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The bully's speech

A couple of weeks ago, Laura and I bought tickets online for an evening showing of The King's Speech. We went out to dinner first but failed to leave ourselves enough time to get to the movie theater early. By the time we arrived, our theater was nearly full. We could have sat together in the front row or sat apart. Neither prospect appealed to us so we went to the box office and got a refund. We had to eat the $2.00 online ticketing fee, but it was our own fault for not getting there early enough for decent seats.

Last night we tried seeing The King's Speech again. This time we got to the theater a full hour early. This was probably overkill, but we did end up scoring ourselves the perfect spots, dead center two rows up in the stadium seating section.

Well before the previews started, we couldn't help but overhear an elderly couple bickering in the seats directly behind us. I rolled my eyes, hoping this wouldn't continue once the movie started.

The theater was filling up fast. Shortly after the old man excused himself to go buy popcorn or use the restroom or whatever, we heard a young woman asking the old woman if she would move over so she and her husband could sit together.

"I'm sorry," said the old woman, "but we arrived early so we could have these seats. My husband likes to sit in the center."

"But you could just move over one seat, and we could sit together."

"I'm sorry, but my husband likes to sit in the center."

"All you'd have to do is move over one seat."

"I don't want to move without asking my husband. He's not here right now. When he gets back, you can ask."

"Why won't you just move over one seat?"

The old woman was starting to sound peevish. "My husband likes to sit in the center. He's not here. When he gets back, I'll will ask him."

The young woman eventually went away. Laura and I heard another woman in the row behind us reassuring the old woman that she hadn't done anything wrong.

The movie started, and it was a wonderful film. We laughed, we cried, it became a part of us. The couple behind us didn't make a peep, at least not that I noticed. We were transported.

The lights came up and people started filing out. Laura and I always sit through the end credits when we can, so we stayed put in our seats. When the theater was nearly empty but the credits were still rolling, I heard a young man's voice in the row behind us.

"Excuse me, ma'am," he said, "but do you mind if I ask you question?"

"What is it?" asked the old woman, mildly.

"I want to ask you why you wouldn't move over one seat so my wife and I could sit together," the young man said. "I want to ask why you would be that rude."

"What do you mean? We got here early so we could get the seats we wanted. My husband was out."

"I wasn't here," chimed in her husband. They both sounded so old.

"Why would a person be that rude?" the young man said, with some hostility. "Not to move over one seat. My pregnant wife had to sit by herself."

From his tone, you would have thought the old woman had personally slugged his pregnant wife in the belly. Laura and I both turned around in our seats at the same time, and at the same time we both said, more or less, "She's not the rude one. You're the one being rude."

This was the first I had even seen what the old woman looked like. She had to have been at least eighty, sitting hunched in her seat like a frail, lumpy frog. Her hair looked purple in the half-light.

The young man, on the other hand, was small and slender but very tough-looking. He wore a skin-tight white T-shirt under his jacket, and his hair was shaved down to uniform stubble. He was no older than thirty.

"This is none of your business," he said to us. "How can you defend that kind of rudeness?"

"She didn't do anything wrong," Laura and I both insisted.

"I wasn't even here," the old man said.

My hands were shaking at this point. I am rather confrontation-averse, but who can sit by while some angry thug bullies an old woman?

The "conversation" went back and forth like that for a few more exchanges while I tried to mentally prepare for it to turn violent. Thankfully it never did, but it did end with the seething young man standing up and pointing a finger at the old woman as he retreated down the aisle.

"Shame on you, shame," he said. "And shame on you too, for your rudeness."

"I wasn't even here!" complained the old man.

"I'm not talking to you," said the young man, who was now nearly at the theater exit. "I talking to you and you. Shame on you two for encouraging this kind of rude behavior. Shame! Shame!"

Then he was gone.

The elderly couple thanked us profusely for taking their side, and we reassured them that we didn't think they'd done anything wrong. I kept an eye out for the guy as Laura and I exited the building, but we didn't see him.

We talked the incident over on the way home. We were both glad we had said something, and we were proud of having helped run off a builly. But there were other things we wished we'd had the presence of mind to say to him. One was, "What kind of person needs to bully an old woman just because he didn't get his way?" Another was, "Are you going to stop harassing this woman, or do I need to go talk to a manager?"

I don't know what you think about situations like this, but here's my take. I think there's a culture of entitlement at work here. I'm used to getting my way, I expect to get my way, and if I don't get my way then you are doing me injury. If there's something you could give me that I want and deserve and you don't give it to me, then you are a terrible person. You are rude.

It's a two-year-old's mentality, but you see it in adults all the time. I frequently act that way, I know. But the bottom line is, just because someone could give me something does not mean they are obligated to give it to me. I don't have a right to the theater seat of my choice any more than I have the right to punch you in the nose. Even though I might want to.

