The other day I was surfing the vast seas of the interwebs when I came across an article by Matt Singer of IFC News. It is titled “A Movie Theatre Etiquette Manifesto”, and what a great manifesto it is. Singer lists several items to be agreed to in an online petition, like turning off cell phones, not sitting directly in front of somebody when there are plenty of open seats and other totally agreeable behavioural modifications. Everything was fine and dandy and I was all ready to sign the petition, that is, until I read the eighth and final item in the manfisto:
8. Throw Our Garbage On the Floor. The movie theater is the only public space in the world where it is socially acceptable to act like a pig. That is the way it has always been, that is the way it always shall be. We, the undersigned, vow that no matter how many times multiplexes include “Please Throw Away Your Trash” messages in their pre-show entertainment, we will continue to ignore them.
I’m sorry, Matt. This I cannot abide. It is just plain wrong. Now, I know that Matt subsequently revised the manifesto by adding:
8a. (In Moderation.) We, the undersigned, do enjoy being pigs, and tend to think a clean auditorium is the responsibility of the theater staff, not the customers. But we, the undersigned, also recognize that it’s hypocritical to expect others to change their bad habits and not change our own. So we, the undersigned, will moderate our mess (and, really, if you needed someone to tell you not to pour Coke on the floor of a movie theater, maybe movie theater etiquette isn’t your biggest problem). We, the undersigned, will clean up after ourselves as a concession, with the understanding that movie theater owners have just as much to fix as movie theatergoers, and they should expect their own manifesto/petition in the future.
Granted, if somebody actually uses this manifesto as a guide then the revision clears up the problem in terms of actual patron behaviour, but it fails admit that the original call to be messy pigs is wrong on every level.
Full disclosure: I currently work at a movie theater. I do various jobs, but one of them is to clean up the cinemas after each show is finished. I have stakes in the game, but I assure you that my employment has not affected my point of view at all. I believed it was wrong to be a pig before I worked at a movie theater, I still believe it’s wrong, and even after I’ve moved on from this job I will still believe it’s wrong.
So, why is being messy at a movie theater wrong? There are several answers, but the first and most obvious one is that being a pig anywhere in a public space is wrong. If you want to be messy at your own house that’s your prerogative, but if you are going to somebody else’s house it would be rude to make a mess. A movie theater is not somebody’s house, but it is a space meant for everybody. Why would you endeavour to throw popcorn and nacho cheese all over a space that is there for the enjoyment of more than just yourself—and frankly, why would you want to stew in your own filth to begin with? It’s not your space, it’s not your property, the least you could do is have some decency and try not to be disgusting.
Mess happens. This is true. Popcorn is small and it’s very easy to have pieces fall on the floor. I have spilled whole bags of popcorn and large drinks all over the floor at movie theaters. This cannot be controlled, and I would like to make it clear that I am not talking about this sort of action.
I’m talking about the willful act of leaving a mess. If you bring a giant bag of popcorn and a huge drink into the cinema then you can easily carry it out with you and leave it in the trash. If you bring a tray of nachos and cheese in and put them on the floor halfway through the movie because you have nowhere else to put it, when the movie is over it does not hurt to bend down and pick that tray right up. And for the love of God, there is no reason on this beautiful Earth to shove your hand into your popcorn bag, grab a giant handful and try to shove it all in your mouth only to have half of it end up on the floor. Seriously, you’re causing yourself to sit in filth, but you’re also just wasting perfectly good popcorn—perfectly good popcorn that you probably used half your life savings to buy, I might add.
Trying not to make a mess is also a generally good idea in the grand “pay it forward” scheme. If only everybody who went to the movies tries to keep things clean, the moviegoing experience would be better for us all. Nobody likes to be in a messy theater. Even if you’ll put up with it, it’s not fun to sit over sticky floors and food for rats. When you leave a mess, there are staff paid to come and clean up after you. This doesn’t just make it okay to be as messy as you want, though. Just because there are people who clean city streets does not mean you should throw your litter on the ground. This isn’t the 60s, we aren’t living in the world of Mad Men, it’s simply not acceptable anymore. The same goes for movie theaters. Cleaning a theater is a pain in the butt, and the more mess the less likely it is the theater will be cleaned properly between shows. Trust me, I know. When that theater isn’t cleaned properly then the next group of people to sit down are left with your mess. Now, you might not care about that, but imagine the situation reversed. If you wouldn’t want people leaving a mess for you to sit in, why would you leave a mess for others? So just pay it forward; don’t make a mess at all.
Matt, I’m sorry, but you’re just plain wrong. You say, ” the movie theater is the only public space in the world where it is socially acceptable to act like a pig.” You’re probably right about this, but why is that at all a good thing? Acting like a pig should never be socially acceptable. Rolling around in your own filth might be a favourite pastime of yours, but you shouldn’t do it in public, around other people, and in places that aren’t you own. You shouldn’t leave the results of your piggishness for others to clean up or live with, and you shouldn’t take any pride in it either.
If you want to act like a pig while watching a movie, just watch movies at home. But don’t come to a movie theater and ruin it for others. Making a mess is just as bad as talking and texting and kicking chairs (these are also examples of piggish behaviour, by the way), and it’s absolutely insane that any of this is deemed socially acceptable. It’s simple:
DON’T BE A PIG. Don’t ever be a pig, but especially not around other people, and especially not at the movies.
Give me that manifesto and I’ll endorse it in a heartbeat.