TV Is Teaching Us Bad Manners

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 28 2012 1:54 PM

TV Is Teaching Us Bad Manners

elementary1
Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller onElementary

Photo by John Paul Filo – © 2012 CBS

As someone whose social education came from television, I see it as a force for good in the world. Television entertains, educates, and distracts in a generally positive way. But there is one area where it is destroying culture and ruining lives: Television keeps telling people it’s OK to talk, text, and generally act like an inconsiderate fool at the theater.

Yesterday’s Elementary pilot had a particularly egregious example. Joan Watson bought Sherlock Holmes a ticket to the opera, which he declined to use. But when he had a flash of inspiration and needed her to accompany him to confront a suspect, he headed to the opera house, took his seat during the middle of the performance, and conducted a conversation and even a phone call while the other operagoers barely bothered to shush him.

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As apoplectic as this barbaric display left me, I could comfort myself with the knowledge that such loutishness would never be permitted in real life, because opera companies are positively tyrannical when it comes to preventing late entrances (as many slow-to-the-women’s-bathroom-line opera lovers have discovered to their chagrin). But I suspect that around 13 million of the 13.2 million Americans who watched last night’s Elementary don’t know that. Next time they go to Götterdämmerung, will they sit out the first four and a half hours and just wander in for the final 75 minutes, during which they’ll place a call to their insurance broker to tweak their coverage for household fires?

The worst example of television modeling terrible live-theater behavior came in Season 2 of Ugly Betty, when Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) and her beau-to-be Henry Grubstick (Christopher Gorham) went to see a Broadway production of Wicked but were forced to sit apart. While Elphaba and Glinda (played by Smash’s Megan Hilty) sung their hearts out, Betty and Henry texted, coughed, sneezed, and chatted with their seatmates. They did eventually take their conversation to the lobby, but unfortunately, they walked out in the middle of the act. EW.com interpreted the Wicked episode as “one giant commercial” for the Broadway show. If so, it was a very bad PSA for proper decorum.

Here’s how NOT to behave at the theater:

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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