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By Jerry Fink, LAS VEGAS SUN – 06/12/2001 – 12:00am

Are public manners — especially at movie theaters — getting better or worse?

My wife is not shy about pointing out to someone that they are being rude. It doesn’t matter if the impolite person is your average citizen, a hit man for the mob or a member of a street gang.

If you’re rude and obnoxious in her presence, she will let you know.
Which is why I don’t take her to movies often. There are too many rude and obnoxious people in the audience and I never know when I
may have to fight our way out of the auditorium.

Hey you! The one with the cell phone! Yeah, you! I paid to see the movie, not to listen to you talk on the phone.

And you! Put that damned laser pointer away before I turn it into a tail light for you.

Doesn’t that pager have a vibrator, fella?

For Christ’s sake, why don’t you two go to a motel!

You! The one with the crying baby! Just because you couldn’t find a sitter, you’ve gotta make everyone suffer?

Why are you talking to the screen? It can’t hear you!

Going to movies today can be a trying experience for many of us.
Trying to hear the dialogue. Trying to watch the action. Trying to step out of reality for a couple of hours in the dark to enjoy a good story.

There always seems to be some rude person in the audience. More often than not, it’s the person sitting next to my wife.

Fine behavior.

Gannett News Service film critic Marshal Fine says that every time he goes to a public showing of a movie, rather than a private screening for critics, it makes him glad he’s a critic.

“The last time I went, it was a sneak preview of ‘Bicentennial Man.’ I took my wife and two kids,” said Fine, whose reviews appear periodically in the Sun. “A man was there with his 2- or 3-year old child who walked around, shrieked and yelled for two hours. Nobody ever took the kid in hand to keep him quiet.”

Fine says that people are used to sitting in their living rooms watching television, where they talk to the screen or others in the room and are not really that focused on what is going on inside the set. People watch TV more as a diversion, he said, but most go to movies for the totality of the experience. They don’t want their attention diverted.

But all too often, someone in the theater audience is inconsiderate.
“I have a three-stage process when someone behind me is being rude,” Fine said. “First, I turn around and give them a look. Then I shush them. Then I will go tell the usher.”

But by the time you have to resort to getting an usher, Fine notes, you’ve lost your train of thought and your concentration. The movie experience is ruined. “It’s up to parents to teach their kids good manners,” Fine said. “It’s a learned thing. It’s a learned behavior to
be a good audience.”

Getting better?

Actually, says Tom Ippolito, manager of the UA Showcase Mall Theater on the Strip, movie theater rudeness seems to be on the wane.

“It’s an issue, but not a big issue,” Ippolito said. Attendance records may bear that out. Either people are getting accustomed to rudeness in the theaters, or it is true that people are becoming more considerate — in which case I would feel safe in again taking my wife to the movies.

Terry Ryan, head of the Ryan Group, a Southern California company that provides workshops and videos on manners and etiquette, says that in the last couple of years she has seen the start of a turnaround in attitude.

“In America, right now, we are eager for more order and civility in our life,” she said. “We are experiencing rampant misbehavior — lying politicians, road rage, shootings in school — Americans are ready for change. They want to take responsibility for their action, to treat others with respect. “Etiquette and manners give us guidelines, help us in this journey. It should be common sense.”

About 75 percent of her business is in teaching etiquette and manners to elementary school children. “Children are very aware of their peers and when their peers are acting in a disrespectful
way the majority of youth are uncomfortable with that type of behavior and are embarrassed,” Ryan said. “The children are asking for the classes, parents are eager for them and schools are looking for them as an adjunct to their curriculum.”

Sue Fox, author of the book “Etiquette for Dummies,” and Business Etiquette For Dummies, and founder and president of Etiquette Survival, in Northern California, agrees with Ryan.

Five years ago Fox struck a gold mine when she decided to teach manners and etiquette. Her company provides group training and private consultations to business professionals, corporations, children and educational institutions.

“There is an increasing demand for this information,” Fox said. “I see more articles, more television show discussions. I’m approached a lot by schools that are interested. I have a number of consultants around the country working primarily with private and charter schools.”

Fox said her basic task is to raise the awareness of the individual. “We live in such a fast-paced world. There is a lot of pushing and shoving when you’re in a crowd. But it is so obvious — we just need to pay attention,” she said.

The factors.

A number of factors created today’s state of rudeness.

“We are a product of the ’60s where we didn’t feel any of this was necessary,” Fox said. “And there is no training available, but for the wealthy. In most families both parents are working and so there is little etiquette training at home. Schools notice the problems with
the children who lack self-respect and respect for others.”

For Fox, etiquette owes much to her philosophy of Buddhism. “It is consideration,” she said. “The Buddhist philosophy teaches you to be mindful of what you say and do. Your goal is to be kind and make people comfortable.”

America is going through an etiquette renaissance, Fox says. “It’s a contributing factor to one’s personal and professional success. A faux pas you may commit in a work environment could cost you and your company business and relationships. Manners and politeness are the most important quality to encourage in children. It gives one a sense of responsibility, tolerance, self-respect and respect for others,” she said.

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