Kevin Williamson: Hero Or Menace?

What is the appropriate response to someone who's acting like a jerk?

TextingTheaters

National Review’s Kevin Williamson got himself kicked out of a theater last night. I’ll let him tell the story:

I had a genuinely new experience at the theater tonight: I was thrown out.

The show was Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which was quite good and which I recommend. The audience, on the other hand, was horrible — talking, using their phones, and making a general nuisance of themselves. It was bad enough that I seriously considered leaving during the intermission, something I’ve not done before. The main offenders were two parties of women of a certain age, the sad sort with too much makeup and too-high heels, and insufficient attention span for following a two-hour musical. But my date spoke with the theater management during the intermission, and they apologetically assured us that the situation would be remedied.

Well, it turns out that the situation wasn’t remedied and the woman in question continued using her cellphone. When Williamson tried to remind her about the theater’s policy on cellphone use, she told him to mind his own business. So, he took matters into his own hand:

I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage. She slapped me and stormed away to seek managerial succor. Eventually, I was visited by a black-suited agent of order, who asked whether he might have a word.

Dave Weigel calls Williamson an “American hero,” and Rod Dreher agrees:

I know just how he feels. I remember almost 20 years ago, as a film critic in south Florida, I routinely had to deal with people who thought they had a right to talk through movies. I remember on one occasion politely asking these three elderly women sitting behind me several times to please stop talking during the movie. They weren’t just exchanging remarks every now and then. They were talking in a normal tone of voice, as if they were sitting in front of the TV in the community room of their assisted living home, or whatever. The bizarre thing is that they treated my politely stated requests as if I were some sort of ogre who insulted them by asking them to respect the rest of us by piping down.

(…)

More and more people, it seems, simply do not understand how to behave in public, and how to respect others. I wouldn’t recommend seizing the phones of rude old ladies and throwing them across the room. But I understand the impulse, and would pay Kevin Williamson’s court costs, if it came to that.

Williamson notes in his piece that he could face criminal charges and, indeed, as Taylor Berman notes, what he did here could qualify as either criminal mischief in the third degree or menacing in the third degree. Menacing is a Class B Misdemeanor publishable by up to 90 days in jail while criminal mischief is a Class E Felony and carries a maximum sentence of 1-4 years.  Of course, those are maximum sentences and it’s probable that Williamson wouldn’t get a sentence like that if he were actually charged and found guilty. Nonetheless, it does demonstrate that this is not an affair. Indeed, if this woman had been injured during the course of this incident then it’s possible that he would be potentially facing more serious charges.

Leaving aside the criminal matters, though, I really have to wonder about Williamson’s actions here and the apparently unrepentant attitude that he displays in the comment thread to the post. The responses of Weigel and Dreher are puzzling too. Nobody denies that our technology has given rise to a whole subculture of rude people and that people who insist on texting, Tweeting, or doing whatever on their phones in a darkened theater are among the rudest. However, is it really appropriate to respond to such people by using force? I’m uncertain if it was an option in this case, but one can always get up and find another seat if you find it truly annoying. Barring that, reporting the person to the appropriate staff member seems to be the best thing to do. Taking matters into your own hands seems to me to be unnecessary, potentially illegal, and in the end counterproductive.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Media, Society
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kevin Williamson is not a hero, he’s an idiot. Was it really worth throwing a $300 phone across the theatre, something I assume would cause a lot more of a stir than two bimbos talking. There is such a thing as having a bit of dignity in a tough situation, which this man demonstrated he has none of. He’s just a dick, plain and simple.

  2. Hal 10000 says:

    No, I don’t think Williamson is a hero. What he did was act out the juvenile fantasy of anyone who’s dealt with an obnoxious cell phone user. But there’s a reason we have laws: precisely to prevent this sort of thing. Not to question his feline agility or anything, but if he’d struck this woman no one would question that he was in the wrong.

    You don’t respond to obnoxiousness with more obnoxiousness.

  3. wr says:

    It’s typical of the hard right — he acts like a two year old and thinks himself a chivalric hero. The entire Tea Party in a nutshell.

    By the way, I’d like to see him do this in Florida, where the woman could have felt herself threatened by his thuggish actions and legally shot him to death.

  4. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Not a hero, not when one acts if one is entitled not to have one’s buzz killed. “Taking matters into my own hands” rarely ends well.

  5. Mikey says:

    There are circumstances in which a given course of action would be both entirely appropriate and completely stupid. Williamson found himself in such circumstances, and took such a course of action.

    By “entirely appropriate” I mean the woman in question fully deserved to have her phone snatched and pitched across the room. But that doesn’t mean it should have been done.

    Assuming Williamson and his companion were seated in reserved seats, and the theater was full, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect them to move (and why should they be the ones to move–and probably to worse seats–when they are not the ones in the wrong?).

    The best course of action would have been to again contact theater management, and if management again failed to rectify the situation, demand a refund and leave.

    Far less satisfying than tossing the rude woman’s phone, but far more dignified.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Had a woman behind me once who would not STFU. So I stood up, blocking the screen, and said, “If I can’t hear the movie, then you can’t see the movie.”

    I’m on Williamson’s side. He tried the legal route. The theater didn’t feel compelled to enforce the rules. So he took the law into his own hands. In future the theater will take enforcement more seriously. Point made.

    Of course he’ll probably be fined, which is just and right, and a price probably worth paying.

