Last week, I went with my family to see the movie La La Land. For those of you in the Exile, movie tickets are assigned seats here in Israel, which is kind of weird to me, even now, but that’s what it is.
So we get to the theater and settle in to watch the movie. And during the ads and previews, these five girls come in. It was dark, and I suck at guestimating ages, but if pushed to the wall, I’d say they were around 14. Maybe not even. And you know, you kind of expect giggliness at that age.
But what was irksome was that even after the movie started, they kept talking loudly and using their cellphones. And in a dark theater, those things are damned bright. Distracting and annoying. So my partner leaned forward and asked them to turn off the phones. I think one of them laughed at that and said something to her friend, but I was trying to hear the movie, so I couldn’t tell for sure. I leaned forward and said (in Hebrew), “Turn the phones off.”
They turned the phones over in their laps, which I figured was sufficient. No point in standing on ceremony about it. But a minute later, I got a flash in my eye, and saw that the girl in front of me was back on her phone. So I gave the back of her chair a little kick. It didn’t seem to have the desired effect, so I kicked hard. It was almost comical the way she jumped out of her seat. She yelled at me, and I patiently told her that we were here to watch a movie, and that she was disturbing us.
Seeing that they were adamant about refusing to modify their behavior, I went to the next step. I walked out of the theater to find an usher to deal with them. But I couldn’t find one. So I went back in. And as I was walking back to my seat, I leaned over and grabbed the phone out of one of the girls’ hands. That got a reaction, all right. The five of them completely lost their minds. I don’t even remember all the names they called me. They told me it wasn’t fair, and that I had no right and that it was her phone and that I had to give it back. I thought about that, looked at them, and said, “Shush.”
So one of the little urchins did what I’d just done, leaving the theater, presumably to find an usher to deal with me. I thought that was just fine. Maybe she’d have more luck finding one, I figured. And sure enough, back she came with an usher. The girl stalked down to my row, pointed at me, and said, “She took my friend’s cellphone!” The usher gave her a quizzical look and said, “But you aren’t allowed to use your cellphones here during a movie.” The girls started arguing with her (the usher) so I got up, walked over to the poor usher and said, “Would you get them out of here?” I handed her the phone, and went back to sit down.
Eventually, the usher managed to move the girls down to the very front row in the corner, where they sat giggling and probably sniping.
And that would have been the end of the story. Except that one of them couldn’t leave well enough alone. She picked up her phone, turned on the flashlight app, and pointed it right at me. I suppose she deserves some credit for moxie, but it was the wrong time and place. So. Out the theater I went. Again. This time, there was a male usher outside the door. I started to tell him what was happening, and he interrupted me. “The girls in the front row?” he asked. I told him yes. So he came in, and marched all five of them out, and that was that.
So what’s the moral of the story? It doesn’t matter if the provocation or aggression is large or small. Trivial or significant. If you want it to stop, you can ask nicely. But if asking nicely doesn’t work, you have to escalate. And continue escalating until it ends. And if you have to grab a cellphone out of a little kid’s hands so she starts panicking and thinking about what she’s going to tell her parents if she comes home without it, that’s what you do. You do not let social conventions of appropriateness tie your hands and leave you at the mercy of the aggressor.
Some people are going to read this and say, “Holy crap. Is Lisa actually calling a 14 year old kid an ‘aggressor’?” Yes. Yes, I am. I’m not comparing her to a suicide bomber. Not even to a rock thrower. Not in magnitude, but definitely in type. There is a kind of person who thinks that they have the right to do whatever they want, however they want to do it, no matter who is affected. That kind of person is called a thug. Thugs range from 14 year old brats with cellphones in theaters to pustulant ayatollahs with nukes in Iran. But they all have that one thing in common. If you let them walk all over you, they will do so. And if you show some gumption and don’t let them, they’ll accept that as well.