Greatest Hits: Movie Theater Manners (or, Don’t Stand In Front of the Screen While Making Out With Someone)

Sociologists should really spend more time studying movie theater behavior; because really, I can’t think of a place where people’s social differences are more apparent. People are always talking about high school being the perfect crucible-style microcosm of society at large, but I feel like things that happen in high schools are, more or less, predictable. Especially if it’s your high school, where you and your classmates have been socialized together for years.

People certainly act strangely in high school, but I can’t say that I was ever surprised by someone’s actions. But when I was watching The House Bunny at the Metreon on Saturday, I was actually stunned into stupefied silence by the actions of two fellow movie theater patrons.

Now, I have seen some crazy shit at movie theaters in my day; although really, once you’ve been around it enough, it’s not that crazy. People talking on their cell phones. Violent teenagers carrying out turf wars in the theater. Discreet handjobs and blowjobs. Cooing infants and antsy toddlers being brought by their horrible selfish guardians to movies like Sex and the City and the Charlize Theron prostitute-turned-serial-killer classic Monster.

At first, this behavior was surprising to me. I was brought up to treat movie theaters with the same quiet reverence one adopts at a library. It never occurred to me that this wasn’t a universal teaching until Melanie and I went to Washington, DC, in January of 2001 for Bush’s first inauguration (just for kicks). One night, hopeless with despair, we went to a mall theater to cheer up with the pleasing familiarity of a movie.

We couldn’t agree on a movie, so I went to see The Gift, the Sam Raimi suspense yarn starring Cate Blanchett as a Southern psychic, and Katie Holmes’ breasts in a bold cameo as themselves. I was very excited to see this movie. Unfortunately, 95% of my fellow moviegoers were more excited to sit in a big dark room and yell things at each other. This was a real learning experience for me. For instance, I learned that few things are more amusing to an urban black audience than the sight of white people falling.

There is a fairly intense sequence in The Gift where Hilary Swank is attacked by her abusive husband (Keanu Reeves) and dragged by her femullet out of Blanchett’s home. I was absolutely riveted by this scene, especially when Blanchett took off running after them, attempting to pry them apart. But then Blanchett slips in a puddle of wet paint and falls roughly to the floor. Cue explosions of laughter from the audience, accompanied by several people shouting, “WHITE BITCH FELL!” You get the idea.

But just in case you don’t:

But I digress back to my screening of The House Bunny on Saturday. It became clear from early on that we’d have a number of different “Hey asshole” factors going on. For instance, just to the right of us sat two women with a mewing toddler. Sigh. Oh well. And, in front of us, a middle-aged black couple that took turns talking on their cell phones throughout the movie.

No matter how many times I see this, it’s still shocking to me that anyone would think was acceptable. This is probably because I’m hyper-aware of myself when I’m at the movies. I’ll sit there agonizing over whether or not to open a bag of chips, because I know it’ll be loud when the wrapper tears apart. Meanwhile, these two adults are just openly taking calls during the movie. Their posture remains as calm and relaxed as if they were—well, watching a movie. There is no hunching down; there is no hurried whisper of “Could I call you back?”; there is no embarrassed run for the exit. There is just the sound of their voices casually echoing through the theater.

But that wasn’t all.

Toward the end of the movie, as Anna Faris was preparing to give her climactic speech, the woman in front of us stood up. When standing, she blocked a good 20% of the screen. After standing for a few moments, she bent over for an extended period of time, giant ass positioned as though Anna Faris’ chin were resting on it during the finale. The woman then stood up again, turned to the guy she was with, leaned down, and kissed him. And kissed him again. And again. And again. And again.

Locking lips, the woman commenced to STAND there and MAKE OUT with her boyfriend/husband for the next FIVE MINUTES. The sounds of their smacking lips rang through the theater. And it just. Kept. Going. It was one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever witnessed.  I still have absolutely no idea what happened at the end of the movie, because my brain was working overtime to block out everything that was happening.

I was sitting between Eric and Scott, and I knew Eric could see it too. I didn’t even want to look at him, because if I saw his face, it would make it real. It took Scott longer to notice, because he’s a bit more oblivious about such things, and accuses me of racism when I notice them before him. So the fact that he noticed at all should give you a huge indication of just how long and loud this obscene display went on.

Eventually the awkward Standing Smoochfest died down, and the woman stood fully upright again. This was both better and worse than what had just happened; she was blocking more of the screen now, but at least that horrible, sloppy smacking sound has stopped, and our psyches could begin healing. She stood in front of the screen, immobile, for the next three or four minutes (while we sat behind her, still too petrified to move or speak), and then slowly gathered her bags and lumbered to the exit aisle. The movie was still playing, but she took no notice of this. A minute later, the man stood up and followed suit. They began making out against the wall for a minute or two (NOOOO!!!!), and then traipsed down the aisle toward the exit. That was the last we saw of them.

I still don’t know what happened or who they were. Retarded people? Space aliens? Retarded space aliens? Because I simply CANNOT believe that any sane, rational, mature adult would think those were acceptable movie theater manners. But, evidently, they did. Sociologists, take note. Movie theaters are a smorgasbord of conflicting cultural standards. If you’d like, you can start your study with me. I’m a pretty good example of the Situationally Racist Uptight White Guy.

This post originally appeared on The Sassmouth Chronicles on August 25, 2008.

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