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    I’m uncertain if it was an option in this case, but one can always get up and find another seat if you find it truly annoying.

    One cannot always do so. Sometimes the theatre is sold out. Sometimes one has assigned seats. Sometimes one is sitting with a whole group of people.

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Had a woman behind me once who would not STFU. So I stood up, blocking the screen, and said, “If I can’t hear the movie, then you can’t see the movie.”

    Ooh, that’s good. I’m going to use it in the future.

  9. legion says:

    Ladies and gentlemen, the Hypocrite Parade!
    It’s not like I had the slightest respect for anyone associated with NR prior to this, but it’s a true illustration that all of the people Doug mentions are spoiled children with no moral centers at all. If something like this were done to Williamson, would a single one of them support the person who took & destroyed his cell phone? Would Williamson stop to think he had made a mistake, and accept the loss as a lesson learned?
    No. Not just hell no, but f*ck no.
    Every single writer there would be howling about “entitlements” and demanding blood. Well I want blood too – I want Williamson to go to jail over this. By his own admission (in print, no less, thus underlining his stupidity and lack of forethought), he’s straight guilty. If I were the victim of his asshattery I would be demanding jail time and filing a civil suit against both him and his benighted employer.

  10. Brett says:

    He’s an asshole. If the theater people weren’t going to do anything to get her to stop using her phone (including telling her she needs to leave), then he should go and demand that they refund his money. If he raised enough stink with the staff, then they’d leave.

  11. legion says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m on Williamson’s side. He tried the legal route. The theater didn’t feel compelled to enforce the rules. So he took the law into his own hands. In future the theater will take enforcement more seriously. Point made.

    I gotta disagree. He assaulted a woman, and stole her property. That’s an order of magnitude beyond an appropriate or acceptable response. Yeah, I understand the impulse, and I’ve felt it myself, but actually acting on it is totally out.

    Of course he’ll probably be fined, which is just and right, and a price probably worth paying.

    Actually, considering that he admits his guilt in print, and appears totally unrepentant, I think he might get (and certainly deserves, IMO) more than just a fine. And his employer printed it, and all of his colleagues appear to be roundly supporting him, there’s a reasonable argument to be made in naming the whole lot of them in a good-sized civil suit as well.

  12. john personna says:

    Conversely, I’ve noticed that lunchtime venues tend to be quiet as churches now, with everyone’s nose stuck in a smartphone.

    (It first registered when I was in a sandwich shop with, I counted, 12 other people, and total silence.)

  13. gVOR08 says:

    I had a situation is a restaurant. A somewhat inebriated gentleman was talking nonstop to his table at a volume the entire restaurant could hear. People were looking at him, but everyone, including the manager, and I, seemed to feel the risk of a scene discouraged confronting him. I did, however, on my way out quietly say to him, quoting him, “I’m sorry you daughter-in-law is a whore, but I’d rather have not known about it.” The shocked and abashed look was priceless.

  14. John425 says:

    I’m not going to condemn him. Daily we see rude people who cut in line, cut you off in road rage, so-called “customer service” reps who put you on hold indefinitely, political paralysis ad nauseam. Perhaps he finally felt like he was “mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.”

  15. Rafer Janders says:

    @legion:

    And his employer printed it, and all of his colleagues appear to be roundly supporting him, there’s a reasonable argument to be made in naming the whole lot of them in a good-sized civil suit as well.

    Um, civil suit for what? Printing something that’s true and talking about it aren’t civil offenses.

  16. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “I’m on Williamson’s side. He tried the legal route. The theater didn’t feel compelled to enforce the rules. So he took the law into his own hands. In future the theater will take enforcement more seriously. Point made.”

    These “rules” aren’t set down in the constitution or the ten commandments. They are set by the management of the theater, and their enforcement or not is entirely up to them.

    No one appointed this assclown sherrif of Broadway. No one deputized him to enforce the rules.

    If the theater felt compelled to act on his complaint, they would have. They didn’t. And at that point his beef stopped being with this (yes, incredibly rude) woman and started being with management. And his options at that point were essentially to stay and put up with a seat he didn’t like or demand a refund.

    When I went to see Stevie Nicks a couple of weeks ago, there were a lot of morons in the audience holding up cell phones during entire songs to get a video recording. It was certainly against the rules and it was certainly infuriating. And yet it never occurred to me that I should throw their phones across the room or hit them with a chair or anything else. Because I’m not an entitled moron.

    What makes this even more ludicrous is the fact that this man writes for NRO, an organization that believes it was wrong for the Civil Rights Act to force private businesses to integrate because property rights trump all others.

    But this apparently only applies when it’s “those people” who are being inconvenienced.

  17. legion says:

    @Rafer Janders: Printing and talking about it – no. But the act itself (not sure if it counts as assault or battery, plus willful destruction of property) is a tort the woman can sue for outside of a criminal complaint. And by writing a column about it, there’s at least an argument to be made that his actions were within the scope of his employment, making his employer potentially liable as well. In short – Williamson is really dumb, and he’s surrounded by equally dumb people.

  18. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “People were looking at him, but everyone, including the manager, and I, seemed to feel the risk of a scene discouraged confronting him.”

    This is bad — or at least weak — management. The restaurant owner needs Willie Degel to show him how to deal with these situations..

