Monday, May 21, 2007

Uncouth boors acting out badly

The Boston Globe article linked in the title above, surveys the decline in public civility. Recently, a Boston Pops performance at Symphony Hall was disrupted by actual fisticuffs May 10. The fight apparently started when one man asked another to stop chatting on his cell phone while the music was being performed. The more recent article linked in the title discusses more incidents of boorish behavior at arts venues:

* Another patron complaining to the Symphony Hall management of cell-phone abuse at another concert;

* New Reperatory Theater director bemoaning the use of Blackberries during performances, distracting both nearby audience members and the cast on stage;

* A NY play disrupted by a fistfight over the noise one audience member made with a bag of potato chips.

Avid Boston theatergoer and WGBH trustee Peggy Charren agrees that this sense of entitlement is having a negative effect on how audience members conduct themselves. Charren, who attends scores of plays every year, says it's not that more people are talking during shows these days. It's that those who do talk get more belligerent when asked to be quiet.

"They have this idea that if they want to make noise sitting in the fourth row, they can," she says. "When someone taps them on the shoulder, they seem genuinely shocked. That's why I wasn't surprised by what happened at the Pops."

Entitlement cuts both ways, both [New Rep Theater artistic director Rick] Lombardo and Charren point out. People paying top dollar to see a play don't want any distractions, either. "There's a divide on both sides," Lombardo concedes.
I'll bet these statements ring a bell with my fellow librarians. We have increasing numbers of students who feel that they have the right to a loud cell phone conversation wherever and whenever they please. I have heard rumors of students answering cell phones during law classes, and continuing the conversation in the classroom.

Several years ago, I posted a blog entry Cell Phone Blues about the ubiquity of cell phone abuse in libraries. I later added Cell Phone Wah Wah, after my daughter mentioned that her volunteer work a the children's Discovery Center at the Boston Museum of Science involves chiding cell-phone abusers. It was the first time I was aware that cell phone abuse wasn't just for libraries. I am more than ever convinced:
the reason patrons are so hostile when we ask them to stop using their cell phones in the library – we are pulling the binkies right out of their mouths! This is my new theory. Not all cell phone users are like this, but a lot are – the ones we see using cell phones when they are sitting together in the restaurant. The terrific Zits cartoon about the movie theater full of teens who cannot enjoy the movie without IM-ing their friends incessantly. They are cocooning themselves in an electronic blanket where they do not have to deal with reality face-on. The cell phone, the IM, the I-Pod, the PDA and the Blackberry all form a matrix that is their interface with reality. The hostility we encounter when asking them to lose the cell phone is a symptom of a sub-rational nature of need we accidentally tripped over. We pulled the binky out of the mouth. Of course they cried bloody murder.

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