One of the joys of writing a column called “Know Your Neighbors” is the freedom to share some of my own experiences. I am, after all, your neighbor.
I’ve written before about pet peeves, including my greatest irritation—people who talk during movies. I’ve also written about how we regrettably see those unlike ourselves as “the other,” against whom we feel somehow justified in harboring prejudice and fear. Some of the hateful comments on all sides after the recent trouble in Baltimore epitomize this phenomenon.
Once in a while, however, we get the chance to see ourselves as “them”—in other words, we, ourselves, become like those people to whom we feel superior, those people who don’t know how to behave the way we believe they should. It happened to me recently, when those two earlier themes collided.
I decided to go to the movies early on a Tuesday afternoon not too long ago to see Kevin Costner in McFarland. Our busy season is all but over, so I assumed the theater would be almost empty, assuring I could enjoy a pleasant and blissfully quiet experience. I got my popcorn and soda, and walked into the small theater—which was amazingly more than half full. The lights were still on, because the previews had not yet begun, and before I even started down the aisle, I thought perhaps I had made a big mistake.
The people seated throughout the room, except for a few random couples scattered about, were clearly a rowdy bunch, talking trash to each other, being loud and boisterous, and shouting across the room to loud laughter with coarse language. The mostly male group had tattoos and leather jackets. My first thought was, “Oh, my God, a motorcycle club must have decided today was a good day to go to the movies. Maybe I should leave right now, traipse around the mall for a couple of hours, and come back to a later show, or ask for my money back and call it a day.”
I paused a moment while I considered what to do. I already had my popcorn, so what would I do with that if I left? And if I walked around the mall, I would surely spend money I really didn’t have to spend. Even in that short experience of the audience, I knew this would not be a crowd that would react well to the “Shhh!” at which I have become quite the expert. No, these were not the type of people I would want to confront.
Then it occurred to me that this might be the best possible environment in which to confront my knee-jerk reaction to people who talk back to the screen or who can’t seem to control their need to question what’s going on. (“Why did he say that?” “Isn’t that the actress who was in that TV show?” “What’s he going to do next?”) This might be my chance to grow as a person and learn to incorporate in my movie-going experience the reality that I have to share the theater with others who haven’t learned good manners. Wouldn’t that make me the truly superior one?
As I found a seat, one of the members of the “gang” made a comment about how I had chosen exactly the right row to sit in; I just half-smiled and sat. I began to listen to the banter floating around the room and gleaned that these were not bikers; rather, they were members of the Coachella music-festival crew, waiting out jobs for the following weekend at Stagecoach. They were either stagehands or security, and it sounded like most were vagabonds who move around and work shows across the country.
When the previews of coming attractions began, the comments around the theater changed to responses to what was on the screen. Some were downright funny, and I laughed along in spite of myself. My favorite was when a new movie with Helen Hunt was previewed, and the closing shot was of her saying to her love interest, “Just use my body until I’m through with you.” The group hooted and hollered at that one!
The lights began to dim; the feature film was about to begin. I settled in and told myself I could learn to incorporate the raucousness and still enjoy the movie without feeling it was my job to keep order and appropriateness in the environment.
As the lights went dark and the opening credits began to roll, from somewhere toward the front of the theater, I heard a loud, “Shhh! It’s starting!” Amazingly, the entire room went silent.
It stayed that way throughout.
McFarland is a good movie with a good message. It has quality production values, fine acting and an engaging cast, and the after-credits feature images of the real people who were part of the actual story, and say where they are now. I admit to a few tears (but I also cry at parades and football games).
Perhaps the best review of the film that I can give is that just before the final credits rolled, when the film ended, the room exploded with applause. I was, frankly, stunned. How often do you hear a movie audience show that kind of appreciation?
My prejudice about the guys in that theater, and my snap-judgment stereotyping, filled me with fear. I almost turned tail and ran. I’m so glad I didn’t.
People who don’t look and act like you do are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, even if they travel in “gangs.” Obviously, blue-collar gypsies (talk about a stereotype) ought to be respected, not feared, and presumed innocent until actions prove them guilty of something.
When you come right down to it, we’re really all the same: We just want to spend an afternoon enjoying a good movie. Just don’t talk while the movie is on!
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.