Yes, the old woman could have moved over a seat. (Or maybe she couldn't. I don't know what her mobility is like. Maybe she and her husband were waiting to leave until the theater was empty because it takes her five minutes just to stand up.) But when she doesn't, for whatever reason, the adult response is to nod your head and accept the consequences of not arriving at the theater half an hour early. The adult response is not to sit and stew so thoroughly through a two-hour movie that you have to start harassing an old woman afterward.

I don't know, maybe all bullying stems from a sense of entitlement. You have something I don't that I think I deserve to have, so I'm going to take it from you, you rude, selfish person. Even if that something is self-respect.

So that's my take on an incident I'm obviously still stewing over myself. What's your take? Who was right and who was wrong? Or was everyone wrong? I'd like to hear.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
Good job!
I'm with you on this one. The angry young man in question really should have put a rag in it and shut up. He is, as you characterized in the title, a bully. The only way to deal effectively with a bully is to stand up to him. My hat is off to you and your wife for your appropriate response to him.
Jan. 16th, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about reaching a point where you have to accept you can't get everything what you want and just walk away. Also, a young man or woman shouldn't be harassing an older couple about something so trivial. That's pathetic.

I did find the older lady's insistence a little off-putting (but again, we don't know the whole story). As long as someone asks nicely, I don't think it's out of turn to ask someone to shift down. If they say no, accept that they either have a reason they're not moving, or they're rude. Whatever. Move on. Life's too short to deal with people like that over nothing.

I do find it interesting though that the older lady couldn't make an executive decision without her husband. A lot of trouble might have been avoided. Whenever I go to the theater I have to admit I find myself more annoyed by chattering elders than young texting idiots.

Urban etiquette! Man I love discussing it!
Jan. 16th, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)
i'm with you. the young man was being a bully and really should've shut the hell up. he definitely shouldn't have bothered the poor old woman when the film was over. gimme a damned break. it's not like anyone was deprived of something important.

also, last time i checked, pregnant doesn't equal helpless. if she can't handle sitting apart in the same theater, then i wonder if he leaves her alone during the day? does she drive alone to work, to the bank or whatever?

go you for standing up to him.
Jan. 16th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
Altruism and entitlement
All and all I think both party made a folly, though one was certainly more deserving of a rebuking.

Given our capacity for selflessness I tend to expect to see it a little more often than I do (though it hardly becomes altruism if it's mandated soooo). I realize that isn't a terribly realistic expectation but there it is none the less. That being the case (and speaking from ignorance because I don't know this old lady's situation) had she simply shifted one chair to the left or to the right I hardly think her husband would have flipped out so much so that it would have been the end of the world. However....

The young man was way out of line. A lack of planning on his part does not entitle him to one of the seats the elderly couple was sitting in and to scold them like a pair of children and grill the old woman is inexcusable. Being a tall, bald, and thugishly built man myself I know exactly how easy it is to intimidate people. Our appearance communicates so much more than what we are saying; two things can happen with that, either we are conscious of our appearance and are especially polite so as not to give the wrong idea, or we are conscious of our appearance and we use it to make every nonverbal threat of violence we can to get our way. You guys were 100% right for stepping in and adding to the elderly couple's cause. The young couple should have either come back a different day or sucked it up and dealt with the fact that they should have gotten there earlier so as to get a pair of seats together, but in either event it was not ok to scorn the old lady about her unwillingness to move.

just my two cents
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:32 am (UTC)
You describe it perfectly! The attitude at work says, basically, "I was inconvenienced, and therefore it MUST be someone else's fault." His wife didn't HAVE to sit by herself. As you point out by example, this kind of situation arises when movies are popular. This couple didn't plan well. They could have gone to another movie or asked for a refund, but unlike you, they (or at least the husband) were expecting someone else to make up for their lack of foresight. And what does being pregnant have to do with it? Was this woman expecting to go into labor right then? I have been pregnant twice, and while I think the condition deserves preference if it's a question of sitting versus standing, I don't see where it gets you anything in the which seat department. As for chastising an elderly couple after the fact, he has a nerve heaping scorn on anyone else. He is confusing "not willing to accommodate someone else" with "rude," when they are not actually the same thing at all. If he wants to know rude, he should look in the mirror.
Jan. 17th, 2011 02:05 am (UTC)
I can understand wishing that somebody would move, but I'm not going to make assumptions about why they can't or why they won't. She stated it clearly enough, they got there early to get those seats. It would have been nice if they moved, but there might be perfectly valid reasons they didn't, right up to "We were here first, and we planned it that way."

MrDanKelly wonders why the little old lady felt she couldn't make a decision without her husband, but I think that was out of consideration for him, since the decision she made affects him. She said they could ask when he got back, which I think is fair enough. (There are somethings I'd be fine with my spouse making an executive decision on, but he knows I'm short and I think he'd ask the querying party to wait until I got back from the restroom to see if I was comfortable with it. Maybe little old lady has a similarly short spouse.)

