Critical Snap Judgment

Roger Ebert

As reported in the Daily News, a recent film screening in New York became the site of a case of extraordinarily bad manners:

Soon after the lights went down, a source tells us, “a man in the audience started yelling, ‘Don’t touch me!’ People looked around and shrugged. Ten minutes later, the voice yells again, ‘I said don’t touch me!’”

Again, people shrugged off the disturbance. But a few minutes later, says our source, “the guy stands up in the darkness and thwacks the guy behind him with a big festival binder. He hit him so hard everybody could hear it. Everyone freaked out and turned around.”

The thwacker? New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick.

The thwackee? Esteemed Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.

After battling thyroid and salivary gland cancer for years, Ebert, 66, can no longer speak.

“Apparently, Roger was just trying to tap Lumenick on the shoulder to signal him that he couldn’t see the movie,” surmises our source. “He was trying to ask him to move over a bit.”

Though Lumenick seemed surprised to see whom he had struck, he offered no apology, according to another source.

Obviously, Lumenick’s hitting of Ebert was beyond the pale, but even if the former had just responded rudely, he would have been at fault.   He ought to have upheld a principle of charity: on first glance, assume that other people have good intentions and motives, even if they’re not obvious at first. But even if in this case the tappee had been actually rude, Lumenick should have remembered that the true test of manners is how you deal with people with no manners.

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