  19. wr says:

    @John425: “Daily we see rude people who cut in line, cut you off in road rage, so-called “customer service” reps who put you on hold indefinitely, political paralysis ad nauseam. Perhaps he finally felt like he was “mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.”

    Of course, what a right-winger is completely incapable of understanding, some of those people see you exactly the same way.” And their “mad as hell” is just as real and important to them as yours is to you.

    Which is why we don’t privilege certain people to act physically on their annoyance at other human beings. Because then we have to privelege the other side to beat the crap out of you when they believe you’re in the wrong.

    Or maybe this is the world you want to live in. Pardon me, but I like civilization, even with its discontents.

  20. Ken says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m on Williamson’s side. He tried the legal route. The theater didn’t feel compelled to enforce the rules. So he took the law into his own hands

    I’ll bet George Zimmerman felt the same way

  21. @michael reynolds:

    So I stood up, blocking the screen, and said, “If I can’t hear the movie, then you can’t see the movie.”

    The distinction being that blocking someone’s view isn’t a criminal act. I agree he was justified in doing something, but there were plenty of things to be done that didn’t involve becoming physically violent over the situation.

    Assault is a far bigger offense to civility than being rude is.

  22. However, is it really appropriate to respond to such people by using force?

    I know this conflicts with a certain political philosophy, but people are often incapable of making intelligent decisions. And contrary to said philosophy, it’s often not logic or self-interest but rather the threat of force that inspires desirable outcomes.

    Indeed, it’s self-interest that inspired these ladies to gab during the movie, that inspired Williamson to throw their phone. At least in the Williamson case, there’s someone to say, “I don’t care what you wanted. You can’t do that.”

  23. Rafer Janders says:

    @legion:

    And by writing a column about it, there’s at least an argument to be made that his actions were within the scope of his employment, making his employer potentially liable as well.

    No, there is no argument whatsoever that by writing about it his actions were within the scope of his employment, since HE WROTE THE COLUMN AFTER THE ACT. Unless NRO has developed time-travel technology and his editors assigned him to go back in time, grab a woman’s cellphone, and then write about it, his employer has absolutely no role in his actions.

    This isn’t even a close call. This isn’t even arguable. This is, simply, flatly, wrong, and the logic behind this argument, if it was extended, would have an absolutely chilling effect on public discourse and journalism.

  24. Franklin says:

    … but one can always get up and find another seat if you find it truly annoying.

    After you’ve already missed a key plot point? If the management refuses to take care of the issue, they owe him a free ticket.

    As for Williamson’s actions, I agree they were understandable but regrettable.

  25. PD Shaw says:

    @Brett: “If the theater people weren’t going to do anything to get her to stop using her phone (including telling her she needs to leave), then he should go and demand that they refund his money.”

    I think its correct that the focus should be on the theatre; this is not entirely public space, its the space the theatre sold with the promise of an enjoyable experience. I would like to see more accountability. If his theatre seat was under a leak, management should have taken care of it. If there was a crying baby that was distracting the audience, management should have offered the parents tickets for a future performance, if the baby simply wasn’t consolable. If there were drunks in the audience, hire Dalton to settle matters.

    Unfortunately, unless I skimmed over it, Williamson does not even name the theatre where he had his problem, overlooking the best tool we have to shame management.

  26. @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    And contrary to said philosophy, it’s often not logic or self-interest but rather the threat of force that inspires desirable outcomes.

    What’s the difference then between Kevin Williamson throwing this lady’s phone across the theater and a lynch mob hanging a black man for daring to flirt with a white women? They’re both just using a threat of force to inspire what they consider desirable outcomes. Who decides which outcomes are sufficiently desirable to place you above the law?

  27. Moderate Mom says:

    Question to the lawyers here: She physically assaulted him by slapping him. Does she have criminal culpability?

  28. legion says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    This isn’t even a close call. This isn’t even arguable. This is, simply, flatly, wrong, and the logic behind this argument, if it was extended, would have an absolutely chilling effect on public discourse and journalism.

    Again, I strongly disagree. I am still NAL, so I’ll defer to Doug or any others here who are, but Williamson’s employers don’t have to explicitly instruct him to go break the law in order to be civilly liable for his actions. And just that they published his story isn’t sufficient either; it’s that they (and Williamson’s colleagues in print) all appear to endorse and encourage his actions. I _think_ that’s all that’s needed to show civil liability…

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @legion: Actually, it would be battery against the woman and possibly assault as well depending on how quick he did it. (“Apprehension…”) She might be able to bring suit against the theatre as well, depending on the 4-pt stuff undoubtedly written on the back of the ticket. (Disclaimer against liability, etc..)

    Could try to go after NR for this but I really don’t see how you can shoehorn this into respondeat superior, especially since this was an intentional act and didn’t involve any actions involving strict liability. (RS usually used in cases of negligence.)

    Nice little situation to write up for a Torts Exam, in any case.

  30. Rafer Janders says:

    @legion:

    Again, I strongly disagree. I am still NAL, so I’ll defer to Doug or any others here who are,

    I am a lawyer. Defer to me.

  31. Heisenberg says:

    @Moderate Mom: She has a pretty good argument that her slap was in self-defense. He’d already employed violence against her once.

  32. legion says:

    @Rafer Janders: Fair enough then.

  33. @Stormy Dragon:

    What’s the difference then between Kevin Williamson throwing this lady’s phone across the theater and a lynch mob hanging a black man for daring to flirt with a white women?

