question of the day: Is there an anti anti-smoking backlash forming?

Some people are bitching about the smoking in Avatar, which is more of the same-old, same-old we’ve been hearing for years now: smoking is evil, won’t someone think of the children, lighting up is worse than murder (at least on film), etc. Now, I’m not a smoker and I never enjoyed being in a smoky bar or — worse — a smoky restaurant, and I do think that smoking is probably one of the most dangerous legal things you can do to your body. But I get really pissed off at the prim puritanism behind the anti-smoking cadres, as well as at the denial of reality that accompanies calls for images of smoking to be banned or heavily regulated in our entertainment. People do smoke: other people need to deal with that fact.
And I wonder whether there isn’t a bit of a pushback happening against those attitudes. There’s Mad Men, of course, the 1960s-era series of which every episode floats along through a haze of cigarette smoke. (A few years earlier, the U.K., which has been going through its own creeping tobacco prohibition, saw a similar historical reveling in smoking in the 1970s-set Life on Mars. The American version, conversely, acted as if no one in 1970s New York ever smoked.) And now we have the just-debuted Caprica, in which Eric Stoltz’s technology mogul smokes… and he’s not even an outright villain, for whom cigarettes are typically reserved these days. And there’s also Legion, in which the modern mother-to-be of the next Jesus smokes unrepentently while pregnant… and she’s certainly no villain, either.

Is this all just coincidence? Or is there an anti anti-smoking backlash forming in popular entertainment?

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Mon, Jan 25, 2010 12:06pm

One force you can never ignore is the fact that smoke is one of those things that almost always looks great on film. The visual atmosphere is super-cool, with the bonus that you don’t have to smell it.

Smoking is also one of the easiest shorthand symbols of rebellion. (You’re a BSG fan, so you know the Ron Moore team loves to show people smoking in inappropriate situations, viz. Doc Cottle.) As conformist as filmed entertainment may be in many other dimensions, most artists would like to be seen as being anti-establishment, and prudes are always an easy target. So, like teenagers, they tend to gravitate toward cigarettes as a cheap and easy way to stick it to the Man.

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 12:09pm

As far as real life goes, there’s been a very strong anti anti-smoking movement for at least as long as they’ve been banning smoking in public places. And I think it’s been reflected in pop culture for a while with little sideways digs in everything from TV to standup.

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 12:36pm

Most likely there is. There’s such an air of valetudinarian facism these days, I feel like there’s always some self-appointed authority out there suggesting,”If you ingest alcohol, sodium or sugar, you’re a bad BAD person!”
Frankly,some of these people (like the folks who kicked up a fuss about Avatar)piss me off. They think morality and health advocacy are one in the same…or something like that.
When groups of so-called concerned citizens try to deny the existence of a bad habit like smoking, I feel like it’s an attempt to infantilize the rest of us.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Jan 25, 2010 1:14pm

But things like sugar, sodium and fat are in fact essential nutrients. Cut them completely from your intake and you would likely die. Tobacco, on the other hand, is unequivocally bad for you. One might argue that so is alcohol. But alcohol has a very long history on its side. There have been teetotalers for probably 2 days less than there’s been controlled fermentation. But despite modern temperance types who seem to have convinced them selves that Jesus himself turned water into grape juice, for long stretches of human history brewing beer and making wine were among the only reliable ways of avoiding dysentery from drinking the water.
As far as backlash, there aren’t a lot of examples yet. And when they do show up, they seem to be more like storyteller shorthand for things like character and setting. For instance, Dr. Grace’s call for a cigarette seems like short hand for “hard-driven type A personality, using tobacco and probably caffeine to fuel her workaholism”. Note also that she’s the only smoker in the movie. Neither Selfridge (Sleazy McCorporatist) nor Quaritch (Col. von Killsalot) nor Our Tortured Hero™ Jake “Sully” Sully touches a smoke or even comments on Grace’s habit.

Jim Mann
Jim Mann
Mon, Jan 25, 2010 3:42pm

I’m a vehement non-smoker and strongly supported laws making bars and restaurants smoke free. But I find the uproar over Avatar silly.

It’s one thing to complain about movies that make smoking look like the cool thing to do. Or the ones that make it look like smoking is something everyone does and that they do it everywhere (instead of the reality that currently less than a quarter of the population smokes, most businesses ban smoking, and most private homes don’t allow smoking). Some films over the years have in fact had parts that looked like a cigarette commercial. But that’s not the case here.

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 5:10pm

ditto Jim. I thought Grace’s character was supposed to be a rough edged persona. I think Grace was smoking as a form of self-medication because she really didn’t like people or life very much. I wonder if it was on purpose that she seemed nicer and happier in her Avatar body, and never once seemed to miss her cigerettes.

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 6:14pm

they tend to gravitate toward cigarettes as a cheap and easy way to stick it to the Man.

Yeah, bunch of Darwin Award candidates.

Laurie Mann
Mon, Jan 25, 2010 8:42pm

Jim beat me to that.

We’ve always been “fascist non-smokers” – no one has ever been allowed to smoke in our house (and we’ve been married since 1977). That said, said, to judge that smoking is worse than swearing, overt sexual displays and violence in movies is nutty.

