likely a large group will enter your row, which means the teenagers will be in front of you, where they can do less damage to your tender sensibilities.

STEP 3. DO YOUR RECONNAISSANCE - Before the lights go down, look around you and observe the likely Feeders, Teens and Culturally Unlighteneds. Look for spots where nobody seems to be eating popcorn for several rows. Look for parts of the theater where the teens have not settled. These areas are your Plan B locations.

STEP 4. READY YOUR WEAPONS - If you plan ahead, you can have several weapons at your disposal with which to battle the enemy. Personally, I like the pocket full of pennies. Some prefer JuJuBe's, others Junior Mints, but I like the low cost, accuracy advantage and noise impact that a penny brings to the party. Make sure you have easy access to the pocket in question - if you're fumbling around and dropping coins on the floor, you've just alerted your target as to your presence.

STEP 5. IDENTIFY THE TARGET - And you will identify plenty. Now, it's important not to be a Nazi about this stuff. If a guy is eating popcorn, he may be a fool, but he's not necessarily a noisy one. Give people a chance to settle in to the film and then listen. Hear that loud noise? Maybe it's a hippy woman unwrapping the granola bar she bought from home. Maybe it's the Asian guy sipping a can of Sprite through a straw, trying to get every last drop. Maybe it's the fat, dumb cracker who feels the need to dig to the bottom of his popcorn, then shake it around to get the best bits up top, then dig around some more, then eat them open-mouthed. Whoever it is, identify them and take note.

STEP 6. DIPLOMACY - Now that you know who the problem is going to be, keep a watch on them. Are they being obnoxious? Can you hear them whenever the on-screen music stops? Is the noise unlikely to pass? Are they getting on your GOD DAMN NERVES?!? Okay - then it's time to tell them so. Start with the following: "Shh."
If they're behind you, you should look around at them and hold your stare for just a half second longer than you think you'd be comfortable with. Most of the time, that stare will shut a guy up, or at the very least encourage someone else to say "yeah buddy, quieten down." Nobody wants to be the first person on the dance floor when it comes to shushing a guy, but once someone starts it off, you usually find others willing to back you up. Usually.

STEP 7. WARNING - No change? Okay, move up to yellow on the Noisy Asshole Alert Meter and hit them with a raised level "SHH!", and maybe even follow it with a "Damn, man..." and a disgusted head shake. If he reacts with embarrassment, you might throw in a "there's always one, eh?" If he reacts with a sneer instead, and looks like he could beat your ass like a pinata, no more talking, shh'ing or shaking of heads. Shrink into your seat... for now.

STEP 8. PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE - Still no change? Alrighty then, this is where you grow some balls - we're going to Alert Level Orange. If the person in question is talking, or being incessantly noisy, or answering a cellphone or heckling or rustling plastic bags full of sandwiches... I authorize you to move into the arena of physical violence. Yes, that's right - blame me if you get arrested, but here's what I want you to do. Take one of those pennies (don't use nickels or quarters, they really hurt and they add up over time), look around you to make sure nobody is watching, and then hurl them at the back of the person in question's head.
BAM! Now, if you've hit dead on, the guy will be looking around at the person behind him and preparing to beat him or her up. DO NOT LOOK. DO NOT LAUGH. Keep watching the film, as tough as it might be to do so. Looking at your handiwork tells the noisemaker that you know something happened, and that soon becomes a "what the hell are you looking at?" Steer clear.
If you didn't hit your target dead on, chances are you hit the chair in front of him, or maybe even the snack or cellphone responsible for the disturbance. Whatever happens, the penny will hit the ground and make a loud noise. Now, the victim may well think that they simply dropped a coin, because let's face it, noisemakers are idiots. But that's okay - if he keeps making noise, throw another one. The second one ALWAYS lets the guy know that someone is pissed at him. And if he still thinks he's dropping money, then at least you're being entertained.

STEP 9. SHOCK AND AWE - I must say that, for me, Step 8 is usually all I need to quieten a noisemaker. The penny bombs really do work well, almost to the point where I look forward to hearing some idiot ripping open a packet of Roast Ox-flavored Lays. But occasionally you'll come up against a guy who is genuinely retarded and can not understand your subtle methods of telling him to shut the hell up, so that's when you roll out the Red Alert Level and get nasty.

