Inhuman Swill : January 2011

The bully's speech

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A couple of weeks ago, Laura and I bought tickets online for an evening showing of The King's Speech. We went out to dinner first but failed to leave ourselves enough time to get to the movie theater early. By the time we arrived, our theater was nearly full. We could have sat together in the front row or sat apart. Neither prospect appealed to us so we went to the box office and got a refund. We had to eat the $2.00 online ticketing fee, but it was our own fault for not getting there early enough for decent seats.

Last night we tried seeing The King's Speech again. This time we got to the theater a full hour early. This was probably overkill, but we did end up scoring ourselves the perfect spots, dead center two rows up in the stadium seating section.

Well before the previews started, we couldn't help but overhear an elderly couple bickering in the seats directly behind us. I rolled my eyes, hoping this wouldn't continue once the movie started.

The theater was filling up fast. Shortly after the old man excused himself to go buy popcorn or use the restroom or whatever, we heard a young woman asking the old woman if she would move over so she and her husband could sit together.

"I'm sorry," said the old woman, "but we arrived early so we could have these seats. My husband likes to sit in the center."

"But you could just move over one seat, and we could sit together."

"I'm sorry, but my husband likes to sit in the center."

"All you'd have to do is move over one seat."

"I don't want to move without asking my husband. He's not here right now. When he gets back, you can ask."

"Why won't you just move over one seat?"

The old woman was starting to sound peevish. "My husband likes to sit in the center. He's not here. When he gets back, I'll will ask him."

The young woman eventually went away. Laura and I heard another woman in the row behind us reassuring the old woman that she hadn't done anything wrong.

The movie started, and it was a wonderful film. We laughed, we cried, it became a part of us. The couple behind us didn't make a peep, at least not that I noticed. We were transported.

The lights came up and people started filing out. Laura and I always sit through the end credits when we can, so we stayed put in our seats. When the theater was nearly empty but the credits were still rolling, I heard a young man's voice in the row behind us.

"Excuse me, ma'am," he said, "but do you mind if I ask you question?"

"What is it?" asked the old woman, mildly.

"I want to ask you why you wouldn't move over one seat so my wife and I could sit together," the young man said. "I want to ask why you would be that rude."

"What do you mean? We got here early so we could get the seats we wanted. My husband was out."

"I wasn't here," chimed in her husband. They both sounded so old.

"Why would a person be that rude?" the young man said, with some hostility. "Not to move over one seat. My pregnant wife had to sit by herself."

From his tone, you would have thought the old woman had personally slugged his pregnant wife in the belly. Laura and I both turned around in our seats at the same time, and at the same time we both said, more or less, "She's not the rude one. You're the one being rude."

This was the first I had even seen what the old woman looked like. She had to have been at least eighty, sitting hunched in her seat like a frail, lumpy frog. Her hair looked purple in the half-light.

The young man, on the other hand, was small and slender but very tough-looking. He wore a skin-tight white T-shirt under his jacket, and his hair was shaved down to uniform stubble. He was no older than thirty.

"This is none of your business," he said to us. "How can you defend that kind of rudeness?"

"She didn't do anything wrong," Laura and I both insisted.

"I wasn't even here," the old man said.

My hands were shaking at this point. I am rather confrontation-averse, but who can sit by while some angry thug bullies an old woman?

The "conversation" went back and forth like that for a few more exchanges while I tried to mentally prepare for it to turn violent. Thankfully it never did, but it did end with the seething young man standing up and pointing a finger at the old woman as he retreated down the aisle.

"Shame on you, shame," he said. "And shame on you too, for your rudeness."

"I wasn't even here!" complained the old man.

"I'm not talking to you," said the young man, who was now nearly at the theater exit. "I talking to you and you. Shame on you two for encouraging this kind of rude behavior. Shame! Shame!"

Then he was gone.

The elderly couple thanked us profusely for taking their side, and we reassured them that we didn't think they'd done anything wrong. I kept an eye out for the guy as Laura and I exited the building, but we didn't see him.

We talked the incident over on the way home. We were both glad we had said something, and we were proud of having helped run off a builly. But there were other things we wished we'd had the presence of mind to say to him. One was, "What kind of person needs to bully an old woman just because he didn't get his way?" Another was, "Are you going to stop harassing this woman, or do I need to go talk to a manager?"

I don't know what you think about situations like this, but here's my take. I think there's a culture of entitlement at work here. I'm used to getting my way, I expect to get my way, and if I don't get my way then you are doing me injury. If there's something you could give me that I want and deserve and you don't give it to me, then you are a terrible person. You are rude.

It's a two-year-old's mentality, but you see it in adults all the time. I frequently act that way, I know. But the bottom line is, just because someone could give me something does not mean they are obligated to give it to me. I don't have a right to the theater seat of my choice any more than I have the right to punch you in the nose. Even though I might want to.

Yes, the old woman could have moved over a seat. (Or maybe she couldn't. I don't know what her mobility is like. Maybe she and her husband were waiting to leave until the theater was empty because it takes her five minutes just to stand up.) But when she doesn't, for whatever reason, the adult response is to nod your head and accept the consequences of not arriving at the theater half an hour early. The adult response is not to sit and stew so thoroughly through a two-hour movie that you have to start harassing an old woman afterward.

I don't know, maybe all bullying stems from a sense of entitlement. You have something I don't that I think I deserve to have, so I'm going to take it from you, you rude, selfish person. Even if that something is self-respect.

So that's my take on an incident I'm obviously still stewing over myself. What's your take? Who was right and who was wrong? Or was everyone wrong? I'd like to hear.

A green light for gunmen? It has come to my attention that a major American retail chain, in an orchestrated campaign to "take out" high prices, may be quietly encouraging violence in our cities and towns. I'm sure the perpetrators of this offense don't mean it that way, but what other message than an invitation to mayhem are the impressionable and unstable amongst us supposed to take from the sight of a local area map covered with red bull's-eye symbols?

I hereby call upon Target Corporation, in these times of hyper-vitriolic political rhetoric, to change their store-locator symbol to something less inflammatory. A nice, neutral asterisk, perhaps? Who could possibly object to that?

Please. It's for the good of the country.

No, I don't mean dancers smoking pot. I mean dance choreographed on an indoor set of living grass and trees. It's "Wooden," by our good friend Laura Peterson (with sets by Jon Pope), and you lucky New Yorkers can see Part 2 at Here Arts Center tonight and tomorrow night only. Please go, since we can't! Tickets are $15.

Laura's choreography always strikes me as supremely logical, whether rooted in organic forms or technological ideas or a hybrid of both, and entirely superior to the hackneyed vocabulary that seems to compose much of modern dance. Here's a video of one of the improvisations that led to "Wooden" to whet your appetite:


at MoMA 2/14/10 from Laura Peterson on Vimeo.



See more of Laura's videos here and here. And here's a past favorite of mine, just because:

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William Shunn

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