Many good people have bad habits, so to pretend that only “bad guys” are smokers is a horrible trend. Likewise, the old glamorization of smoking of smoking in the media was wrong and is currently almost non-existent (except in some print ads).

Smoking used to be more common historically so to edit it from history is also completely wrong.

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Tue, Jan 26, 2010 3:10am

If ever a technology is invented to let the person sitting next to me fill their lungs with toxic waste products, yet somehow prevent them from emitting those same toxins and carcinogens into the air that I also have to breathe, I will be the first to defend their right to do whatever they want to their own body. Until them I will favor every measure that isolates smoking from all indoor public spaces, and most of the outdoor spaces, too.

(I’m also against prohibition of alcohol, even though I don’t use it myself. That won’t change until and unless people start thinking the only way they can enjoy their tasty alcohol beverage is to spit part of it down my throat.)

Despite my stance on the real world practice, which I’m sure some will find extremist, the smoking in Avatar is no big deal. Sure, I found it unpleasant to watch for the handful of seconds the odious practice was portrayed on screen, but that’s hardly worth mentioning in the overall viewing experience.

I’m even one of those repeat viewers whose very existence was lamented in other threads here. :) (Seen it twice now, and wouldn’t mind seeing it two or three more times if I get the chance to compare the 2D and IMAX versions to the 3D version.)

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 5:26am

At the Imperial War Museum Duxford, they have reconstructed one of the fighter control rooms as it was during WWII. Except that it’s not an accurate reconstruction, becase they have removed all the ashtrays. (This is an exhibit: you can’t walk into it, just look at it through the doorway, so they can’t have been worried about people actually using them.)

I took up (pipe) smoking on the day England banned it in indoor public places.

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 9:47am

Victor, people spit part of their “tasty alcohol beverages” down your throat? Wow, uh, that’s weird.

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 10:19am

Smoking is disgusting and deplorable. Hollywood should not be allowed to show people smoking in their movies. It sends the message to kids that smoking is neato, and if you smoke, you too can be as cool as Maccaulay Culkin in The Good Son.

I dream of a world where smoking is illegal, along with protesting and twittering. Hopefully they will ban images of cigarettes in pop culture too. Cigarettes are dangerous, therefore, they should be deleted. I’m done with my rant now. I’m hopping on my motorcycle (without a helmet) and riding to the local McDonald’s to eat a #4 (supersized) with a Diet Coke. Smoking kills!

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Tue, Jan 26, 2010 11:33am

Har dee har har, Douchebag.

One of my guilty pleasures is cigars and clove cigarettes. My husband is pretty militantly anti-smoking, so I only indulge when he is away and doesn’t have to smell it. I even smoked regular cigs at 18 for a year or so, when I went through a rebellious phase.:) But I stopped and, even with my occasional indulgences, I’ve never gotten addicted.

As far as movies go, it’s no big deal to me. My own family smoking (and drinking!) had more of an influencial effect on my habits than any movie. And like Laurie said, many good people smoke. It’s not evil. My own grandmother smoked like a chimney for 40 years until she finally quit.

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 11:45am

Smoking used to be more common historically so to edit it from history is also completely wrong.

I wonder if that’s part of the reason behind the usage of smoking in *Caprica*: to indicate that this is “the past” in the same way that smoking on *Mad Men* and *Life on Mars* is a deliberate indicator of another (less enlightened/more free — take your pick) time.

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Tue, Jan 26, 2010 4:48pm

Mortadella, I can’t tell whether I’m failing to get your joke, or I just failed to make it clear that was a metaphor.

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 6:00pm

Heh. This reminds me of the people who were complaining about all the swearing in Saving Private Ryan. “Oh I know that soldiers do and did actually swear, but do you have to have it in the movie?” Um, yeah. If you’re even pretending to be accurate, yeah.

Removing ashtrays from a museum exhibit? That’s crazy! What’s next — the American History museum removing all references to racism and slavery in the Civil War exhibit?!

Racism is a very bad habit you know, and if the kids see you doing it they might think it’s “cool”.

I can’t wait for the ‘updated’ version of Blazing Saddles. :)

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 6:04pm

What’s next — the American History museum removing all references to racism and slavery in the Civil War exhibit?!

Or the Creation Museum removing all evidence of evol–oh, never mind.

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 6:20pm

I wonder if that’s part of the reason behind the usage of smoking in *Caprica*: to indicate that this is “the past”

Naw, it’s to indicate that they’re evil which is why they’re going to make Cylons, and why the Cylon revolt will be their comeuppance.

Though they probably would have gotten away with it if they had just explained to the centurions that second-hand smoke doesn’t affect them…

Sun, Jun 08, 2014 11:16am

Five years after the 18th Amendment took effect, the very opposite of what all the self-righteous anti-liquor folks thought would happen, came to pass. In 1925, journalist H.L. Mencken wrote: “Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect:
they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the
Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to
follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There
is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less
crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of
government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not
increased, but diminished” All we have to do is continue down this same road of trying to make smoking illegal — which will surely come to pass if the anti-smoking movement has its way, — and we’ll be able to watch in vivid color, every one of Mecken’s words rise from the grave to haunt us, again. In this passage, substittute the idea of drinking for smoking, and factor in the black market that will rise to fill the void, and you can see it is unavoidably prophetic. Pick your side carefully; you get to live with the results.