Cape Fear

You know those empowering stories about a mild-mannered Average Joe who gets pushed and pushed and pushed, until he finally stands up and puts a couple of nudniks half his age in their place. This is not one of those stories.

On April 11, a man who was watching Titanic 3-D with his girlfriend in an AMC theater in Kent, Wash., finally lashed out at the group of loud ruffians sitting behind him. He punched one, bloodying his nose and knocking out a tooth. What prevents this story from being heroic in any way is the fact that the annoyed moviegoer was 21 years old — and his victim was just 10.

Yong Hyum Kim was arrested for the assault, according to the Associated Press, and could face up to nine months in jail. Kim told police that he had no idea the person he hit was a child, though the misbehaving gaggle sat behind him, pelting him and his date with popcorn and running through the aisles.

Every movie lover has suffered from an obnoxious neighbor. That’s clear from the online reaction to this inexcusable incident: “I say good for him if you are old enough to act like a punk then you are old enough to get punched in your grill,” wrote one commenter. “If parents would raise their children like they should, this stuff wouldn’t happen. They ought to give the guy a medal,” wrote another.

That’s alarming. No adult has the right to put their hands on a child, no matter the perceived offense. And certainly knocking out a 10-year-old’s tooth goes far beyond any acceptable or forgivable response to the most boorish misbehavior. But I’d rather focus on another element of this story overshadowed by the more spectacular details. Why were the 10-year-olds at a PG-13 movie in the first place?

Now I’m not naive. I know that slipping into a PG-13 movie before you’re old enough is not breaking into a bank vault — most theater chains, including AMC, do not have any age restrictions on the purchase of PG-13 tickets. And Titanic, with the exception of Kate Winslet’s nude scene, is closer to a PG film than an R, so I can imaging a parent looking the other way. But I am frequently frustrated by the parenting — or lack of parenting — decisions when it comes to youngsters’ viewing habits. Stephen King once questioned the judgment of parents who brought their kids to see The Passion of the Christ, and I shake my head when I see a dad stroll into the theater with his tweens to see The Hangover or some other adult comedy. My all-time worst movie experience was Unfaithful: A couple brought their two toddlers to see the sexy thriller, which starred all of Diane Lane. The kids would be scarred, judging by their tears, but no more than I, who now cannot disassociate Lane’s sexiness with the high-pitched screams of children.

So though I don’t endorse Mr. Kim’s actions, I certainly can relate to his outrage. How dare they ruin my date, my movie, and my 3-D iceberg! The only difference is his anger was aimed at what he thought was adult rudeness, whereas mine is directed at adults who neglect their parental responsibilities.

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