Audience Ethics And Ethics Dunce Kelvin Moon Loh

"I hear child screaming in audience, so audience cannot hear King. Is a puzzlement! But brave..."

“I hear child screaming in audience, so audience cannot hear King. Is a puzzlement! But brave…”

I don’t want to be harsh, because Mr. Loh is obviously a sensitive and compassionate young man who means well. However, he is also receiving plaudits on Facebook and in the media for taking a position that is not ethical, and is in fact just more political correctness guilt-mongering and double standard-peddling. It is also likely to provoke disrespectful and arrogant parents to believe that they have a right to impose their problems on unsuspecting theater audiences.

At  Broadway’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, a screaming child disrupted a matinee performance of “The King and I.”  Some members of the audience agitated for the child to be removed, and the woman with the child indeed left.

One of the understudies in the production, Kelvin Moon Loh, defended the woman who brought the child to the performance in a post on his Facebook page, in which he assumed the kid was autistic and used the incident to argue for compassion and “inclusiveness” in the theater, and compassion.  Loh actually praised the woman as “brave.” Brave she may be; she also was selfish, irresponsible, disrespectful and absolutely wrong.

This is not an issue of tolerance. This is not an issue of compassion. The ethical issue is whether one person has a right, and can be right, to ruin a theatrical performance for the rest of the audience, or to unreasonably risk doing so. It’s an easy call: noNever. It is no more “brave” to take a child who cannot behave properly to a Broadway show (or any show) than it is to take a cranky infant to a movie. This is not like the airplane situation, where the mother has no choice, and the child’s noise doesn’t interfere with the flight’s main purpose, which is to get to the destination. The mother doesn’t have to see “The King and I,” nor does she have to bring her child to potentially disrupt it. Doing so is inconsiderate; defending her conduct, as Loh does, stands for a kind of etiquette affirmative action, in which being the mother of an autistic child relieves one of any obligation to care about anyone else.

In his much acclaimed and viral post, Loh doesn’t make a single coherent ethical or logical argument in his entire (well-written) post. Here are some of his attempts…

“Not more than one week earlier, during the same scene, a young girl in the front row- seemingly not autistic screamed and cried loudly and no one said anything then. How is this any different?”

Well, to begin with, so what? If the audience had objected, it would have been reasonable. The fact that one group doesn’t do something doesn’t mean that a different reaction in a different situation is wrong. Presumably the first mother brought a non-autistic child who reacted to an intense scene. That is alwyas tolerated by theaters. A mother who brings a child with behavioral problems is reckless jeopardizing the performance, and that is obviously different, and materially so.

“I heard murmurs of “why would you bring a child like that to the theater?”. This is wrong. Plainly wrong.Because what you didn’t see was a mother desperately trying to do just that. But her son was not compliant. What they didn’t see was a mother desperately pleading with her child as he gripped the railing refusing- yelping more out of defiance. I could not look away. I wanted to scream and stop the show and say- “EVERYONE RELAX. SHE IS TRYING. CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT SHE IS TRYING???!!!!”

 It was her responsibility to fix the problem she created by bringing the child when the child was not ready or able to behave properly at a performance. If the disruption continued, the audience was right to blame her—it was entirely her fault. They should be nice about it: she made a mistake. Trying, however, isn’t enough when you have deliberately created a situation that harms others.

“For her to bring her child to the theater is brave…Perhaps she chooses to no longer live in fear, and refuses to compromise the experience of her child.”

Wrong. She has no right to make that choice for a thousand other theatergoers. This is a compromise she is imposing on others: clearly unethical. She is as obliged to be considerate as anyone else.

“Her plan, as was yours, was to have an enjoyable afternoon at the theater and slowly her worst fears came true.”

But her plan wasn’t like the plans of other audience members, because their plans did not risk impinging on her enjoyment of the show.

“Shows that have special performances for autistic audiences should be commended for their efforts to make theater inclusive for all audiences.

Non sequitur! I agree with the sentiment, but this wasn’t such a performance. Loh appears to believe that any parent should be able to convert any performance of her choosing into a special performances for autistic audiences. Presumably he feels the same way about spontaneous conversions into performances for Tourette’s sufferers, or schizophrenics, or rabies patients.

Did he really think before he wrote this?

“I am in a show that is completely FAMILY FRIENDLY. The King and I on Broadway is just that- FAMILY FRIENDLY- and that means entire families- with disabilities or not.”

A show is obligated to be audience friendly as well. If audiences are expected to tolerate disruptions from special status audience members—Cell phones ringing and candy being unwrapped will NOT be tolerated, but if you bring along a special needs child who might run amuck, that’s fine!—then they must consent, meaning that they have a right to be warned. They weren’t warned. That’s unfair.

“A night at the theater is special on any night you get to go.”

Special, maybe. Whether it is what at you paid for, however, is something else. I gather Loh wouldn’t place any limits on the numbers of disruptive children. Would an audience be reasonable to object to five screaming children? Twenty? A hundred? Do the screaming children have to be autistic to qualify for the Loh Dispensation, or just ill-behaved, badly raised, hungry or too young? By Loh’s reasoning,  all of the parents responsible would deserve the audience’s kind forbearance,  because they are brave and thus immune from accountability.

“And no, I don’t care how much you spent on the tickets.”

Of course he doesn’t: they are just rich people, and it’s not his money. Loh should care, though: they pay his salary. This oh so compassionate actor has no compassion at all for the patrons of his art who pay large sums of money to hear Rodgers and Hammerstein music and are serenaded  by audience screaming instead.

