There was a time when business establishments felt perfectly within their rights to set behavioral standards for their clientele. These standards ranged from the sublime (jacket required) to the ridiculous (unescorted ladies forbidden.) The hospitality was not the only public congregating business known to set behavioral standards. Back in olden times, movie theater ushers policed the audience. They wielded flashlights and a keen eye for misbehavior. Paying patrons would be asked to leave if their behavior was deemed unacceptable.
Can you imagine that today?! Well, why don’t we?
Why are we paying large amounts of money to dine out amidst loud cellphone chatting and wild child patrons? Restaurant owners and maitre d’hotels are allowing it, because we have done nothing to erode their profits. There are those of us diners who have asked to remove a screaming infant from a small restaurant (after 9:00 PM) to only then fear for our bodily safety. We have exaggeratedly stared (a la Harpo Marx) at loud cellphone talkers only to be ignored. (Of course we should have seen that coming, what with their obvious obliviousness.) I have seen “no cellphone” signs on the doors of one or two shops. But the request is made so that the shopkeeper need not be disturbed. The customer (of any establishment) is left to fend for themselves. There is absolutely no imperative for business owners to manage the ambiance, if we keep paying for abuse.
Far more grievous is the boorish behavior during performances. Talking during the overture, rustling plastic bags, slurping from sippy cups, repeating dialogue, playing with cellphones, taking photos, and basically behaving as if one is in his or her living room watching television. There is no acknowledgment of there being real live people performing, let alone other real live people in the audience. The fact that theater managers and ushers seem to be hiding in the lobby while this behavior occurs is inexcusable. Some of us have pointed out (illegal) photo taking to ushers only to be given the “oh you poor crazy woman” look.
I propose the radical step of printing on every ticket, ticket website, and Playbill the following message: “Any cellphones or cameras that are left on while inside the theater will be confiscated.” Ushers, waiters, managers and the like must form the first line of defense. Formalizing human behavior standards is sad, but it’s not new. What do you think would happen if an audience member lit up a cigarette during a classical music concert? We no longer tolerate this behavior, it is time to enforce what we once called common courtesy.