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May 18, 2007

This picture is rated "R"

In case you haven't heard, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is going to start taking onscreen smoking into account when rating a film, placing it along the same lines as sex, language, gore, and violence, amongst other things.

Granted, they didn't go as far as the anti-smoking lobbyists wanted them to go - that being an automatic R rating for smoking, but "film raters will consider the pervasiveness of tobacco use, whether it glamorizes smoking and the context in which smoking appears, as in movies set in the past when smoking was more common," says the Associated Press.

Nonetheless, I'm baffled. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know smoking is bad for you. That point is not debatable. In fact, you can talk about all the reasons that this is right all you want, and I probably wouldn't debate you on many of them. To demonstrate this point, I will now go into "Cliched Ask Myself Questions Mode":

* Should smoking be marketed to children/teens via film? Certainly not. Kids don't need any additional motivation to smoke, as peer pressure and the desire to be "cool" or "rebellious" is motive enough.

* Does onscreen smoking generally serve a purpose central to the plot of the film? I doubt it, though I would probably argue that in many cases it helps to establish a character.

* Is it in the best interest of the general public to see less smoking onscreen? Begrudgingly, I would probably say yes here.

So those are some good reasons, or at least some good intentions for reducing onscreen smoking/taking smoking into account when rating a film. That said, the idea is offensive - to smokers and non-smokers alike. Let me count the ways:

* Sure, smoking is a dangerous activity, linked to 8 kajillion deaths a year and generally responsible for the decline of Western civilization. Guess what? Lots of people die in car accidents, too. Alcohol causes a lot of deaths per year - does that mean if there's a bar scene in a movie that it will likely be rated R? Somehow, I doubt it. Just like with the myriad tobacco taxes over the years, somehow alcohol seems to get a free pass in the healthcare p.r. machine.

* Let me see if I get this straight - you can show someone murder another person (or perhaps many, many other persons) and have no problem getting a PG-13 rating (if not PG), but smoking carries a potentially harsher penalty? Don't get me wrong - I'm no fan of blaming film and television for all of the sex and/or violence in the world, I just see a major inconsistency. It's akin to calling sexual harassment a felony while classifying rape as a misdemeanor.

* Speaking of classifying, I'm a little confused as to what it means to "glamorize smoking." I would love an example of this; the closest I can come up with is a film made by (and for) smokers (and java junkies) called Coffee & Cigarettes. Or perhaps another called (!) Smoke. But aside from films where smoking is part of the basis for the film's existence, where else does this "glamorization" occur? Is glamorization just a code word for "a lot of smoking" in a film? Does Pulp Fiction glamorize smoking? After all, Quentin Tarantino went to the trouble of "creating" his own brand of cigarettes for his films ("Red Apple"). But I like to think that he's just helping to create his own universe and/or setting a mood - I mean, he also thought up "Big Kahuna" burger...

The point is this: where does the line get drawn? While I'm not calling for anyone's head, I certainly do think this is a free speech issue. Will we get to the point that we all deem the eating of fatty foods to be so negative that the depiction of eating said foods onscreen will go a long way towards getting a harsher rating? (I'm looking at you, Nutty Professor.) What about depicting people who don't wear sunscreen? After all, skin cancer kills, and those who flaunt society's conventions by not protecting their epidermis should not glamorize such rampant disregard for el sol to the kids.

I weep for the day...

2 people have chosen wisely: on "This picture is rated "R""

Desmond said...

Amen, brotha

NFL Adam said...

So would the Natural have been Rated R because the guys were chewing tobacco?