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Becoming Those People: Thoughts on Taking a 6-Month-Old to the Movies

Movie texter
Dante appropriated the third circle of Hell for this dillweed

As an avid moviegoer, I have been increasingly distressed over the last decade over how much louder and more obnoxious moviegoing audiences have become. It seems impossible nowadays to go into a theater without loud teenagers joking through a movie, people nearby chattering to themselves about nothing while a movie happens to be playing in front of them, or people answering calls, sending texts, and playing games on their cellphones while I am trying to be a considerate member of the audience by remaining quiet.

For example, I remember going to see the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in 2003 with friends. Behind us was a couple of twenty-something girls who decided they had to talk, gossip, and offer commentary throughout the film. When not discussing boyfriends and work, they were shouting clichés like, "Oh no, don't you go in there, sister," during climactic moments in the narrative (they clearly found these clichés insanely witty and amusing). My friend repeatedly had to turn around and politely ask these two to be quiet. After several such polite requests, my friend got flustered, stood up, and shouted "Shut the fuck up," after which the pair remained silent. When the movie was over, an older woman came up to my friend with a diminutive companion and informed my friend that she was offended that he would use such language in front of her five-year-old grandchild. Remember, we were at a showing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Clearly, somewhere along the way, priorities have gotten confused.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003
Yep, it's totally appropriate for little children, as long as nobody in the audience says a naughty word

And the last thing I want to do now, as a new parent, is to confuse my priorities. This is why my wife and I decided, not long before our little Tommy was born, that we would not be the kinds of parents who would drag a screaming baby into a movie theater to satiate our own selfish desire to see a movie. That was just over six months ago, and did not take into account the release of the sixth Harry Potter film.

I definitely had reservations about taking a six-month-old to see a movie, but my wife and I took several measures to offset our annoyance footprint. First, we went to an early afternoon showing on a Saturday, which meant that Tommy would not be the only one in the audience too young to walk out. Second, we agreed to take fifteen-minute shifts should Tommy act out, during which we would be completely outside the theater. Third, we sat in the seats closest to the exit. And fourth, we actually saw the movie the night before without Tommy, so we wouldn't miss anything.

I know what you're thinking. If we were able to see the movie without him the night before, why did we have to go again the next day? But I remind you this is Harry Potter we're talking about. We are, sufficed to say, big fans, and this installment is, in our opinion, better than the last.

I'm happy to report that it went very well. Tommy is an impossibly well-behaved baby, and he only had to be whisked out of the theater twice. During most of the movie, he either slept or watched intently along with everybody else, making narry a sound to be heard by neighboring moviegoers. Indeed, compared to other babies, children, and some adults in the audience, Tommy was a picture of calm silence.

Thomas Magill
Tommy is a happy, well-behaved baby; you know you love him

So this raises the question: are parents within their rights to take a baby or small child to a movie theater, or were my wife and I being terribly selfish and impolite?

I think the answer has its grey areas. If Tommy were a more ill-behaved and loud baby, perhaps one of us should have stayed home to babysit the kid. If we were unwilling to take the precautions we took--like going to a very early showing--perhaps we shouldn't have gone at all. It all goes back to how considerate you are, as parents, because we all know how irritating inconsiderate parents can be.

I don't want to sound like a nag, a nanny, or a crotchety old man, but it is my strong opinion that our culture has gotten far too obnoxious. Few of us teach good manners anymore, and it shows in day to day life. I'm not talking about stupid rules of etiquette, like which fork you should use for your salad, whether you should put your elbows on the table, or whether it's okay to say bad words in front of old people. No, I'm talking about simple politeness and consideration for those around you.

An Irritating Guy
Please, don't let this be your child

We live in a society that would rather make smoking cigarettes illegal in public, for example, than politely ask people to put their cigarettes out. Of course, with the stunning lack of consideration some of us show, asking politely doesn't always work. Sometimes we have to shout obscenities, and then we risk exposing children to foul language during a gore-soaked R-rated slasher flick.

These are the kinds of issues that have become important to me as a new parent, because I hope to raise my kid to be kind, courteous, and cheerful. I don't want all that to be undone by a society that farts in the face of good behavior, but at the same time, I don't want to be a killjoy. How does one do that?

In the end, all I'll say is this: if we must pass laws to regulate good behavior, we should consider making it a capital offense to be loud and obnoxious in a movie theater. I'd even be in favor of the death penalty for repeat offenders. That's why it's good to start training my son early, like all parents should, so he knows how to shut the fuck up during a movie.

-e. magill 07/20/2009

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