Invoking the pregnancy thing is weirder. If sudden labour was a concern, why pick a seat in the middle at all? (And pregnant bladders being what they are, I'd like a seat near the aisle, thanks?)

As an adult human, if I can't sit with my spouse, I'll ask him if he's okay sitting seperately or if we should snag another viewing.

(BTW, I understand for some folks that seating is not a big deal, and it depends on venue but for me and other short folk, getting a nice seat, offset just perfectly from the seats in front of you....well, I can understand being a little territorial if you took the time to stake out your seats early. With stadium seating this isn't as big a deal, and many newer theatres are awesome that way, but on only slightly sloping floors, that offset can be crucial.)

Jan. 17th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
FWIW, I'm with you, Bill. I'm glad you & Laura stood up for the older couple.

That young man sounds like he was full of anger and impotence, and decided that this was a place and time to make his stand. I'm guessing the people he really wanted to make his stand against were too powerful in his life, so he chose someone he felt he could dominate. Classic bullying.

I don't think the older woman was wrong for not wanting to move down a seat. It was something she wasn't comfortable doing just then. I can understand the young man being annoyed at her stubbornness, but that's one of those situations where the right thing to do is keep that annoyance to yourself, because you don't know the whole story.

And seriously? It wasn't a cattle car in Nazi Germany. The younger couple didn't have to stay at all, much less in those particular seats. As you did in that earlier show, they could have left. The older couple didn't force them to do anything.

The only thing I wish could have happened was a productive conversation in which the younger man was able to see another point of view, and step down his own anger -- but not everyone is open to that, and from how you described it, there probably wouldn't have been a way to get that to happen right then, if at all with that particular person.
Jan. 17th, 2011 08:09 am (UTC)
Bullying old people=horribly wrong.
Asking someone to move=ok.
Badgering someone to move= wrong
Refusing to move in a crowded movie theater = not wrong (that's why they call it first come, first served. And really moving over one isn't always the same - there could be a tall person in front that makes the alternate seat much worse.)
Complaining after the fact that someone exercised their right not to move=jerkish
Invoking the fact that your wife is pregnant= sexist and jerkish.
Standing up to bullies=good.

Yes, it's annoying when you have to sit separately, but get over it, it was two hours of their lives and if they really wanted to sit together they should have left, gotten there earlier, etc.
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
Did she ask her husband about moving when he got back before the film started?

Here's my (probably unpopular) take on the situation:

If I were in the young man's place, I'd have been been pretty pissed off too. Asking someone to move a few spots over is not an unreasonable request. If the couple in question had some kind of mobility issue they could have easily cited it as a reason for not moving. As it was, this came off as "We we're here first, it sucks to be you."

Is not giving up the seat rude (assuming there is no compelling reason to hold these seats above all else)? No. I think it's selfish. Selfish and rude might overlap to a certain extent, but they're not equivalent. The elderly couple was certainly not obligated to move. And I'm under no obligation to think kindly of them when they are being selfish.

The difference between me and the young man? I'd have moved on with my life and not berated them after the movie. I might have rolled my eyes and muttered "jerk" as I left the pre-movie encounter, but that would have been the end of it.

The young man's post-movie behavior was out of line and out of proportion. Just because someone is being selfish doesn't mean you should be too - that just puts you on a race to the bottom.
Jan. 24th, 2011 02:52 am (UTC)
I think you're more or less right, but honestly, when you get to be 80-something, you're allowed to be unreasonably stubborn. And yeah, the young couple had the right to be annoyed -- privately and politely. But their behavior was outrageous, and nullified anything the older couple did "wrong."

The young man was outrageously wrong, as in, security should have intervened and tossed him out on his ass. But it didn't start there. The young woman asked the older woman for a favor. The older woman declined, politely, with an explanation. Rather than politely accepting the answer, even if it was in her view unreasonably stubborn, the young woman berates the older woman for not granting the favor she requested. If I'd been in the old woman's position, I wouldn't have asked my partner about moving. I would have said, "You would not believe what that little snot over there just did."
Jan. 18th, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
The only question I have is, why couldn't the old woman just moved to the other side of her husband's seat? Rather than be sitting on his left, she could have moved to be his right. And I only ask that because she was using her husband's attachment to the seat as her reason for refusing to move.

Having said that, I do think the young man was a bit of a wanker to come back and gripe like that.
Jan. 24th, 2011 02:42 am (UTC)
I know this wasn't a political post, but honestly, this is the heart of why I'm not a Republican. I don't like bullies, I don't like people who not only have a sense of entitlement but are offended by the times when they don't manage to get than their fair share, and most of all, I despise people with a lack of empathy. And that's what really happened here. This punk was so focued on his mild inconvenience that he couldn't see anything wrong with bullying someone almost three times his age.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


William Shunn

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