The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Cellphones In Theaters: “Arrogance and Defiance”

Patty LuPone Is My New Hero

I have a cellphone. It's a bright, shiny iPhone and I never go anywhere without it. That said, I also have a brain, common sense, and good manners, all of which put me one up on a lot of cellphone users and abusers.

Okay, in the first place, I'm old. So old, in fact, that I remember the days before cellphones existed. Wow. A real dinosaur, huh? Back when I was a radio guy, I actually carried one of the first portable cellular phones. It was the mid-'80s and the device was essentially a telephone handset attached by a curly cord to a huge battery pack. The whole apparatus weighed ten or fifteen pounds, but, by golly, it was portable. Its major feature was that it enabled you to make phone calls. And that was its only feature. It didn't light up and play loud annoying music. And when you pushed the buttons, you were dialing a phone number not sending a “text message” because there was no such thing. Since the Internet did not yet exist – at least not for the masses – there was no 'net surfing to be done. All you could do was call somebody. And at a dollar a minute you were pretty discriminating about making those calls. All in all, cellphones were rather difficult things to become addicted to.

Enter the “smartphone.” Whoa! It does everything and it fits in the palm of your hand. Well, yeah, you have to have pretty big palms for some of the new ones, but you know what I mean. It's more than just a telephone, it's a wireless connection to life. Unfortunately, it's also a social crutch for people who don't have a life. The real problem is not with the “smart” phone but rather with the stupid user. Nowhere is this more evident than in the theater. Movie theater or live theater, take your pick. 'Net surfing, game-playing, text messaging morons inhabit both. They are like alcoholics or drug addicts; they have to get a “fix” or they start to tremble and shake.

As I said, I carry my phone with me everywhere. It's on my hip or in my pocket eighteen hours a day and on a bedside charger the other six. But just because my phone is constantly attached to me does not mean I am constantly attached to it. Believe it or not, I can function without my phone for two or three hours at a time. The idiots who light the damn things up in darkened theaters apparently can't function without theirs for two or three minutes.

“I'm bored.” I'm sorry, but there are worse things in life than being bored. Being a thoughtless, self-centered, discourteous, entitled twit, for example. Just because you are self-important enough to believe that you have to share every moment of your exalted existence with everyone else on the planet doesn't mean that I have to watch you do it.

I admit it: when it comes to theaters, I am an avowed phone Nazi. You light that sucker up anywhere I can see it......and in a dark room, that's pretty much everywhere except directly behind me.....and I'm gonna call you out about it. And I won't be quiet and I won't be polite. Hell, if you're stupid and rude enough to be flashing your phone around in a room full of people would couldn't care less about your “right” to do so, I'm stupid and rude enough to make sure you and everybody else knows it. After all, you've already disrupted everybody's enjoyment with your stupidity so my yelling, “Put that damn thing away” isn't likely to disturb anybody any more than they've already been disturbed, right?

Most of my bad phone experiences lately have been in movie theaters, but live theater gets its share of the boorish, ignorant, loutish behavior as well. And that's where I'd like to introduce you to my newest hero, Patti LuPone. To begin with, the multi-talented, multi-award-winning actress is Italian. Score one. And she's got a definite handle on how to deal with inconsiderate boobs who think they are the alpha and the omega of all things in life.

A couple of years ago, during a Broadway performance of “Gypsy,” she stopped the take down an idiot snapping pictures. What part of the standard pre-show announcement “the taking of photographs and use of recording devices is forbidden by law” don't these goobers get? Or is it that they are so important that the rules don't apply to them. They paid for their tickets, dammit, so they can do anything they want. Or so their pea-brained logic dictates.

Recently, Patti was performing in “Show of Days” at New York's Lincoln Center. And there's this clueless airhead sitting in full view of both the audience and the stage texting blithely away throughout the entire first act. And when she started up again after intermission, Patti handled it. She simply stepped through the actor's imaginary “fourth wall” and snatched the phone right out of the miscreant's hand. Yaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy, Patti! Way to go, girl!! (Unfortunately, the fool got her phone back after the show. If I'd have been Patti, I'd have done my best Peter Frampton imitation and hurled the thing into the rafters.)