This episode is a pure example of the “Awww!” factor. Loh isn’t ethical or even reasonable, but he’s standing up for a disabled child, and isn’t that nice? Sure, it’s nice, but misguided, and his Facebook post gone viral has made some Americans just a little bit more ethically ignorant than they were before.

Every bit hurts.


Pointer: Jeff Westlake

24 thoughts on “Audience Ethics And Ethics Dunce Kelvin Moon Loh

  1. Idly curious…what diagnostic criteria did he use to determine the existence of autism? He is clearly NOT a psychologist, nor is he, demonstrably, a psychiatrist. And would his position be different if he knew for a fact that the child was simply a behavior problem?

  2. I guess I should make sure it’s understood that I am evaluating Loh’s post on its own terms, assuming his assessment, that this was a special needs child, is correct. There is no way of knowing. Obviously, it is a case of a usually well-behaved kid having a bad day, the mother isn’t at fault for bring him, but neither is she “brave.” His (indefensible) argument is that an autistic kid who has a high probability of disrupting a performance SHOULD be brought to a live stage show, and that if he does disrupt the performance, everyone should smile and nod, and he shouldn’t even be removed. Whether that is what the real situation was or not is irrelevant to the post.

    • True, sorry for going off on a tangent. I just had the fleeting thought as I read his post on FB and the comments section that he made a judgement and is pretty much stating it as fact.

      I agree with you 100% that he’s wrong.

    • My apologies for starting off on this tangent in the first place. As you have pointed out, the reason for the child’s outburst is totally irrelevant. My intent was to point out that Mr. Loh’s response was based on a knowledge base that he did not possess, about diagnosis, acting, the theater in general or any other performing art, and certainly not about the cast’s and staff’s responsibility to the PAYING audience. Disruptive children should NOT be allowed to remain in the theater, nor should the casts (let alone a stand-in) make that decision.

  3. Don’t you see? The parent’s of “special needs kids” rights trump the rights of everybody else in the audience. We must have “inclusiveness” at all costs. Loh is a fool or should I say “actor who is mentally challenged”.

    • Well, that’s how I see it. In my capacity as artistic director of a professional theater, I would never allow one audience member to take precedence over the rest, and that’s an obligation. Loh’s argument fails the universality principle big time, as well as utilitarianism, and it represents backwards reciprocity. The mother is violating the Golden Rule. And no, I would not want my “autistic” kid to be welcome as he disrupt a performance, or my any other kind of kid.

      Artists are not always the most rational people: emotional arguments have natural appeal to them. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why so many are approving of his position.

  4. What about one of those soundproof rooms like they have at many churches for parents and their screaming kids? Surely he wouldn’t mind paying for it, or soliciting donations for one, if he feels this strongly about it. Unless, of course, it’s impractical for any of a number of reasons. Some people are incredibly generous with the time, money, and patience of other people.

  5. As someone on the spectrum I hate stuff like this. As an adult I’ve learned to fit in, sort of, although at times it’s like seeing the world through bubble wrap. I still make mistakes, and it’s humiliating when I do and catch myself in them. What I wouldn’t do is test myself in a situation where others might be harmed or annoyed if I failed. I don’t pretend to know if this kid is on the spectrum, but his mom should know, and should be aware of his limitations. A high-functioning autistic who can speak, but is easily distracted by odd or specific things is enough of a challenge. A non-verbal autistic, which it sounds like this kid is, doesn’t belong in a situation like this, where there’s all kinds of potential for a meltdown and almost no way to effectively handle it. It is, as Jack already pointed out, the equivalent of bringing an infant to the movies, with the attendant risks of messing up everyone else’s experience. I might also add someone on the spectrum is unlikely to get much out of the experience. It’s one thing to try to teach someone who can be taught to function in society to do so and integrate him as far as he can be. It’s another to shove someone who can’t function in the face of others, and to do what? Deny there’s an issue? Tell the world it needs to cut a wide swath around your special needs child? Neither of those is a workable way of handling the problem, and the sooner this mom learns that, the better.

  6. Hey, give the guy a break: he’s an UNDERSTUDY. He has no vested interest in this; it’s not his audience; he has tons of time on his hands. Maybe he was thinking “if enough screaming kids come to the show and disturb the actors . . . .”

    On the serious side, if anyone of any age had interrupted Gertie’s performance, which I had the ecstatic privilege of seeing twice at the age of 10 (and would have seen yet a third time had she not died of the cancer that, unknown to the audience, had plagued her challenging role throughout the run of the play), the ushers would have ejected them at first cry, and any subsequent letters-to-the-editor would have praised the prompt action.

  7. It strikes me that there are two issues here: bringing the child to begin with and not leaving immediately at the first sign of trouble. The first (assuming some reasonable hope for an uneventful–and therefore hugely successful–theatre visit), I actually encourage: how else to see whether the child can behave appropriately? Moreover, there are documented cases of theatre as a sort of therapy: children speaking for the first time in months (AFTER the performance), that sort of thing.

    Once the screaming started, however, it’s incumbent on the adult to minimize the distraction to the other patrons–and that means removing the child to the lobby immediately.

    • Rick makes sense to me. If this was a commonplace occurrence with this child, then I think good etiquette has been broached. If it was a trial, after smaller, successful attempts, then it was just unfortunate. Criticizing and judging anyone who is trying hard to fix an unfortunate situation is just plain unkind. Kindness is never out of place.

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