01 August, 2007

Mickey Gets the Patch

Last week, the Walt Disney company pledged to ban smoking in all of its family films and discourage smoking in pictures released by Touchstone and Miramax. It’s a mostly symbolic gesture as it’s a rarity to see smoking in mainstream movies these days. Even in 2005’s Thank You for Smoking, a movie centered around a tobacco lobbyist, not a spec of tobacco was smoked. Still, the mighty arm of censorship toasts graciously to another victory.

What if studios had made this decision 70 years ago? Would Humphrey Bogart have been eating a Mars bar? Would John Wayne have gnawed on Wrigley’s Double Mint gum? Would Holly Golightly have traded in her signature cigarette holder for a Tootsie Pop, and have become the early inspiration for a generation of ravers constantly seeking out broken-English-speaking landlords? And the only thing to cue us into who’s the bad guy in a spy movie would have been his French accent.

Perhaps now it’s a different time. When these movies were made, everyone smoked. It was part of the culture, and most people weren’t aware of the many negative effects of smoking. Take this commercial from the 1940s that notes, “More doctors smoke camel than any other cigarette.” Today people are more health conscious, more aware of the dangers of smoking. My many college friends, who used to huddle around the same bench only five feet from the sign that stated, “NO SMOKING WITHIN 30 FEET OF THIS BUILDING,” have kicked the habit for health or monetary reasons. Across the country, cities and states are banning smoking in bars and restaurants. The culture is changing and Disney’s decision reflects this.

According to Disney CEO Robert A. Iger, “The primary reason is that cigarette smoking is a hazard and we should avoid depicting it in movies and on television.” And you lost me.

I’d believe that if they had some sort of track record to back that up. However, Bambi’s mom was shot by a hunter. Hunting is dangerous. Cars was an entire movie centered around characters that drove at unsafe speeds for a living. That’s very dangerous. And the Rocketeer. HELLO! Someone just try and make the case for safety in that Disney movie.

The point is—when you begin to censor, you descend a slippery slope. First it’s smoking. Tomorrow it’s drinking. The next day it’s fast cars. The day after that, open-mouthed kissing (could lead to STDs and the horrible gum disease known as GINGIVITIS). And then Poison will be singing, “Chatting in the Boys Room” and Snoop Dogg will be rapping “Walking down the street with my helmet on, sippin’ on apple juice—with good posture—thinking about visitin’ grandma, provided I don’t use fossil fuels in the process.”

Disney’s ban on smoking in movies is just another way to protect idiots from themselves, like seatbelt and motorcycle helmet laws. I always wear a seatbelt because it’s been scientifically proven that you’re more likely to survive a crash if you’re wearing one. Smoking never appealed to me, but between the Truth, YDoYouThink and the countless articles and studies, how could people not know smoking is dangerous?

But eventually everyone makes a decision for themselves, even if it might be unhealthy. Fast food, driving too fast, living in a dangerous city—hell, where are all of the anti-sky diving advocates? (Second-hand smoke is a different subject. But up until 2 years ago, the air quality in Maryland was equivalent to living with a smoker. Why not ban the factories that make this smog instead of not letting my buddy light up a cigarette while we’re busting at some karaoke at our local tavern?)

Censorship has always been dangerous territory. You never want to stop someone from speaking their mind, creating something brilliant or changing the world. However, you’re probably gonna complain when your neighbor spray paints a 15-foot-high mural of a naked Jessica Alba on the front of their house and calls it “art.”

Let the industry censor itself. If a producer feels that a smoking character will cut into its audience and thus its profits, let them change that character. But what if smoking is important to the film? What if you want to show a character is an idiot and associate him with smoking and how stupid it is? Or what if a character is dying of emphysema and wants to reflect on ways she could have changed her life? There are very good reasons to keep smoking in movies that don’t have to do with cowboys or a guy who wears a beret and loves croissants.

But the censorship continues, and culture is the worse for it.

--Captian Awesome, Project Specialist

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