Butt Out!

The Washington Post reports that the The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) will now give higher, more restrictive ratings to films that “that glamorize smoking or … feature pervasive smoking outside of an historic or other mitigating context.” I don’t get it.

On balance, it seems that rating standards get less and less tight each year. Films with lots of brutal violence can often get PG or PG-13 ratings. The standards for showing sex gets less and less restrictive all the time. Philip Kaufman’s wonderfu 1990 “Henry and June”, the first film rated “NC-17”, would almost certainly slip by with an “R” today. There’s significant academic evidence that exposure to violent media causes violence in real life. I haven’t heard much about the consequences of showing graphic sex on film but I can hardly imagine that it’s good for small children.

But smoking? Smoking? Yes, it’s unhealthy. Yes, it’s mildly physically addictive for many. So are lots of other things. Smokers themselves, in poll after poll, overestimate the risks to themselves. Unlike drinking–not an explicit MPAA standard–it’s unlikely that smoking has ever ruined a family or landed anyone in jail. (Except, maybe, for violating a government smoking ban.) Unlike sex and violence, which careful parents can protect their small children from the knowledge of, it’s impossible to keep anyone unaware of the existance of smoking. So, even as it makes films, on balance, less and less family friendly, each year, Hollywood is trying to spread rather useless propaganda.

Of course, it’s worth noting that South Park, of course, has already taken the definitive look at Hollywood’s crusade against smoking.