What happens in a buffet culture when everyone -- and I mean a suburban Maryland neighborhood full of everyone -- has the opportunity to share a single, giant-screen TV?

These residents, like all Americans, are used to customizing their entertainment. They want to watch what they want when they want it. They want their children to watch what they want when they want it. And they don't necessarily want to have to sit through some dumb flick that somebody else wants. This being a buffet, on-demand, point-and-click culture, why should they? Everyone can have what everyone wants! That's the beauty of modern life.

Except when, as I say, there is one big TV for everyone to watch -- in this case, a screen procured by the people who run the community pool so that once a week the locals can enjoy an outdoor movie night.

It's a lovely idea: Families splashing around in the evening and then snuggling in their towels and cover-ups to take pleasure in a film together. No one demanded the screen; it arrived thanks to the efforts of a thoughtful neighbor.

So what happens? Well, this being Washington, everyone started lobbying.

Fiercely ambitious special interest groups sprang up within an instant of someone asking, in the mildest possible way: "So, guys, any thoughts on what we should show for movie night?"

"Something for the whole family," said a mother. "Maybe an old Western?"

"Oh, my kids won't want that," another mother put in quickly. Already there was a slight tension in the air.

"Girls might not want to watch a Western," mediated a third person.

"My girls would," snapped the first woman.

"How about "Finding Nemo?" asked a father, who evidently does not realize that most middle- and upper-middle-class children have seen every Pixar film so often they can recite entire scenes.

"Ugh," is all he gets for his cluelessness. "We have to think about the teenagers. If it's PG they won't want to watch."

"But if it's PG-13 then the younger kids can't watch."

"Well, that depends on what time it starts."

"I thought Movie Night was supposed to be for everyone."

By this point, everyone was speaking with the exaggerated, dangerous care that precedes open conflict.

"Fine. Let's do the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show,' " said the father, a suggestion that doused the flames, exactly as he intended. The women laughed, and the conversation moved on to other things.

No doubt the neighborhood will work out a pleasant roster of entertainments for the summer and everyone will have a nice time. Yet the incident points to an unhappy human truth that, in Washington especially, should not come as a surprise.

As soon as people receive an unexpected boon, they take it for granted. Something offered with the best of intentions swiftly becomes an entitlement.

And when people feel entitled -- whether to free movies or government handouts -- it's amazing how quickly gratitude can turn into griping, grievance and complaint. Not to mention the formation of special interest groups.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at ">mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.