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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Civility’s right

by Brenda Looper | August 9, 2023 at 3:30 a.m.
Brenda Looper

Sunday afternoon, I headed to the grocery store with a friend so we could get what we each needed for the week. We should have taken what sounded like gunshots (it was balloons being popped) as a sign.

We loaded up the cart, but when we were nearly done, noticed that only a couple of checkout lanes had anyone working them, and were backed up down the aisles, and so was self-checkout. As we neared the self-checkout, a clerk announced that it was cash only. Facing the prospect of our frozen items melting long before we got to a register, we put back our groceries and left, while lines of shoppers waited resignedly and mostly politely.

It could have ended much differently, especially had those balloons been gunshots and people had reacted to that and the lines in a less-than-civil manner. I was reminded of a story I had read in The Washington Post earlier in the weekend about bad behavior at movie theaters over the past several weekends of "Barbenheimer."

I haven't made it out to see "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" yet since I'm not a fan of crowds in the first place, but the stories I've heard are enough to make me swear off movie theaters completely (but not live theater around here, as the crowds are usually kind and courteous, even when it's a sold-out show like "Rent").

"'Barbenheimer'--the twin release of blockbusters 'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer'--may have broken box office records and brought people out to the theaters in droves," wrote Sofia Andrade and Janay Kingsberry of The Post, "but it also highlighted a very real problem: Some people seem to have forgotten how to go to the movies, with widespread reports of drunken outbursts, rampant cellphone use and exhibitionism."

Not that this is a new phenomenon. Last year, Coleman Spilde of The Daily Beast wrote that he walked out of a screening of "TÁR" because, he wrote, "Theater etiquette is in the gutter," having suffered through people having full-throated conversations, inappropriate laughter and phone use.

Still, that's nothing compared to what happened at a Denver showing of "Barbie," according to The Post report. A naked man had to be removed by security, apparently angry and confused that he wasn't allowed to let it all hang out in a movie theater. Other reports, including some from "Oppenheimer," included fights, videos and photos being taken with flash, disruptive entries and exits, watching videos on phones during the movie and other bad behavior.

Have we all just forgotten how to behave in public? Didn't our mamas teach us better than this?

Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Irvine, told The Post in an email, "It is clear that the past three years have been challenging for many people in our country. We have experienced a series of collective traumas, cascading one to the next, which for many has been almost too much to bear. The combination of the pandemic, inflation, mass shootings, climate-related disasters, political polarization and so on, has taxed our capacity to cope."

Justin Chang, a film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's "Fresh Air," told The Post, "I used to be an avid shusher. Now I choose my battles because I don't want to get stabbed in a movie theater."

Or shot. It's not like it would be the first time.

"People's habits were bad before the pandemic. They were bad [during] the pandemic wave, and they're bad now ... It's always bad, so I do choose to pick my battles now. I just get desensitized to it," Chang said. "People acting as if a public space is their living room is a problem that affects all of us, not just [in] movie theaters."

That's why I don't go out in public much. Tempers have been at a boiling point for too long, and when some people decide their rights overrule everyone else's, that's just a recipe for disaster. We've seen the rise in incivility online for years with trolls galore, and in the past decade or so have witnessed too many instances of cruelty and aggressive behavior toward anyone who doesn't believe as a specific group (usually relatively small but very loud and opinionated) does. Of course that behavior was going to spill over into everyday interactions.

W hen many of us were kids, we were expected to behave with decorum in public (raising our hands, being polite and considerate of others, etc.), and that carried through to adulthood. I could say that it's the newer generations that are responsible for the rise in incivility, but that would be wrong. People of all ages have taken part.

Is it a remnant of the long periods of isolation during the pandemic, and streaming to our computers and TVs becoming the norm? Maybe, but ... well, I never decided I must watch a movie naked while streaming. You should thank your lucky stars I haven't done that in a theater.

The optimist in me isn't prepared yet to throw in the towel, and part of that is because of what I saw Sunday at the store. I still have hope that enough of us will remember the Golden Rule and try to live by its principle again.

Unless we like being treated rudely.

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at Read her blog at

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