"What are you, retarded or something? Do you think I paid ten bucks to listen to your conversation about Mary Jane Rottencrotch? Take your pre-pubescent, popcorn fisting, cellphone-obsessed, Mariah Carey-listening, better-be-home-by-ten friends outside to the food court, or SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

Now, that'll serve you well in three ways. First, you've scared some children in ways most Grinch-like, which is quite a lot of fun. Second, you've alerted everyone seated around them that it is now open season on noisemakers - the dancefloor is open. Third, you've embarrassed the hell out of the noisemakers to the point where to say anything more would be to draw way too much attention to themselves.
Now, I'll grant you, they may well go the other way and try to be tough about it by making even more noise. But that's okay, because a theater manager will usually have no problem showing them the door if things get really out of hand. More likely, they'll make less noise, because most kids fear being the center of attention in a large public space more than life itself.

"You know, I was wondering, could you eat that stuff a little more noisily? I can still hear the actors, albeit only just, and that Brittany Murphy, her voice is really getting to me. Can you just ramp it up a notch? That'd be great. Because the sound of you shoveling popcorn down your throat is far more interesting that this movie that I PAID TEN BUCKS TO SEE!"

You're getting the idea now, aren't you?

"Excuse me.. Yeah, I'm just going to change seats. Sorry... Excuse me... Mind my feet... Sorry."

Sorry folks, but when it comes to noisy black guys, the best defense is to simply move to a quieter part of the theater (otherwise known as Plan B). I mean, I may be an angry guy with little fear in his heart regarding most noisy people in movie theaters, but I'm not an idiot. I did mention that black guys are stronger and run faster than white guys, right?

Okay then.

This is the question I'm often asked by people who tell me stories about having movies ruined by loud people, and it constantly baffles me. see, here's the thing - if you don't say something, others around those noisy people begin to assume that to make noise in a movie theater is the natural state. If you don't correct them, the problem will get worse.

By doing nothing, you become part of the problem. You're like the leadership of Great Britain who did nothing when Hitler invaded Poland, or a Republican voter who cast a 'morality vote' for a guy that drops bombs on children in other countries - you're an enabler. You allow the bad guys to do what they do. You justify standing by as a crime is committed by saying "but I'm not committing it - nothing to do with me." But it's ALL to do with you.

True story - I was watching a documentary about Imelda Marcos at the Vancouver Film Festival recently, and an old couple behind me just would not shut up. Apparently the woman was from the Philippines, and the guy was just old and stupid and shoveling popcorn like there was no tomorrow, and they kept talking about everything they saw on screen. "Oh, remember that? Oh yes, I saw that." It was driving me nuts. Added to which, I had another talker on my left, a teenager who must have wandered into the wrong theater with his incredibly bored girlfriend, and a plastic bag wielding feeder was seated on my right.

Dilemma! Do I just sit through constant noise and do nothing, or do I take back the dark?

Dammit - I took back the dark. The noisy teenagers were easy. i said to the bored girl, "Hey, you know, try actually watching a movie that doesn't have Rob Schneider in it for a change, you might even learn something," which saw her boyfriend say, "haha, you got told." From that point on, she was quiet and still.

Next came the feeder: "Hey buddy, you know why they have a half hour break between screenings? So you can rustle your plastic bag BEFORE the movie starts. Do you mind?" Boy, I was on a roll - two for two.

But the old couple behind me weren't buying into my "shh" routine. And they all but ignored my, "Hey, do you mind? I'm trying to listen to the movie, not your life story." As Old Man Gums continued rustling his popcorn bag and shaking the kernels to bottom, I couldn't take any more. I turned around in my seat, took the popcorn off him, and placed it between my feet. The old man sat, thoroughly gobsmacked. I waited and waited for him to say something, or call a manager, but you know what he did? Nothing.

That's when I realized that the noisemakers are just like us in that they really don't want to cause a scene. They do what they do because they are ignorant, not arrogant. They simply need to be told how to behave, so that makes it OUR job to teach them.

I could go on and tell you the story about how I once smacked a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Timorese freedom fighter in the head with a screwed-up theater program during the movie about his own life, but the point would be the same; people need to be taught when they're doing the wrong thing, and when you teach them they usually 'get it' very quickly.

So next time you go see a movie in a theater, do the smart things. See a weekday matinee, buy no food, sit deep, arm yourself, speak up, take no shit and, above all else, don't be angry - be funny. If you have to make noise yourself in the battle to silence others, at least make it entertaining for those around you.

Got a theater noise story? Fought back for the side of good? Been driven nuts by someone who just wouldn't behave? Got more advice to give? Wanna call em a racist because you think I'm saying EVERY black person talks during movies when I said no such thing?

Tell us about it in our forum!

HBS writer Paul Bryant was so outraged at this piece that he decided to write one calling me a bigot. You can find that back and forth right here

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originally posted: 11/19/04 21:01:28
last updated: 09/23/05 17:34:45
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