Dear Regal Cinemas: Insane People and How Your Staff Responded

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I’d like to share a story with everyone.  Today, I went to see World War Z.  It’s a zombie film, so I’ve been looking forward to it for a while (zombies are the only thing that legitimately scares me anymore, with rare exception).  So I put on some pants, shuffled out the door, and walked the 2 miles to the nearest Regal Cinema (#14 in Gainesville, FL, in case you were wondering).  Don’t feel bad for me about having to walk that far, though.  I got to read comic books on my Nook HD+ on the way, and I purposefully chose to walk (buses don’t run often enough on the weekends anyway).

In any case, I’ve been going to this theater since I moved to Gainesville (except when I have to go to the other one to see things Regal #14 doesn’t carry).  It’s a decent enough place.  Nothing special, but I’ve never had any issues with the theater before, except the occasional annoying jabberface.  Unfortunately, jabberfaces are common at all theaters.  I say this so you’ll understand why I was so shocked by what I experienced there.

About 30-45 minutes into World War Z, another patron decided to start having a conversation with his female companion (girlfriend, sister, or something).  Occasional comments don’t bother
me; I do that myself when I’m with others.  But this fell within the “full blown conversation” territory.  That annoys the hell out of me, and for good reason.  I don’t go to the movies to listen to other people talk; I go, obviously, to see a movie.  And that’s what I expect when I go to a theater.  A movie experience.  An immersive experience.  I want to get lost in the movie.  I want to forget that I’m in a theater so I can enjoy the hell out of what is going on up on that big screen thing.  And when a jabberface ruins that experience, it understandably annoys me.  Jabberfaces suck you right out of that immersive experience.  They inject something from the real world into the fantasy one.  They destroy the movie experience entirely.  I dislike jabberfaces quite a lot, you see.  And so do a lot of other people.

So it was with trepidation that I turned and offered my first-line-of-defense:  the “shhh.”  I shushed this individual and his companion not just once, but three times before I and another nearby patron finally got fed up, turned around and told him to please be quiet.  I think my exact words were, “Could you please stop having a conversation?”  I don’t think the other guy was so nice (there may have been a “fuck” in there), but I don’t fault him for such language.  It had to be said.

And here’s where it gets insane.  The jabberface decided that instead of kindly shutting up so the rest of us could enjoy the movie, he would instead flex his little muscles and confront us for our behavior.  I honestly can’t remember half of what he said, since most of it was incoherent crotch-grabbing nonsense, but here’s the gist:  “You don’t know me. You shut the fuck up or I’ll come over there and shut your face for you.  And as for you (me), you just sit there and shut your mouth.”  That’s the really watered-down version.  His actual tirade went on for a full minute, in which he primarily flexed his manly muscles at the other annoyed patron.  There were borderline threats made during the tirade, along with a sea of n-words and other swear words.

Unfortunately, when these things happen, I shut down.  In all honesty, I think most instances of physical confrontation are moronic, and since I’m not a glutton for pain, I tend to avoid them as much as possible.  In this case, I didn’t see a point in engaging with someone who clearly couldn’t disentangle “greatest offense against my person EVER” from “please don’t have a conversation in a movie theater.”  I shut down and ignored him as best I could, partly out of fear and partly out of a refusal to give in to childish antics.  If he was willing to fight over something as stupid as being asked to shut up during a movie, then there was no point engaging with him any further.

Eventually, he realized the other patron wasn’t going to back down, so he sat his little childish toosh down and tried to play the “now where were we” card.  But he’d clearly lost.  There was no saving face when you’re the guy that looks like a petulant child in front of hundreds of other people.  At some point during all this, someone had gone to tell a manager.  Several minutes later, the manager came in and had a talk with the two men.  I don’t know what she said to them, as she apparently had the magic gift for conversation-in-a-theater-that-nobody-else-can-hear.  However, I gathered what she had done:  issued the warnings that would put jabberface in his place.  From that moment on, the theater was quiet (except for the occasional giggle from someone who found amusement in teeth-chattering).

When the film ended, there were no further confrontations.  I spoke briefly with some other folks who stayed behind in the theater and came to the conclusion that we all were rather shocked by what had happened.  One of the other patrons (an un-involved one) told me that he had asked his son to move to the other side of the theater to avoid the confrontation entirely.  I don’t blame him.  When someone stands up in a theater puffing and throwing out borderline fighting words, it’s entirely reasonable to take precautions (and certainly so in this day and age).  He was doing what a good father does:  protect his family.

Afterwards, I went to talk to the manager.  Honestly, I don’t remember her name, but she was a nice individual who listened to my concerns and answered my questions about appropriate procedure.  How exactly does a theater handle something like this?  She seemed to have a good idea how to handle the situation, and clearly her skills in defusing a situation are worth commending.  Her talk with the enraged jabberface managed to keep the theater quiet and civil for the remainder of the film.  On that front, she did an excellent job.

On top of all of that, she also spoke to me with a great deal of respect and concern.  She apologized for my uncomfortable experience.  It wasn’t her fault, of course.  I told her as much, but that didn’t stop her from displaying genuine concern for my experience.  We spoke about the oddness of the situation (she’d never seen anything like that before either) and related subjects, until finally she offered me a comp movie ticket.  I didn’t ask for it.  In fact, I had no intention of asking for it.  I only went to speak with her to ask her advice on how best to handle future situations and what they can do about such people (throw them out, issue warnings, etc.).  I didn’t expect a comp ticket.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  I like my comp ticket just fine, and I intend to use it, but sometimes I think generosity can smack us good in the face when we’re not expecting it.  And it feels good…

If anything, the whole film experience was like night and day:  one really terrible moment followed by a reaffirmation that there are wonderful people in this world after all.  People like that deserve a little credit, I think.  And I’m going to do the best I can to give this individual her due.  If there’s a customer service line for Regal, I’m going to call and provide feedback.  The reasons are obvious.  This whole experience could have been awful.  But she managed to alleviate all of that by demonstrating an incredible amount of professionalism and humanity.

So that’s basically it.  Thanks to the staff of my local Regal Cinema, and special thanks to the lovely manager who treated me like my experience actually mattered.  A+

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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