23 January 2011

Where has Movie Theater Etiquette Have Gone?

Recently I went to see Black Swan over at AMC Westshore 14 Theaters in Tampa. Having already won a Golden Globe for best actress (Natalie Portman), I think Black Swan is headed for the Academy Awards to pick up a few Oscars. Once in a blue moon going to the movies is a justification to get away from the monotony of maintaining both EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com on the weekends, among other things.

However, despite pre-show notifications asking patrons to observe silence and no cell phone and text messaging use during the feature presentation, I had the misfortune of having two young teenage girls in front of me who insisted on chatting as well as using their cell phone and texting throughout the movie. A seatmate next to me as well as I quietly asked these two girls to please keep the chatter down during the movie yet the two girls ignored us. At one point I considered leaving the movie and letting AMC management know of what happened, but I was afraid to do so for fear of retribution. I also considered switching seats but the auditorium was two-thirds full. Besides, the teens' conduct almost reminded me of a movie theater incident that took place at the Royal Palm 20 theaters in Bradenton not too long ago over the recent Christmas weekend, where a couple - the husband, a United States Marine who just returned from military duty in Iraq - told a group of noisy teenagers to be quiet only to be greeted with a major verbal confrontation which spilled into a physical confrontation outside the theater.

(UPDATE: The teenagers that were involved in the physical altercation at the Royal Palm 20 theaters were found guilty of battery charges, according to this Bay News 9 story. A victory for movie theater etiquette!)

Once the movie was over, I thanked my seatmate for quieting these teenage girls during the movie. A second later, these same teenage girls – who turned out to be teenage Hispanic girls as the lights came back on – turned around and foul mouthed us, specifically for telling them to keep quiet during the movie.

In today’s world, there are a lot of people out there who do not have any manners. It’s sad but it is true in contrast to how I was raised many years ago in a better mannered and civilized world.

After all, I support initiatives by the movie theater chains including AMC Theaters’ Silence Is Golden program asking patrons to observe proper etiquette when inside the auditorium of a theatre and the movie is playing. Besides, the top reason why movie theater attendance has been declining for many years is because fellow patrons do not observe proper movie theater etiquette.

Now for another comment regarding AMC Theaters’ Silence Is Golden program, which has been around for many years. It has been in existence for many years before the advent of cell phones as the most common complaint was people chatting in the theater throughout the movie. Now that cell phones are a part of our society, the pre-show trailers now include turning off cell phones and no texting as part of proper movie theater etiquette. Today most other movie theater chains have followed the lead of AMC Theaters when it comes to proper etiquette when a movie is showing.

Now I’ll tell you what also irks me as to movie theater etiquette other than cell phones and chatting with your fellow patrons while the movie is playing:

1. There’s a movie you want to see so much that you got to go see it the day it opens. You arrive early enough to get your concessions and go into the theatre auditorium and you find a seat that you like (absolutely, before the theatre gets too crowded). You settle in and – as you start to enjoy every minute of the movie you wanted so much to see – a huge group comes in and chases you out of your seat. Sometimes (and believe me, it has happened to me a few times), I have had to end up leaving the theater and asking at the ticket counter if I could come to a later showing as I got chased out by a group who likes to show up at the last minute.

I have advice for these groups who want to see a movie together: Give the theater a call ahead of time and see if the theater can reserve a small block of seats for you and the rest of your party. But please do your fellow movie-goers a favor and don’t show up with your group and chase me (or anyone else who is watching the movie by themselves) out of my seat. Unless informed by someone in authority at the movie theater such as an usher, I will not yield my seat to your group that insists on coming in as the movie gets started.

2. Very tall people who insist on sitting in front of someone who cannot see the movie. Back before stadium style seating became a common feature of most theaters, I personally dreaded sitting in the middle section and – a minute or two later – a very tall person sits in front of you. Today, stadium style seating in a movie theater alleviates much of this problem.

Here’s a link to a report over at The Smoking Gun about a couple who insisted on talking on their cell phone right after the movie has started. It happened right here in downtown St. Petersburg at the Muvico BayWalk 20 Theaters several years ago. Now with BayWalk in serious financial trouble including the recent foreclosure, there is talk of closing the movie theaters there. But we don’t know what the future will bring.

According to the narrative of the report, this was written by none other than the St. Petersburg Police Department:

This is an arrest of two subjects at BayWalk Plaza. The suspects were being loud and disruptive causing a disturbance inside the movie theaters. The suspects got hostile and were pepper sprayed. The suspects were placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct. The arrest served the purpose for the night.

That’s movie theater etiquette served right by none other than St. Petersburg’s finest. Period.

Until recently, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office provided off-duty security to the AMC Westshore 14 as well as the AMC Veterans 24 Theaters which provided an excellent deterrent. Unfortunately, AMC changed from hiring the off duty deputies to plain clothed private security wearing businesslike attire. The only issue here is that private security does not have the power of arrest in the State of Florida, while a sworn law enforcement officer – on or off duty – does. Perhaps if AMC still had the off duty Hillsborough deputies when I recently went to see Black Swan at AMC Westshore 14 or Bride Wars at AMC Veterans 24 many months ago (both incidents involved two young teenagers who insisted on chatting on their cell phone and texting at the same time while the movie was playing), these teenagers would have been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, akin to the BayWalk incident in St. Petersburg that happened many years ago.

