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The Fall of the Usher of the House: Violence at the Multiplex?

RadicalCivility.jpgA common lament among those who decry the texting-and-talking atmosphere in movie theaters these days is that "Ushers don't do anything." They don't enforce the theaters' own rules.

I have no scientific evidence to back this up but let us, for the sake of argument, assume that it is true. Why might that be? I wondered if they were afraid. Are they scared that a disruptive patron will get violent?

I searched for news stories involving assaults on ushers and while I found a few, there were not so many to make me believe that patron-on-usher violence is a growing problem. Patrons seem more likely to be the victims of assault. And it's a two-way street, with both the shushers and the shushees getting the beatdown. Consider:

Last Christmas 29-year-old James Joseph Cialella Jr. was arrested after allegedly shooting a man during a screening of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in Philadelphia. The shooting victim had allegedly been yammering with his son. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Cialella then sat down to watch the movie."

In 2005 in East Nazareth Township, Pa., Julio R. LaSalle swung an aluminum baseball bat at the head of a patron after that patron had complained to theater managers that LaSalle was talking on his cellphone during a showing of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." LaSalle was ejected from the theater, only to come back with the bat.

In 2005 in Methuen, N.H., an off-duty police officer was charged with assault after grabbing the cellphone from a teenage girl who had allegedly talked during a screening of the sci-fi movie "Serenity."

In 2004 in Ann Arbor a man assaulted another man who shushed him during a screening of the "Triplets of Belleville." Also that year, a St. Louis woman accused movie theater staff of assault after they marched her out of the theater for answering her cell phone during a screening of "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid."

In 2001 a 53-year-old South Carolina man was acquitted of assault charges after allegedly grabbing a 14-year-old youth who had been yapping with his friends.

In 1999 in Renton, Wash., Craig Kubeck was accused of shooting a man after he complained to a theater manager that Kubeck was drinking beer and loudly criticizing the movie.

In 1998 in Alburqueque a group of men were talking loudly during a showing of "Lethal Weapon 4." When a patron asked them to be quiet, one of the men pulled a gun from his waistband and chambered a round. He was wrestled to the ground by theater employees.

Episodes like this might give one pause before reciting Radical Civility's basic line: "Excuse me, the light from your cell phone is very distracting. Can you turn it off please? Thank you." But do not be dissuaded. Yes, take into account your situation and if you feel the threat of violence permeates the atmosphere, act accordingly. But I don't think that movie theaters are any more susceptible to violence than the other places where humans interact with one another.

What was heartening about these stories was that in most cases the theater management did try to deal with the problem. They did confront the disruptive patrons. They did post photos at the ticket office of people who had been banned from the theater because they were incapable of silently watching a film.

Have you witnessed violence in a movie theater?

By John Kelly  |  July 6, 2009; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Radical Civility  
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Next: A Modest Proposal: A Radical Solution to Movie Texting?


Hmm, at least two of those are Brad Pitt movies, I believe. Should we then conclude that Brad Pitt inspires violence?

Posted by: | July 6, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse


There are lots of little tiny towns in New Hampshire, however Methuen is not one of them. Methuen is in Massachusetts very near the NH/MA border.

A Proud Granite Stater

Posted by: sg7472a | July 6, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Maybe theaters could add to the message about turning off your phone something like don't blame your neighbor if he asks you to turn your phone off, since you're the one being rude.

Posted by: Southwester | July 6, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Here's my solution to rude theater patrons:

A Roku box, a Netflix subscription, and Amazon video on demand.

Problem solved.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 6, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Remember VA is CCW state. I carry so you better shut up, get off the phone and stop texting.

Theater managers need to do their jobs and not worry about how to sell old popcorn and stale Milk Duds.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | July 7, 2009 7:30 AM | Report abuse

"Remember VA is CCW state. I carry so you better shut up, get off the phone and stop texting."

This is one of the stupidest things I have read on these blogs...

Or what? You'll shoot someone for texting in a theatre? Good god, get a grip.

I agree with you that texting in a theatre is rude, but I aruge that threatening to murder someone for doing so is far, far ruder.

Posted by: VTDuffman | July 7, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

See David Brooks' column in the 7/7 New York Times. Its right on target regarding civility.

Posted by: mfromalexva | July 7, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Haven't seen any violence. How about a theater designating some shows as talking/texting and others as non-talking/non-texting?

Posted by: jimward21 | July 8, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

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