In the latest installment of the imitation cycle between life and art, the MPAA announced that it will include a film’s depictions of smoking as part of the “criteria” when assigning ratings. Could the movies have made a more complete reversal? As facetiously portrayed in “Thank You for Smoking,” the movies have been the cigarette’s greatest marketeers for decades, and the sexiness of cigarettes clung to the movies like smoke to a sports jacket. In an odd way, of course, there’s no reversal at all. The new rating system is a frank, if tacit, acknowledgement that smoking still has all the sex appeal it ever had.
In his craven concession to anti-tobacco advocates, MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman off-loaded his decision-making to the public at large, “Clearly, smoking is increasingly an unacceptable behavior in our society,” he was quoted as saying.
Really, Dan? The Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris, is the ranked by Forbes (on the basis of sales, market value, assets and profits) as 27th biggest company in the world. Nearly 70percent of its profits (almost $70 billion in 2006) come from tobacco. Altria is also the second most active sponsor of Congressional lobbying. It seems a little disingenuous to refer to an industry that does hundreds of billions of dollars worth of business and from which hundreds of millions of dollars flow into Washington as selling a product that is becoming “unacceptable” in society, however unpleasant it is to get stuck in an elevator with someone coming back from their twice-an-hour cigarette break.
I have a friend who worked for a public relations company that represented several drug companies and medical innovators. Part of his job was to negotiate product placement packages with television and film production companies. These companies pay, as part of their marketing campaigns, for specific drugs or elective surgeries to be written into shows like ER. So we are pressuring writers to write smoking out of the same scripts they write rhinoplasty and OxyContin into.
It’s not as if I have a soft spot in my heart for big tobacco. In fact, I’m glad that the MPAA is taking a moral stand on the content of movies and what it deems appropriate for children to see. After all, it’s not like children ever see R-rated movies. And this sets an important precedent. We live in an unhealthy and dysfunctional culture, so let’s bring it on, and address America’s bad habits. I herewith offer a short list of other behaviors for the MPAA consideration when determining the ratings of movies.
1. Excessive consumption of red meat, fast food, soft drink, chocolate, potato chips, or any other generally unhealthful food or beverage products:
The favorable placement of the products merits a PG-13 rating. Moreover, scenes that sexualize chocolate should get an automatic NC-17 rating. If there are any objections from the Screen Actors Guild, I personally volunteer to set the example by licking wheat germ off of Scarlett Johansson’s breasts. Scale back one rating level for the substitution of organic soybeans in any scenes involving ice cream or“comfort food.”
2. Environmentally irresponsible behavior with automobiles:
Is there any reason Spiderman and Venom can’t carpool to work? They may be arch enemies, but the planet is everybody’s friend. Not to mention, what’s the point of saving/exploiting the world if it’s all going to hell anwyay? That’s a shitty prize at the bottom of the cereal box, no? Remember most movies depicting cereals that offer prizes are now PG- 13 rated, at least. (see rule #1).
3. Shopping scenes and the depiction of luxury items in general:
Private debt in this country is out of control. Not to mention the fact that if terrorists didn’t find out, through movies, that we had things like plasma TVs and La Perla lingerie, a certain pair of towers in downtown Manhattan might still exist. This rule, like the biographical considerations for the smoking depictions, can be adapted for context, such as glorifying college study and denigrating trades such as plumbing and carpentry. After all, if we don’t reinforce lives of glamour and glitz as the reward for hard study at the best colleges, millions of young girls may cease working toward their dreams of living the life of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.” What’s that?… Oh, well, I’m sure she worked hard at being the best damn whore she could be. Anyway, it is all this living beyond their means that lead these characters to have to skip out of restaurants without paying the check.
Smoking after all, is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to harmful behaviors glorified by Hollywood. From deriving self-esteem from physical appearance and material possessions to binary gender roles to environmentally destructive behavior, Hollywood, and its step-sister, Madison Avenue, exploit our insecurities, offer material surrogates for psychological and emotional injury, and laugh their way to the bank, entirely divorced from any real ethical concerns for the healthy development of our nation.
But don’t worry kids, though you can’t see an actor lighting up because it might encourage you to make some poor choices about your health, you can always redeem your ticket stub at the local McDonalds for a small piece of plastic crap manufactured by kids half your age in a dank Indonesian basement, provided you purchase an e. coli burger, enough fries to feed a Thai orphanage for a week, and a 77 oz. Coca Cola.