Saturday, January 20, 2018
Human Interest

What should you do when someone ticks you off at the movies?

Who hasn't gotten angry, or at least really annoyed, at people talking or using cellphones in a movie theater?

So Monday's shooting at Cobb Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel raises another question:

What should you do when someone ticks you off?

"It is a tricky world we live in these days, with other people's rudeness," Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition, said in a telephone interview. "Sometimes people forget that it's in their power to remove themselves from an immediate situation. … They're so busy trying to force the other person to change."

On Monday, authorities say, Chad Oulson, 43, got into an argument in the theater with 71-year-old Curtis Reeves Jr., a retired Tampa police officer, who was angry that Oulson was texting during the previews. Witnesses said Oulson threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves, who then pulled out a handgun and fired once.

Oulson died at a hospital. Reeves has been charged with second-degree murder and is in the Pasco County jail, without bail.

Etiquette experts agree that using cellphones in theater auditoriums is rude, and important calls or texts should be handled out of sight and earshot in the lobby. Disturbances are handled best by moving to another seat, or informing theater management.

How management responds, though, is unpredictable. Cobb Theatres headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., didn't return calls from the Times inquiring about their procedures. But when the Cobb Grove 16 theaters opened Wednesday, security guards were on site.

The National Association of Theater Owners, charged with protecting the interests of movie exhibitors worldwide, refrains from advising members on theater etiquette issues.

Patrick Corcoran, the association's vice president, said by email: "How best to deal with patron etiquette, when, whether and how to intervene, is going to vary from company to company and even theater to theater, based on their operational experience, which is going to be better informed than any guidelines we could suggest."

On Cobb's website (cobbcine, the theater chain proclaims "zero tolerance" for 11 infractions. Violations "will result in expulsion from the premises." Both cellphone use and carrying weapons are included.

Of course, situations also become heated and elevate to confrontation.

"What happened there is scary," Post said. "It highlights the potential danger of confronting a stranger in public. Do I think that happens all the time? No. But does it happen? Yes, and this is a horrible example of how it does."

Since Monday, online bulletin boards and talk radio have buzzed with a range of caller reactions.

"Specific points were made across the board, from (the possible) stand your ground (defense) to the texting etiquette issue," said Sue Trecasse, producer of The Schnitt Show on Newsradio 970 WFLA.

"We got (calls about) how much other people get annoyed (by cellphones in theaters). But most of those calls came in tandem with the calls asking 'Why didn't (Reeves) get up and move?' "

Etiquette author and coach Patricia Rossi suggests the answer is rooted in human nature.

"All we want is to be valued and respected," Rossi said. "Obviously both parties felt they were being devalued. Moving to another seat could have been offensive to (Reeves). … (Oulson) probably felt like: 'I'm a grown man. I belong in here just like you do.'

"Some people would feel like they're giving up, being wimpy. But to me, that's always the brave act, to just resolve it with no conflict."

Meanwhile, Post said offending parties should realize their actions prompt complaints, and cooperate to settle the situation.

"We should be a lot more gracious about it, frankly," Post said. "We live in a society where it's almost this unwritten rule that we never admit when we're wrong … a society where it's amazing how rarely that someone flat-out admits they were wrong.

"Etiquette is all about how our actions impact those around us. Generally speaking we're looking for a good impact."

Or, as Rossi said: "We all need to remember when we walk out the door everyday, anywhere we go, if we value people, if we're kind and have respect for others, our life is going to go so much better."

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.

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