    I will resist the urge to be overly literal here……

    Aside from the obvious, the difference is that the lynch mob (historically) were more like the gabby ladies than Williamson. They would hang a black man because they knew they could, because they knew no one would stop them. That all changed with anti-lynching laws, of course, when it changed from “I can do what I want” to “No, you can’t.”

    Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that the use of force (or in other words, coercion) is just awesome, the perfect remedy for any situation. But it’s certainly a powerful motivator.

  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @legion:

    I am still NAL, so I’ll defer to Doug or any others here who are, but Williamson’s employers don’t have to explicitly instruct him to go break the law in order to be civilly liable for his actions.

    Actually, yes, they do, or his actions must at least be within the scope of his employment. And since he was not hired to assault women, assaulting a woman is not within the scope of his employment and not something his employers are liable for. “Scope of employment” has a specific legal meaning which you do not seem to understand.

    And just that they published his story isn’t sufficient either; it’s that they (and Williamson’s colleagues in print) all appear to endorse and encourage his actions. I _think_ that’s all that’s needed to show civil liability…

    Oh for fook’s sake….This is sheer nonsense. No, that’s not all that’s needed to show civil liability. You have no understanding of what the term “civil liability” means AT ALL. Printing a story about an event that actually happened, “endorsing” or “encouraging” (how can you encourage something that happened in the past???) his actions, or even nodding approvingly, do not, have not, and never will make someone liable in a court of law for the actions of another. If the law worked the way you think it did, everyone would be afraid to write or speak about anything that happened to others.

  35. wr says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): “I’m not arguing that the use of force (or in other words, coercion) is just awesome, the perfect remedy for any situation. But it’s certainly a powerful motivator. ”

    Yes, that’s why there are squads of young men on motocycles in Iran and Afghanistan who ride around and savagely beat anyone who isn’t living up to their idea of morality, generally women whose clothes are not modest enough or who dare to step out without male escort.

    That is not a society I choose to live in. The fact that we might agree the woman who was the victim of force here was clearly in the wrong does not alter that. Do you really not think there are anti-smokers who feel just as vehemently about their cause as this assclown Williamson? Should a pregnant woman be slapped if we spot her having a glass of wine or a cigarette? Should we be able to physically restrain young men whose pants hang too low?

    Whose taste and manners shall we enforce with the threat of violence?

  36. @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that the use of force (or in other words, coercion) is just awesome, the perfect remedy for any situation. But it’s certainly a powerful motivator.

    Yeah. The problem is when you jump from that observation to concluding that means we need more Kevin Willaims going about arbitrarily terrorizing others on the basis of their whims.

  37. JWH says:

    I’ve often wanted to take somebody’s phone and throw it across the theater. I’ve also cheered when somebody does that on a movie screen. Heck, I think we all feel that way — we want to give a little bit of karmic justice, preferably physical karmic justice, to the inconsiderate dolts of the world.

    It’s a damn good fantasy, but a sucky reality By grabbing the rude woman’s cell phone and throwing it away, Williamson did not resolve the situation. He escalated it by turning a social confrontation into a physical altercation. I really can’t view him favorably.

    Not to mention that (if I recall torts class correctly), grabbing an item out of somebody’s hand can be part of the basis for a tort of battery.

    Now, according to his accounting, he let the management know about the woman, but they did nothing about her. Seems to me the best course of action was not to grab the woman’s cell phone, but to leave the performance and demand a refund or new tickets from the theater management. If they weren’t forthcoming … that’s what Yelp and blogging is for.

  38. JWH says:

    PS. Does this remind anybody else of “High Crane Drifter?”

  39. Gustopher says:

    I think that the correct, appropriate response would have been for Williamson to embrace the power of musical theater, stand up, and sing a lovely impromptu song about the horrors of cell phone use in theaters, declining morality, etc.

  40. Rob Prather says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Michael Reynolds. My first thought when I read this this morning was hooray!

    About twelve years ago I was watching the first “Hulk” movie in a theater and a guy and his girlfriend wouldn’t shut up after repeated requests. I elbowed him in the ribs — hard! — and he shut up. He spent the rest of the movie practically sitting in his girlfriend’s lap.

    I remain happy with myself over that.

  41. Anderson says:

    Dude throws my iPhone, then I’M the one who’s going to be booked for assault.

  42. @wr:

    That is not a society I choose to live in.

    You don’t live in that society. If a squad of young men on motorcycles wanted to terrorize your neighborhood, the police would stop them. That’s so obviously a threat of force that I’m surprised it’s not even being considered here.

  43. rudderpedals says:

    Nothing says “good choice in dates” better than your date losing it violently, publicly. I bet she cancelled his man card.

    Getting physical with a woman of a certain age – and what in the blazing hell does that mean, an aged crone? – can’t be excused. Walk away.

  44. @Stormy Dragon:

    The problem is when you jump from that observation to concluding that means we need more Kevin Willaims going about arbitrarily terrorizing others on the basis of their whims.

    Never said that.

    This is all I’m saying: Those ladies were rude because they knew there would be no sanction for it. They knew that if someone objected, that someone would be powerless to stop them. Indeed, they were counting on it.

    For his part, Williamson probably knew there would be sanction for his actions and made a choice that it was worth it.

