The Chinks in My Cynicism

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I have a healthy disdain for people. By “healthy” I mean that I don’t go overboard and avoid people at all costs. I don’t sneer at them or grimace when they walk into the room. In fact, in most situations I generally enjoy interacting with people. My disdain stems from encountering inconsiderate people. This begs the question, “Why should my hatred – healthy or no – extend to all of humanity when only the inconsiderate populace is responsible?” The answer is that the inconsiderate group is constantly changing – shrinking and swelling when people choose to or choose not to be inconsiderate. Everyone is inconsiderate now and again – sometimes necessarily so. It’s like sleeping. Everyone does it, but not at the same time.

I also try to minimize my exposure to places where the chances for inconsideration and discourtesy are high. Specifically, this means avoiding peak hours at the movie theater. Here’s an article about why I avoid the movie theater. In case you don’t want to click the link, let me just sum it up for you and explain that it’s getting harder to find a group of people who know how to act appropriately in the movie theater. I’ve listened to people have an entire conversation while watching a movie. They were a couple of rows behind me so it was just a constant murmur in the background with not quite intelligible words surfacing once in a while in the way that I imagine people with mental disorders hear voices. Another time a man sorted out his visitation rights with his lawyer on his cell phone several seats to my right. On the topic of cell phones, there’s nothing more jarring than being in a dark theater and having people in front check their text messages, with their bright phone displays piercing the blackness like mini-lightsabers. The worst offense, of course, is still the cell phone ringing, especially if it’s an annoying club anthem.

The other reason I dislike people – L.A. people in particular, but only because they seem to do this more than other groups – is how they care very little for anything beyond themselves. It’s the perfect illustration of the exchange in Fight Club where Jack/Narrator explains to Marla why he enjoys going to support groups.

Jack/Narrator: When people think you’re dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just…

Marla: Instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?

Jack/Narrator: Yeah.

I was at an industry event recently where I was introduced to a colleague who’s newly moved to L.A. from back east. He’s trying to make it as a screenwriter, actor and basically whatever he can get in the entertainment industry. After finding out a little about him and his aspirations the conversation went dead. Moments like that always strike me as strange and tremendously off-putting, because the natural response would be to ask me about me. I know this sounds egotistical, but that’s not the impetus behind my reaction. In fact, I couldn’t care less if I’d never spoken to or met this guy at all. My point is that human interaction should be based on the joy of simply getting to know someone first and utility second. I don’t mind utility relationships. It comes with the territory in Los Angeles. Everyone needs to sell themselves if they want to get anywhere. I just don’t want completely utilitarian relationships. So when I’m in L.A. I typically don’t bother having conversations with people because the talk is usually very superficial.

So earlier this week I attended a screening of Orphan at the Mann 6 at the Hollywood and Highland Center. I didn’t get to watch it in the main theater. Alas. Also, it wasn’t an exclusive Press screening either, which can have its own annoyances, but I’ll take a bunch of journalists over the common theater crowd any day. Instead, this screening was open to the public via ticket giveaways from different outlets. In fact, 93.1 Jack FM was there to provide pre-show entertainment in the form of mini-game show challenges. This meant that there was an eclectic cross-section of humanity sitting all around me. It didn’t bode well for the viewing experience, but then something unexpected happened: This audience turned out to be one of the best movie-watching audiences I’d ever been part of. They laughed at appropriate times, commiserated when tragedy struck and cheered when good was vindicated. The experience reminded me of why going to the movie theater was such a great time. There are several reasons that can explain why this phenomenon occurred, of course. First, I think the value of watching the movie was heightened, because those in attendance had won their seats and therefore didn’t want to diminish the experience with tomfoolery. Second, the security was heavy at the doors complete with metal detectors, which I think kept the rowdier bunch in line and convinced everyone to respect the “turn off your cell phones” rule. Third, the movie was very well done, which I think is the best deterrent for people acting like jackasses. Whatever the reason, having this particular audience that night really made the movie for me. I think that’s because I’m a pretty self-controlled person. So while I understand intellectually that something is funny or scary or emotionally compelling, I typically won’t react outwardly. Having everyone essentially react for me was refreshing and cathartic in ways I had completely forgotten.

Before the movie began, I had the good fortune of having an empty seat next to me and having a cute girl come and sit in it. So not only was this an L.A. person, but it was also a girl who’s probably used to getting her way because of her beauty. That very thought has always made me bristle whenever I have to interact with a pretty girl, because I know that I have to be on my guard the whole time to make sure I don’t get used.  Usually what happens is that I turn stone faced and standoffish as extra defenses against their charms. This time around – for some inexplicable reason – I decided to strike up a conversation. It turned out to be a good move because she was a really cool chick and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, asking appropriate questions to keep the conversation going. If I had to analyze this anomaly, I’d say that it probably helped that I had the movie’s production notes in my hands, which signified me as a member of the Press. That was an instant ice breaker and made me interesting by virtue of being unique. Secondly, I didn’t try to hit on her, which usually doesn’t turn out well. In fact, when I’m at an event and beautiful women are blocking my view of whatever I need to cover I just ask for their numbers and they go stand somewhere else.

Anyway, the point of all this is to say that while my faith in humanity hasn’t been reaffirmed, I’ve certainly been given a little hope that people know how to control how much they suck at any given time.

  1. Don’t let one little event let hope for humanity in. I can give you a whole bunch of reasons to hate people.

    Try this: Put a large bowl or jar of individually wrapped candy out for the public and then at the end of the day count how many wrappers are thrown back into the jar instead of the trash three feet away!


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