Smoking in the movies – again?

My apologies but I find this an entertaining topic. And lately what I’ve been wondering is why hasn’t someone done a content analysis of smoking in the movies?

Glantz and his minions appear to believe that one cigarette or smoke is much like the other and all you need to do to judge the given perniciousness of a film is to tally up every occurrence of smoking on the screen. What I suspect though is that most appearances of cigarettes in film are accompanied with an anti-smoking message of some kind. But I don’t know for sure, so someone needs to do the research. (It’s not exactly harm reduction so it’s a little out of our area).

Recently I watched Skyline, an incredibly bad movie. It takes place in Los Angeles , aliens have landed, destroyed most of the world and the people, and our protagonists are stranded in a penthouse apartment, still game but also realizing their days (or more likely hours) are numbered. A woman lights up a cigarette and without any sense of the absurd the other woman informs her she has just found out she is pregnant and the group agrees that that cigarette should be put out. I am not sure it that was intentionally insane but given that the script was California born, it might just have been meant to be played straight.

I also watched Barney’s Version in which Paul Giamatti plays a man who to the end loves his cigars. I like this because whether you think smoking is good or bad, it should be clear why people do things. If the character is doing heroin, it should be obvious that they do it because they get something from it. Otherwise, it remains a big mystery. They killed that guy because otherwise he would have killed them, they stole that money because they had none, they ate that food because they were hungry and it tasted good, and they used heroin because its bad for them?

And, as we’ve said before, the harm reduction angle here is if you want to effectively move people to safer alternatives, you need to know why they like doing what they do in the first place.

But even though I have raised the verisimilitude issue, for much of film it is a joke. If we take film as an educational medium it teaches us that killing people is pretty common and not always a bad career move and that the only way to really express your feelings is to shout and break things. If you really want that girl or boy, you stalk them until they give in. You will always get richer even though money doesn’t matter, and the more destructive your dog is, the more you will love them.

On the other hand if you have a character who is in danger and most likely will not survive the film, or lives a lifestyle that if not in this short period but soon will lead to their demise, why not smoke? In the same way that tobacco control programs aimed at countries with life expectancies under 50 are ridiculous, it is sheer lunacy to be concerned about any character on borrowed time who grabs a calming smoke.

So anyway, I am waiting for that study. And then we’ll see if its just me who’s heard the phrase “these things are going to kill me” and “I gotta quit one of these days” just about every time a smoker lights up in an American movie.

-Paul L. Bergen

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Comments

  • Ann W.  On April 20, 2011 at 7:35 am

    “They killed that guy because otherwise he would have killed them, they stole that money because they had none, they ate that food because they were hungry and it tasted good, and they used heroin because its bad for them?”

    Perfect!!!

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