  45. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    For his part, Williamson probably knew there would be sanction for his actions and made a choice that it was worth it.

    Exactly. As I said above, he’ll be punished, and he’ll have it coming. Still, he took the hit for all of us.

  46. inhumans99 says:

    I really, really, really, want to come down on the side of Kevin Williamson…however, if someone destroyed my phone I would ask them for compensation, or threaten to file a police report. Phones are expensive, and the destruction of someones personal property is not something to be casually ignored because you though the clod had it coming to them for talking in a theater, etc..

    I remember watching a youtube of a professor who calmy grabs a student’s cell phone and smashes it on the ground (I do not know if this video was staged), and all I could think of was did the student file a report with the police, the school cops, someone? Even if you feel that a student talking in class during a lecture got what was coming to them, it does not give the professor the right to destroy personal property (the woman in this story was basically mugged by Kevin, he grabbed something out of her hand and took it from her…if he had grabbed her wallet and took off running we would not even be having this discussion, as Kevin would clearly be labeled a criminal miscreant).

  47. John425 says:

    wr@12:14 says: “Of course, what a right-winger is completely incapable of understanding, some of those people see you exactly the same way.”

    WTF? How did left-right politics get in this? I understood this to be about civility and rule of law. Is a “left-wing nut” so anxious to politicize this he/she shoots from the hip? Like the NR writer?

  48. grumpy realist says:

    Well, it’s easy to tell who are the lawyers on this thread…..

    One of the reasons why we do, in fact, have laws against things like assault and battery is because of the little interesting difficulties that occur when humans interact with each other.

    Why Williamson didn’t do the obvious is beyond me: simply ask for his money back, then write up a very loud and public declamation in National Review (naming names) about the rude people in the theatre and how the theatre management failed to control them. He had a absolutely fantastic soapbox and failed to use it in an efficient manner. As it is, he just comes off as a rude jerk himself.

    Ah well, he’s probably young and naive….

  49. al-Ameda says:

    Did I miss something here? Did Williamson bother to ask theater staff to deal with this? If not then I think Williamson, although justly frustrated, was rightfully wrong to do this.

    I understand his frustration completely. For 3 months I commuted on a bus from downtown San Francisco to suburbs north of the city, and each evening a woman would board the bus and as soon as she got settled she was on her cellphone for the 90 minute ride home. She’d converse in a somewhat loud tone of voice (you could not NOT overhear the entire call). One call would last 30 minutes, then another call, repeat rinse … I made the mistake of politely asking her once to lower her voice, and she said, “excuse me, this is MY business, not yours,” to which I said, “lower your voice and I won’t have to listen to your your business,” and she then told me to “f*** off.”

  50. @inhumans99:

    I really, really, really, want to come down on the side of Kevin Williamson…however, if someone destroyed my phone I would ask them for compensation, or threaten to file a police report. Phones are expensive, and the destruction of someones personal property is not something to be casually ignored

    I understand this all too well, as I also would be upset if someone destroyed my phone. However, if people were worried that some stranger would snatch their phones out of their hand and throw it across the room, I guarantee you that they would reconsider how they use those phones.

    I mean, sure it would be nice to move through life with the attitude of “This is mine….I can do whatever I want,” but I think it might actually be better to go “This is mine….I’m going to decide to be smart about it.”

  51. wr says:

    @John425: “How did left-right politics get in this? I understood this to be about civility and rule of law. ”

    The writer in question is a right-wing nut writing for a right-wing nut publication. And it’s the definition of the Tea Party attitude — “the way I am feeling at this particular moment is not only right, it’s mandated both by the Constitution and Jesus, and I know this because otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling like this.”

  52. Corey says:

    @wr: Uhhh… if you could get over your own political partisanship long enough to be gracious to a conservative person for a moment (or two), you’d realize that all patrons in the theater were told to turn their phones off before the show, and that it’s actually illegal to talk on the phone in a theater in NYC. I probably wouldn’t have done what Williamson did, but really only because I’d be afraid of the legal ramifications. So the reason why people think Williamson is a hero is the same reason why people think other vigilantes are heroes: when the proper authorities won’t do anything to enforce the rules, we all wish somebody would. Williamson did it, he’ll probably face some consequences for doing it, but it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people are sick and tired of being walked all over by rude public behavior (especially when it comes to cell phones).

    And while I don’t think this incident has anything (at all) to do with politics, it’s interesting that the people trying to tie Williamson to conservatism and NR are expressing such effete attitudes about defending themselves and public decency.

  53. Corey says:

    @wr: You clearly don’t know Williamson’s work, unless every conservative is a “right-wing nut job” in your mind. But that really just marks you as a left-wing nut job.

  54. Corey says:

    @al-Ameda: Williams actually did ask the management, during the intermission, to do something about the phone use. Then he specifically asked this woman to stop using her phone. Didn’t help. And the difference between his situation and yours was that he was in a theater where patrons had already been told to turn their phones off, and, if I’m not mistaken, it’s actually illegal to talk on your phone in a theater in NYC.

  55. wr says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): “However, if people were worried that some stranger would snatch their phones out of their hand and throw it across the room, I guarantee you that they would reconsider how they use those phones. ”

    Yes, and if women were worried that guys would beat the crap out of them, I guarantee you that they’d start wearing longer skirts.

    It’s exactly the same philosophy — I have a preferred set of behaviors, and if you don’t follow it I will cause you physical harm.

