Good Media Manners – Buying the seat next to you at the movies

Recently, The New York Times published an Ethicist article wherein someone asked if it was okay at a movie theater that sells reserved seats to buy the spot next to you so that no one sits in it. While the answer offered is soundly reasoned, it is also astoundingly wrong for today’s world. So, for the first entry in Good Media Manners, I’ve offered up the correct answer.

Read it and share — people honestly may not realize that infants shouldn’t be at the theater. And remember, if you have questions, email them to

Dear Will,

Is it unethical to by the seat next to you at the movies? Certainly not. Are you depriving someone else of watching the movie? Yes, but that is wholly beside the point. The point is that the person you’re allowing to sit next to you might deprive everyone else of watching the movie.

Movie theaters, like airplanes, have for the most part decided to not take a stand when it comes to misbehavior. Sure, you have your Alamo-like chains that will boot people out for doing the wrong thing, but the process at a place like the Alamo is cumbersome and better behavior exists there more due to everyone understanding the rules/consequences and going there for that quiet experience rather and than actual implementation of those consequences.

If I am at a movie that isn’t at one of those chains, forget buying the seat next to me, I would (if I had the money) buy the entire showing out. There was a baby crying behind me during “Big Hero 6,” and that sort of behavior is not acceptable.

Why was there a baby at the theater? The baby was going to garner no enjoyment from Baymax. The baby was there so that the rest of the family could go.

Having kids, I understand that babysitting is expensive, but ruining the movie for the hundreds of other people in the auditorium should be more expensive – that family should have had to give everyone back the cost of their ticket (and the theater chain should never have allowed the infant to attend in the first place).

I considered offering the family money to leave and never come back. I wanted to make the same offer to the people who kept coming and going out using the flash on their phone as a light.

I would, if I could, set up a little table at the entrance to a movie theater and ask everyone if they thought, just maybe, they could turn their phone off and refrain from chit-chatting with their neighbor for two hours.

No, you can’t? Here’s $15, catch the next show, this one’s mine.

Will, forget buying the seat next to you so that you have a place to put your down parka (winter is coming), buy the one next to that one as well, and the one in front of it and the one behind it and the one behind that. Everyone in the theater will thank you. Sure, that’ll be all of one person, but trust me, you’re gonna love it. One of the best movie going experiences I had was seeing “Capote” on a massive screen all by myself. A great movie that wasn’t ruined by the presence of other humans.

If you have a baby and want to attend a film, I would happily point out to you that some theater chains do showings expressly for people with infants. They leave the lights on low, they turn down the volume a little, and everyone there is expected to have a child with them (I took my son as an infant to see “Hanna” in just this way, he loved it). Crying is the norm. You are not being excluded from the movie-going experience due to your child, you’re having one tailored to your needs and avoiding ruining the film for someone—everyone—else.

With admiration at your attempts to improve movie-going,

Good Media Manners

Categories: Random Thoughts


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