The Bizarre World of Jim McIlv

The Social Obligation of Being Tall

By JimMcilvaine
Aug. 04, 2017

I don't know that I'd call myself a big Sturgill Simpson fan, but I do really like his music. I have a few CDs and a t-shirt and have him in my regular rotation on Pandora. I also liked him enough to buy two tickets for his show in Milwaukee last year, even though there was no way my wife was going to join me. I looked at it as an opportunity to introduce one of my friends to someone I consider a great musician.

The show was general seating at the Riverside Theater and I showed up plenty early, hoping to get a halfway decent seat. When the doors swung open, I was one of the very first folks in the venue and headed right to the front to stake out my spot. I'm not oblivious to the fact that I've seven feet tall and my hope was to get as close as I could. If I managed to get up against the stage, I'd lean on it, lowering me to the height of the people around me, which is exactly what ended up happening.

I think security probably could've asked me not to lean on the stage, but doing that would've resulted in me standing straight up, which would've probably obstructed the view for a lot of folks behind me. A few spots over was a rather large man with a cutoff shirt (so he could show his turtle tattoos off to Sturgill), who spent most of the show screaming out the lyrics and wiping his sweaty arms all over the people around him. I felt lucky that I had a buffer of several people in between me and him.

I love live music and don't get to enjoy it as often as I'd like, so when I do, I typically try to get the best seat I can. I rarely end up in the very front like I did for Sturgill Simpson, but I usually get pretty close, whether it is reserved seating or general admission. That's one of the great things about our free market society- if you want a really good seat, you can usually get your hands on it if you're willing to pay or stand in line for it.

Recently, I was forwarded an article by another tall friend of mine, who also enjoys live music. In it, the author, Stephen Thompson, claimed "tall people do indeed have, a social obligation to minimize the obstruction they create; to avoid front rows, stand against walls (or even better, in front of pillars) and otherwise forfeit premium positioning between the band and the audience." I was shocked to see someone on an NPR website of all places, suggest tall people should be discriminated against at concerts, simply because of their height.

I thought about that for a second- if this guy was the doorman at every concert in the country, tall people could never hope to get a front row view of their favorite performer under any circumstances out of what he considers a "social obligation." Even though it was an old article, I called him on his stance and we went back & forth on twitter. When he claimed his position wasn't at all how I perceived it to be, I took a screen shot of his exact words and said what he sees as a "social obligation" is just a fancy way of promoting discrimination against a group of people.

From that point, Stephen suggested people who attend concerts have needs, to which I responded that people need food, attending a concert is really more of a want. As I continued to back his flawed logic into a corner, he defaulted to a common twitter tactic of not responding to my previous tweets, but authoring his own and tagging me, so his own followers couldn't see the full substance of our conversation, but would agree with his deceptive premises.

Imagine if he made the same statement, but substituted "tall" for any minority group. There are far too many people in our society who aren't comfortable being around black people or gay people, yet no one from NPR would dare suggest black or gay people alleviate the issues others have with their presence, by relegating them to discrete locations at public events.

The reality is, the world isn't made for really tall people, just as it isn't made for really short people. As a result, the tens of thousands of people who fall on the outer edges of the norm need to plan accordingly, when various aspects of our society don't cater to our needs. I don't expect Men's Warehouse to feel some social obligation to stock suits to fit me on the chance that I might come in to purchase them, just as I don't expect Ferrari to be compelled by a social obligation to make sure seven footers can fit comfortably into the cars they build.

While I don't think the Americans with Disabilities Act should be tossed into the garbage, our society shouldn't have to jump through hoops to accommodate the wants of every last person in the country. I'm able-bodied enough that I don't need taller urinals, sinks and mirrors in every bathroom, taller showers in every hotel room or taller doorways in every building.

Even though there are tens of thousands of people in this country, who are 6'7 or taller, they still only make up a tiny fraction of the entire population. If I want to fit in an airplane seat, I fly Delta, where I can pay extra to buy an exit row or bulkhead seat and get the guaranteed seat I need (as opposed to rolling the dice on an airline like Southwest). Some issues just don't have solutions. I don't get to buy whatever sports car I want, not because I can't afford them, but because I can't fit into many of them. I can't fit on some amusement park rides either.

There are some seashells and balloons mixed in, as I did make millions of dollars playing basketball and never have to worry about my view being blocked by a taller person at any spectator event. So if you're short and you're going to a general admission concert, don't expect the crowd to part like the Red Sea, so you can take your rightful place front and center. Show up really early or understand that you probably won't have a great view, just like I understand no one in first class will feel a social obligation to give their seat up to me, because I waited until two days before the flight to book a ticket on a full plane.

Reserved seating concerts are a little different, as when I'm sitting, I'm only about five feet tall and the seating angles of most venues are more viewer-friendly than a mosh pit. To be honest, I'd rather sit and relax at most concerts, but if the people sitting in front of me stand up, they'll block my view and force me to stand. However, I'm at a concert and I expect people to stand up. I don't think anyone has any kind of social obligation to stay seated.

If the people in front of me do stand, I typically sit on the top edge of my seat back. That puts me closer to the people standing behind me, but also keeps me at a height that allows me to see over the people in front of me, without totally blocking the people behind me. Most of the time, people sitting (standing) behind me, usually just move a little to one side or the other and enjoy the show.

If there is anyone at a concert who needs to bear the responsibility of social obligations as it relates to the height and viewing angles of fans, it should be the performers themselves. If they really cared about the plight of shorter people, musicians would only perform in venues that have tiered, reserved seating and they would insist that all audience members stay seated for the duration of the show. Let's all hold our breath and wait for that to happen. I'm sure Paul Simon agonized over that very issue in the days leading up to his concerts in Central Park.

If there are actual social obligations at concerts, I think they would include the following, regardless of how tall or short someone might be-

-If you insist on indulging in drugs & alcohol, don't let it negatively-impact the people around you. No one needs to inhale your $5 secondary stinkweed smoke or soak up your spilled beer with the clothes they are wearing.

-Try to bathe and use some type of deodorant the day of a concert and dress appropriately, especially if you're going to be in close confines with lots of other people. Don't wear $500 shoes and get pissed when every drunk guy at Bonnaroo does spill beer on them.

-If your bladder is the size of a walnut and/or you plan on chugging beers all night, buy a seat on the aisle.

-As Lavar Ball would say, "Stay in yo lane" at a concert. Don't invade the space other people paid good money to occupy it. (I'm talking to you two)

I wear earplugs at most shows now to protect my hearing, so I don't really care if someone wants to practice for American Idol at a show. Most PAs are loud enough to drown out their crooning and if they aren't, I can always go ask the sound tech to turn it up a little. When all those issues are addressed and resolved at concerts, then we can start worrying about assigning seats by height.