    Sorry, but living in a pluralistic society means putting up with other people’s differing visions of acceptable behavior.

  56. Corey says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Not to mention that there was nothing “arbitrary” or “terrorizing” about what Williamson did. How people are turning this into something political, or about “assaulting” a “lady,” or about “arbitrarily terrorizing” someone else, I don’t know.

  57. Kitty_T says:

    I really, really sympathize with Williamson. However, you can’t get grabby with other people. You just can’t.

    If I really had my dander up, I might have snapped and turned around and projected loudly and clearly to the cheap seats “for the love of God, get off your phone, we’re here to see the play, not listen to you perform in your personal version of Jersey Shore, Senior Edition.” (If I saw someone do that, I’d probably applaud.)

    More likely I’d have made it clear to management at intermission that I was a theater critic, and if there wasn’t an immediate change I’d have to publish that the play was fine, but audiences and productions alike should avoid this theater because of the incompetence of the staff in providing an acceptable experience.

    There are ways of getting satisfyingly nasty without exposing oneself to charges, or even censure. I’d have thought anyone who values good manners would be well aware of that.

  58. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    However, if people were worried that some stranger would snatch their phones out of their hand and throw it across the room, I guarantee you that they would reconsider how they use those phones.

    A phone-throwing society is a polite society.

  59. M. Bouffant says:

    An armed society being a polite society, what a shame Mr. Williamson wasn’t armed. Shooting her ‘phone out of her hand would have really sent a message!

    And I can’t believe only one or two commenters here noted that this act of “justified vigilantism” was carried out by against a woman. Williamson lets us know just what kind of woman, too:

    The main offenders were two parties of women of a certain age, the sad sort with too much makeup and too-high heels, and insufficient attention span for following a two-hour musical.

    That being quoted (it sounds like a personal problem to me) does any one believe he would have grabbed & thrown the ‘phone if a man rather than a middle-aged woman had been using it?

    EDIT: I swear I came up w/the “polite society” bit before seeing the comment above.

  60. al-Ameda says:

    @Corey:
    Given the amount of money people pay for theater tickets these days, management should definitely ban cellphone use, and should, if necessary, ask that person to leave the show if they’re using their cellphone.

    Not withstanding Williamson’s situation I have no doubt that he and I would agree that people are just generally self-centered and at times inconsiderate when it comes to cellphone use.

    I do think he was wrong to grab the phone and toss it, but I completely understand his frustration.

  61. Rafer Janders says:

    I sympathize with Williams, I really do, though I never would have grabbed the woman’s phone — that’s just beyond the pale. But theatre talkers deserve whatever’s coming to them.

    That said, as a committed conservative, shouldn’t Williams have let the market work its magic by taking his business elsewhere? Why not just go with the free market solution?

    Or, maybe, the free market doesn’t solve everything, and sometimes you need rules and regulations that apply to everyone….

  62. wr says:

    @Corey: “So the reason why people think Williamson is a hero is the same reason why people think other vigilantes are heroes: when the proper authorities won’t do anything to enforce the rules, we all wish somebody would.”

    According to every tenet of conservative thought, they’re not his rules to enforce. This theater is private property… and it’s not his private property.

    And by the way, anyone who thinks that a grown man who p hysically assaults an older woman simply because she annoyed him is either a child or an idiot.

    “it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people are sick and tired of being walked all over by rude public behavior (especially when it comes to cell phones).”

    I know some vegetarians who think it’s barbaric to eat meat. Personally I think they’re nuts, but it’s a sincere belie, and it makes them crazy to watch people eating animals in restaurants. So according to your new theory of appropriate behavior, would they be in the right if they threw someone’s steak across the room? I mean, if they’re sick and tired of being walked all over by what they perceive as rude public behavior?

    Or are vigilantes only heroes when they are fighting against what you personally consider rude public behavior?

  63. wr says:

    @Kitty_T: “There are ways of getting satisfyingly nasty without exposing oneself to charges, or even censure.”

    This is the thing that really proves he’s a child, not a grown up. He is a theater critic. He actually has some power here. He could have a much greater impact on such behavior by criticizing it in print. (I seem to believe someone once said something about the pen and the sword.) Instead he acted like a schoolyard bully.

  64. wr says:

    @Corey: “it’s actually illegal to talk on your phone in a theater in NYC. ”

    Whether or not this is the case, she wasn’t talking on the phone. She was texting.

    And the guy in the seat next to you is not automatically deputized to enforce the laws he feel are being broken.

  65. wr says:

    @Corey: “if you could get over your own political partisanship long enough to be gracious to a conservative person for a moment ”

    Yes, I’ll be gracious to the man who felt he was entitled to physically assault a woman because she was annoying him. Because this man deserves to be treated graciously, being a paragon of grace and all.

  66. wr says:

    @Corey: “You clearly don’t know Williamson’s work, unless every conservative is a “right-wing nut job” in your mind.”

    Not every one. But every one who works for K-Lo’s House of Repressed Sexual Terror? Yup.

  67. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    Sorry, but living in a pluralistic society means putting up with other people’s differing visions of acceptable behavior.

    I get that. We all must tolerate behaviors we find barely tolerable. (Why do we have to bring the beating of women into it? There are orders of degree, ya know…)

    But if I were doing this in a theater and someone snatched my phone, I would be angry and righteously aggrieved, but I do not think I would be surprised. Of course, I wouldn’t do that because I’m semi-aware that it’s not my world. I’m just living in it.