"There's an arrogance and defiance to these people," Patti said. "I think it's gone too far. Audiences are as upset as actors. It's only between two and four people a night, but the minute [a phone] goes off or a screen turns on, your attention is shattered."

Shattering an audience member's attention in a play is annoying. Shattering an actor's attention can be dangerous. Been there, done that. You might be up there doing something tricky or intricate that demands your full attention and here comes some clod with a camera or a blazingly bright cellphone screen exercising his “right” to ignore whatever rules don't suit him. You lose focus and somebody loses an eye or something. And “Miss Entitled To The Full Experience” is right there to record it and/or text it to all her Facebook “friends.”

And it ain't real safe to piss off an audience member in a movie theater, either. Hey, I'll just yell at you. Remember the fella in Florida awhile back who pulled a gun and put an abrupt and final end to some guy's texting? You never know. You may be ignorant and rude, but somebody else could be just plain nuts and possessed of a really short fuse. Personally, even though it's probably in bad taste, I think that instead of putting up polite “reminders” on the screen or showing funny clips of a camel saying, “It's movie d-a-a-a-a-y!,” theaters ought to consider just posting that dude's mug shot up there. Might get the point across.

I don't get it. A person shells out between ten and twenty bucks for a movie ticket or an average of about a hundred bucks for a Broadway show, and then they sit there and “entertain” themselves by playing games or texting friends for two hours? What's the point? Why not just stay home? Does everybody born in the Information Age have ADHD that they can't sit for two minutes without checking their frickin' phone? And if the show is that bad, get up and leave. You can probably get your money back and the rest of us will be glad you're gone.

Of course, the real problem is there's no enforcement of the rules, so rule benders don't take them seriously. I've been in movie houses where they actually sent in an employee before the show to make a deadly serious announcement about cellphone use. Then the employee left, the movie screen lit up....and so did the cellphones. These cretinous clowns know that theaters can't afford to station “phone police” in every auditorium, and since they don't really give a flying flip about anybody's “rights” other than their own right of self-entertainment, they don't care. They just light up and go about their business. If you don't like it, well, bad on you.

The problem's not going to go away until the industry gets serious about it. In live theater, Patti LuPone says it's not fair that performers have to play the bad guy when it comes to cellphone abuse. "I'm a hired actor – it's not my job.” She says the actors complain to the stage managers, then the stage managers go to the house managers and the house mangers go to the ushers, who may or may not be able to effectively deal with the issue. “It falls on us to be the police," Patti says.

Same thing applies in movie theaters. Aggrieved patrons can get up and go out to the lobby – missing half the movie they paid ridiculous amounts to see – and try to find a manager. That manager will then likely instruct some teenage usher to go in and take care of the problem. Riiiiiight. If that works at all, it will only work until about sixteen seconds after the usher has left the vicinity. Patti has the ultimate solution: "They should just eject you with no refund." Then you can stand outside the theater and text all your “friends” about how badly you were treated.

Let me try to give you clueless nitwits a clue. Sure, you paid big bucks for a ticket. But guess what? So did a couple hundred other people. People who aren't just hanging out in your living room, you know? People who actually want to see what they paid their big bucks for. And that doesn't include being distracted by the strobe-like flashing of your phone every ten seconds, something that happens because you don't have the brains, the manners, or the self-control to think about the other people with whom you share living space on this planet.

Get a life, spoiled simpleton. Or at least get some sense of perspective. Unless you're a doctor on call or some sort of emergency responder, you're just not so important that you can't afford to be “out of touch” for a couple of hours. And if by some legitimate chance you are expecting an important call or message, take a seat on the back row where the luminescence of your phone screen won't provide a blinding distraction to everybody seated behind you. Surely nobody is so oblivious as to think that sitting in the front or middle rows of a dark theater auditorium and then effectively turning on a flashlight is not going to bother the people sitting in the seats behind them. If you've got to be on your phone, whether for reasons legitimate or narcissistic, for cryin' out loud, sit in the back where you'll only piss off the people on either side of you. And hope that none of them has a short fuse and a gun.

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