As I told my seatmate as soon as Black Swan was over, I told him that there needs to be a law against people who come in to a movie theater for the purpose of disrupting other patron’s enjoyment. After all, you pay so much money for movie admission and I feel you, the movie theater patron, deserve to see a movie without any distractions or disruptions such as people chatting, using their cell phones or texting during the movie. In Florida, it should be a civil infraction on the first offense with a $100 penalty and on a subsequent violation within one year it should be a criminal misdemeanor carrying a penalty of $500 and/or jail time of up to 6 months, plus a ban on attending any movie theater in the state for one year which is imposed by the judge.

If you want to bring back civility and respect to movie theaters, especially conduct by movie theater patrons during the show, write your legislators in Tallahassee and at the same time let the manager at the theater you go to often know too of your concerns.

02 January 2011

Happy New Year 2011!

As this is the first post of 2011, I would like to take the time to say Happy New Year to all of my Edward Ringwald Blog visitors! Don’t forget, on Tuesday, 4 January 2011 our 45th Governor of the State of Florida, Rick Scott, will be anointed into office at 12 Noon; right after that, let the “let’s get to work” games of Rick Scott begin: The unraveling and the eventual destruction of the State of Florida as we know it.

Right after I watched the ball drop in Times Square in New York City on TV, I went back to my computer doing more surfing on the ‘net. I stopped by the St. Petersburg Times website and there is a story that caught my attention:
Tampa community tests limits of homeowner group’s power.

The residents of a Tampa community that is testing the limits of the power of its homeowners association is a community called Westchase. For those of you out there that don’t know where Westchase is, it’s located in the northwestern part of Hillsborough County located on West Linebaugh Avenue roughly between Sheldon Road and Race Track Road (after all, Race Track Road forms the boundary between Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties for part of its way before it turns in a northeasterly direction). After all, Westchase is an upscale community which includes Westchase Elementary School and a whole lot of other amenities.

Unfortunately, living in Westchase has major responsibilities. While Westchase is mainly single family homes like you would see in a traditional neighborhood, Westchase is governed by a Homeowners Association – called an HOA – and the documents that authorize this governance are called deed restrictions.

Let’s stop for a moment.

In a condominium, you have what is called a Board of Directors who is responsible for setting policy and enforcing the rules and regulations. The day to day operation of a condominium is done by a property manager. The governing documents of a condominium are contained in the Declaration of Condominium. Condominiums are heavily regulated in Florida, and the statutory authority is codified in Chapter 718 of the Florida Statutes.

On the other hand, in a deed restricted community it operates similar to a condominium but it is the less regulation under Florida law under its own statutory authority, Chapter 720, that is the difference. A deed restriction is items that a homeowner can or cannot do to his or her home. The responsibility of enforcing these deed restrictions comes under the power of a community’s Home Owners Association. Unlike the rights and obligations granted to condominium associations as far as their powers are concerned in Florida Statutes Sections 718.301 to 718.303, the power of Home Owners Associations in Florida is practically unlimited.

So, what we’re talking about is the unlimited power of Home Owners Associations in deed restricted communities. Westchase in northwest Hillsborough County is very notorious as their Home Owners Associations enforce the deed restrictions to the letter. It has created quite a controversy that Westchase’s uber enforcement of deed restrictions limiting the activities of Westchase home owners have been profiled in the St. Petersburg Times. According to the recent St. Petersburg Times article I came across, Westchase has a long reputation of deed restriction extremism.

Given Westchase’s record of deed restriction extremism over the years, I wrote this comment on the recent St. Petersburg Times article on Westchase: Is Westchase still part of the United States of America and the State of Florida? Or did Westchase secede from the United States of America and the State of Florida?

Well, for everyone of you out there including those St. Petersburg Times readers who gave me a thumbs up on the comment I made on the recent Westchase article, here is a satire parody of an article that we won’t get to see in the St. Petersburg Times – or any other Tampa Bay area media outlet including Bay News 9 – when it comes to Westchase and its Home Owners Association that harasses its residents:

TAMPA – Residents of Westchase, the upscale community northwest of Tampa, gathered in the auditorium of Westchase Elementary School for a different kind of New Years Eve celebration. A celebration that celebrates the spirit of being a community.

At 11:58 PM, Westchase residents stood at attention for the final playing of The Star Spangled Banner while the flags of both the United States and of Florida were lowered for the final time. At precisely 12 Midnight, the president of the Westchase Community Association read a declaration which declared the Westchase community a sovereign and independent nation, no longer under the control of the United States, the State of Florida and Hillsborough County.

Then at 12:01 AM, the new flag of Westchase – patterned after the flag of the Moldovan breakaway republic of Transnistria – was raised for the first time, accompanied by a performance of the National Anthem of Westchase which was sung to the tune of We Sing the Praises of Transnistria.

Right after the new flag raising and new national anthem performance, which was sung by the Westchase Elementary School Choir, the President of the Westchase Community Association became the sovereign head of state and the head of government of Westchase. The first decree that was signed immediately was that the flying of any flag other than that of Westchase – including the American flag – was prohibited, as well as singing The Star Spangled Banner as well as the display of any American patriotism while upon the territory of Westchase. Then it was on to a discussion of priorities that would make Westchase the premier sovereign community anywhere.

Several residents interviewed were pleased that Westchase is now able to control its own destiny and its future, without the interference of Washington, Tallahassee or even the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners in Tampa. On the other hand, some residents were disappointed in how Westchase went to a new kind of extremism, which was secession from the United States.

Think secession from the United States could happen? With the way our federal and Florida governments are now run, it could be a theoretical possibility.