Okay, Cigarettes Are Evil, But This is Getting Ridiculous

EXHIBIT A: Clement Hurd author photo retouched. “HarperCollins said it made the change to avoid the appearance of encouraging smoking and did so with the permission of the illustrator’s estate. But Mr. Hurd’s son, also a children’s book illustrator and author, said he felt pressured to allow it.” (See also Mr. Beck’s hilarious ode.)

EXHIBIT B: Reuters: “The attorneys general of 32 states are asking Hollywood’s major movie studios to place an anti-smoking announcement on DVDs, videos and other home entertainment products to combat teen tobacco use.”

Why should art and cultural heritage be modified or affixed with warnings to “protect” people? We have no problem accepting Falstaff as a loyal companion who has imbibed too much sack. We have no problem glorifying guns (which frankly I find more evil than cigarettes) in action blockbusters. No warnings there. No digital erasures of the bag of sack or the guns (well, save Spielberg’s “restored” E.T., but at least he was decent enough, unlike Lucas, to provide us with the original version).

So why should cigarettes be any different?

Not only does digital erasure or pre-movie warnings take away from a piece of art, but in some cases it utterly destroys it. Can you imagine, for example, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party without the cigarettes? At one point, Beverly (played by Alison Steadman) browbeats the nonsmoking couple (Angela and Tony) to light up and it’s a brilliant revelation on how Beverly manipulates the people around her to serve her own ends and how susceptible the couple is when they’re trying, like most British middle-class people, to be polite at the most horrid party imaginable.

So leave the photos and the films alone. Let art go where it needs to go and stop imposing limits on what people can and cannot say. People can make those kind of decisions for themselves. Or is it now de rigueur to assume that most contemporary audiences are intellectually bankrupt?

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  1. Je Suis: I can’t thank you enough for that recommendation. I’ve read two of Willis’s novels and enjoyed them, but had no idea that “Remake” was such a fascinating satire on social mores. I will check it out as soon as I can.

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