    @Rafer Janders:

    A phone-throwing society is a polite society.

    So says Russell Crowe. Maybe it’s more apt to say that a rude phone lady society is a phone-throwing society?

  68. wr says:

    @al-Ameda: “Not withstanding Williamson’s situation I have no doubt that he and I would agree that people are just generally self-centered and at times inconsiderate when it comes to cellphone use.”

    I agree with that. Where I part company with those cheering this loser on is that I kind of think that while texting during the play was self-centered and inconsiderate, feeling you have the moral right to assault someone who fails to live up to your levels of propriety is even more self-centered.

  69. Stonetools says:

    Whatever the lawyers think , I can tell you if this goes to a jury trial, Mr. Williamson will find some votes for acquittal. There will be a heck of a lot of sympathy for him ( I have some sympathy for him). I have zero sympathy for the woman.
    I think we are all agreed that he should have asked for, and been given his money back. I think that had he made it clear that he would want his money back unless the lady stopped, the management might have been more forceful with her.
    Failing action by the manager, it would be up to Williamson to make a scene. Most people don’t want to do that, which is what the women are relying on.

  70. Console says:

    As a man, I wouldn’t initiate a confrontation with a woman. That’s crossing a much bigger boundary than someone being rude in a theater. So no, definitely not a hero. Exerting your privilege as a man to overpower a woman that is simply doing something you don’t like… you don’t get a pass for that.

    If it was with another able bodied man, then I’d mind it less. Some guy asks you to stop doing something disrespectful, and you do it anyways, then you’re pushing that guy to do more then ask. But even then, that’s one of those things where if the cell phone tosser gets punched in the mouth afterwards, then that’s simply the consequence of initiating that physical confrontation. Being morally right in a confrontation doesn’t immunize you to an ass whooping. So people should be very wary of physical confrontation as a means to get what they want. Let’s say this woman had a boyfriend that beats the hell out of Williamson in the parking lot. Is forcing someone to stop using their phone really worth getting in a fight over?

  71. Me Me Me says:

    Get back to me when Williamson confronts a 6′, 225lb man about being rude.

    And also, when there is someone to corroborate Williamson’s version of events.

  72. Pharoah Narim says:

    I’ll bet she won’t pull that s@&t again though! ijs

    For what its worth–situations such as this make me lament having such a well armed society. Some people need a good ole-fashioned pummeling—can’t do that these days though because people that just got their asses whipped feel justified in shooting you. Now a situation is created where you have to shoot them first or let them kill you. It ain’t worth it.

  73. Pharoah Narim says:

    @James Pearce (formerly known as Herb): Exactly. There are people that live in their own worlds and play by their own rules without regard from anyone else. They aren’t motivated by not wanting to be thought negatively of or not causing harm or inconveneince to others. They ARE motivated by self-preservation–if you aren’t a threat to beat them or kill them–you don’t matter and will be ignored. Not saying that was these ladies but these people do exist in the world. I sometimes think that many progressives think these people don’t exist while many conservatives think they are around every corner.

  74. Pharoah Narim says:

    @wr: I think its important to recognized that civilized society has in fact outsourced the “threat of force” to another group of citizens we call the police. Threat of force isn’t the issue–its who employs it. I reckon most people have 3-4 trump cards to pull in a lifetime where they follow their gut and give someone whats coming to them. Again, I don’t believe this case applies to that–I think asking for a refund was probably the better option here…but what happens when someone feels you cut them off in traffic and jumps out of their car and approaches you at the next red-light? I’d say that situation is a good time to use one of your trump cards.

  75. Moosebreath says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    Can you unpack this:

    “Threat of force isn’t the issue–its who employs it. I reckon most people have 3-4 trump cards to pull in a lifetime where they follow their gut and give someone whats coming to them. Again, I don’t believe this case applies to that–I think asking for a refund was probably the better option here…but what happens when someone feels you cut them off in traffic and jumps out of their car and approaches you at the next red-light? I’d say that situation is a good time to use one of your trump cards.”

    It sounds like you are saying that if someone feels you cut them off and they approach you, the correct thing to do is physically attack them. Am I reading you correctly? If so, please tell me where you live, so I can stay away from there.

  76. rudderpedals says:

    @Moosebreath: Good, I’m not the only one who read it as road rage justification.

  77. wr says:

    @Pharoah Narim: “I think its important to recognized that civilized society has in fact outsourced the “threat of force” to another group of citizens we call the police. ”

    Well… yeah. Obviously. That’s one of the hallmarks of a civilzed society.

    And the guy who jumps out of his car with a tire iron because he thinks you’ve cut him off is only comparable in this instance to the guy who grabs the phone because he’s annoyed by texting. Both are people who have decided that their individual convenience gives them a right to ignore the societal compact and inflict damage on another person.

  78. wr says:

    @Pharoah Narim: “Some people need a good ole-fashioned pummeling—can’t do that these days though because people that just got their asses whipped feel justified in shooting you. Now a situation is created where you have to shoot them first or let them kill you. ”

    Gosh, if only there was a third way… where we don’t have to kill the people who mildly annoy us without fear of being killed.

