We Were Promised Hoverboards: Patient Bystanders

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If you see as many movies as I have — and I’d strongly caution against doing so — you’ll start to notice the patterns. Through sheer repetition of stock characters and plot threads, Hollywood perpetuates a lot of myths about modern living that are not exactly true. Many of them are downright ridiculous. We Were Promised Hoverboards is a weekly series in which I investigate these myths for sociological and comedic purposes.

The Myth: If you attempt to win back your sweetheart in public with an impassioned speech or grand gesture, any surrounding bystanders will quietly wait out whatever it is you need to do.

The Perpetrators: Anger Management, Parenthood, Coming to America, 27 Dresses, Two Weeks Notice, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Love, Actually, Blind Date, Picture Perfect, Made of Honor, Fever Pitch, Music & Lyrics, Keeping the Faith, Good Luck Chuck, The Ugly Truth, She’s the Man, Anger Management, How to Deal, Because I Said So, Boat Trip

We all become bystanders whenever we leave the house — forced by proximity to witness the messy action of each other’s lives. When this messy action kills us, we become “innocent”; when we don’t notice it, we become “oblivious.” As bystanders we unintentionally become part of the action, though, and we’re not nearly as patient or accommodating as most movies portray crowds of people to be. When an unhinged stranger interrupts a baseball game or a bar mitzvah in order to loudly declare his love to a woman — which apparently happens a lot? — people don’t just sit there like Hummel figurines. An umpire or a rabbi or somebody tells him to shut up and go away.

Everybody deserves love in their lives, and I tend to quietly root for most troubled couples to work out their differences. However, if dude tries to woo his ex back by serenading her during my wedding reception, someone had better take him out. “Sweep the leg!” is what I’d say, probably.

But nobody ever sweeps the leg. Instead they just stand there, slack-jawed, letting the moment unfold. Unless, that is, they feel like throwing their two cents in. “Kiss her already,” someone might thoughtfully suggest, because that’s perfectly reasonable romantic advice to give a total stranger. Why would anybody ever do this? Bystanders don’t have enough emotional investment in the outcome of untelevised squabbles to watch them play out in full. They were in the middle of something and they don’t have time for this bullshit.

By playing attentive audience to couples working through their issues in public, rather than telling them to shut up and go away, we would be indulging that couple’s most selfish whims. It might not be for a noble cause like true love either. Let’s face it: someone passionate enough to scream out his eternal devotion pledge in front of a subway car full of onlookers probably also has a passionately explosive temper. Bystanders who watched or encouraged such a reunion would therefore be enablers and champions of domestic abuse (I’m pretty sure Oprah would say as much). These bystanders would most assuredly not be innocent in that case — they’d be guilty bystanders.

Joe Berkowitz edits books and writes stuff. He also has a Tumblr.