    Oh, wait — here’s a thought. Maybe if we aren’t so narcissitically self-obsessed, we wouldn’t consider other people’s behavior to be a direct and intention insult to us, and we could learn to control our psychotic rage.

    Nahh. Then we’d be “progressives.”

  79. LisaE says:

    Once again, I have to lament the fact that in this day and age everyone wants to get the law involved at the slightest provocation. She was being annoying with her phone. He asks her to stop. She declines to stop. He throws her phone. She slaps him. The theater asks him to leave. Problem over. Why involve the cops? Jesus, people.

  80. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Moosebreath: Yes, its a judgement call I will give about 2 seconds of reading someone’s body language before making a decision to take action. Staying in your vehicle and flipping some off, cursing, etc is not a big deal. Once an irrate stranger exits their vehicle and approaches your vehicle..decisions have to be made. If the body language is non-threatening–we can curse each other out and keep moving. If you approach me in a fashion like you’re going to kick my ass (or worse)–Im not going to let a sociopath injure, kill, or maim me without them having to endanger their own person to do so? I don’t expect anyone to.

    What’s not to understand about the police? Ultimately–we pay them to bust heads of non-compliers. Sure, we expect them to be civil first but after than its going to get ugly. Go ahead–ignore an order submit to arrest. You will experience increasing levels of force escalation until they get to deadly force. The inevitability that the police will beat and/or kill you is what keeps people that would as soon clobber you over the head and take whatever you have that they like (or kill you because they can) at bay. When I was a kid I remember watching the neighbors getting evicted from the home they were renting–something went bad and it turned into and altercation between several adults in the family and the cops. Some folks got hurt bad and it wasn’t the cops. The point is—the cops just didn’t go away. They did some enforcer work on behalf of that landlord. Obviously, a road rage example was at the extreme end of the spectrum as far as taking action because it potentially has an element of life or death–but in situations of social etiquette where we aren’t talking physical danger–sure.. tell a butt hole to STFU or knock it off a few times in life. Does wonders for the soul.

  81. Pharoah Narim says:

    @wr: all rage isn’t psychotic and yes–some people can and will directly insult you because they figure they can do what they want to you and you’ll let it slide. It’s a judgement call– anyone confronting every perceived offense AND anyone accepting all offenses both have issues. Im sorry there are no hard and fast rules to apply (which it appears you advocate) to know which is which. Go with your gut–accept the consequences if there are any. The problem I have with your approach is that you seem to imply that avoidance is the right answer in every situation. I respect that your life experiences brought you to those conclusions and for your set of experience–it probably IS the right answer. However, your experience is not everyone elses and one should be open to the fact that other courses of action are also valid for other life experiences. You create a bit of a paradox by advocating acceptance of pluralism then advocating your own point of view as the only correct answer.

  82. wr says:

    @LisaE: “Why involve the cops? ”

    Umm, because he assaulted her? Because he felt he had the right to take and do whatever he wanted with her private property? Because he used his self-righteous irritation as justification for committing a crime against her?

  83. wr says:

    @Pharoah Narim: “some people can and will directly insult you because they figure they can do what they want to you and you’ll let it slide”

    Actually, they can only insult you if you choose to be insulted by their actions.

  84. stonetools says:

    Per Balloon Juice, it now appears that the performance was not the quiet darkened performance we might have imagined :

    it’s a rousing musical where the guests sit around the state and are served food and drinks and… the lights are on so the god damned cell phone glow couldn’t even be used as an excuse for his assault:

    From the NYT review:

    The show is performed in an elaborately appointed salon, with claret-colored velvet draperies and period paintings adorning the walls. Spiky candelabras modeled on the starbursts at the Metropolitan Opera twinkle from above. (Mimi Lien’s set designs form a crucial part of the mise-en-scène.) The audience sits at tables and banquettes clustered tightly together. Dinner service begins an hour before the performance. (The Broadway-size price tag is $125, but on Broadway you don’t get borscht.) For those who truly want to enter into the spirit of the drama, carafes of vodka can be purchased.

    Gotta say my sympathies have shifted a bit. If the setting is a brightly lit restaurant, with eating and drinking and the actors whirling away a few yards from you [see the accompanying image] then maybe someone texting on a phone the next table over shouldn’t have been that much of a distraction. I still think theater management should have made the women turn off their phones. But I now also understand why they may not have thought it was not that much of a deal.

  85. stonetools says:

    In the Balloon Juice comments, there is a link to a slideshow of the performance and its environment.

    Looking at the slideshow, I gotta say that Kevin Williamson’s case that the cellphones texting were a big distraction has collapsed. (Had it been phone calls, he would still have a case).

  86. wr says:

    @stonetools: Looking at the slide show, I’m surprised that one of the performers didn’t snatch the phone away. Then it could have been held for her until the end of the performance. And if they’d announced this policy, I’d have no problem with that.

    The rules are the theater’s; the enforcement is the theater’s.

  87. Alanmt says:

    I appreciate his frustration and if I were a presiding judge over any criminal charges, I might well impose minimum sentences. If I were the prosecutor, I might charge her for slapping him as well as him for his assault.

    Might not a better result for all have been obtained if he had merely ‘accidently’ spilled a drink all over the offending woman? She would most likely have removed herself at least to the rest room, allowing him and others to enjoy the performance for a while, there would have been no property damage, no injury, no crime. And I would be willing to bet that she wouldn’t have resumed texting if she returned to her seat.