Certain actions (some of them completely absurd and unfounded in anything resembling real human behavior) have become so overused in movies and television that they’ve actually transcended being cliches to become parodies of cliches, which is just all sorts of weird. Even if a cease and desist can’t be issued against these incidents, the least we can do is complain about them. Here is an example of the kind of foolishness we never want to see on the big and/or small screen ever again.
Remember back when people smoked in movies? More importantly, do you remember when people smoked in movies and it wasn’t any goddamn big deal?
Look at the Superman movies. Lois Lane chain-smoked her way through both Superman and Superman II. Of course she did. She’s an investigative journalist at the Daily Planet, the biggest newspaper in Metropolis. It’s a stressful goddamn job. And stressed-out young adults smoke cigarettes.
I was a kid when that movie came out. And watching Lois Lane smoke didn’t make me want to smoke, and God knows I was an impressionable kid. Whatever. Smoking was something grown-ups did, and that was that.
Smoking has all but disappeared from movies now, and sometimes rather inexplicably to the point of a complete disconnect with reality. Look at Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. It’s a hillbilly white trash moral apocalypse, filled with strippers and ambulance drivers who talk about having sex with corpses and drunk n’ angry crowbar-wielding farmers… and not one of them smokes. Laurie Strode has crazy in her blood and a poster of Manson on her bedroom wall – she’s about this close to becoming just like her brother Michael and buying a one way ticket on the freak out hell bus. She can seethe and scream and throw tantrums and have constant nightmares of murdering her best friend… but God forbid she actually smokes a cigarette. Because that’s bad for you.
When smoking is featured in a film these days, it’s usually reserved for a villain. It’s okay for bad guys to smoke, because they’re bad anyway, and they’re probably going to die anyway. If someone who isn’t a villain lights a cigarette, it’s immediately followed by some other character making a pithy comment like “I thought you quit?” or “Since when do you smoke?” or “Those will kill ya, you know!” No one can just have a goddamn cigarette anymore, because around 1996 or so, we suddenly discovered that it’s bad for you, and apparently even worse for kids. Actually, maybe it was 1992, when Mel Gibson ate dog biscuits as he attempted to quit smoking in Lethal Weapon 3.
The worst example of the embarrassing self-awareness of Hollywood’s portrayal of smoking lately is Sigourney Weaver’s character in Avatar. She’s a brilliant scientist on something of a hostile planet, surrounded by bureaucratic red tape and a trigger happy military machine. It’s a stressful goddamn job, so she’s a smoker.
But we have to immediately be aware that she’s a smoker. The second – and I do mean the second – that she’s out of cryosleep, she says something like, “Where’s my cigarette?!” She can’t just light one up – she has to demand one from her minions. So we know, right away, that this lady is hardcore – and a smoker (and the only one on the planet, or moon, or whatever it is, at that).
Gone are the days when Ms. Weaver and James Cameron made Ellen Ripley a smoker in Aliens, as she silently sat there with a cigarette in hand, reflecting on all that she experienced in Alien, with nary anyone in sight to give a pithy comment.
So, Hollywood, you won: No More Smoking in movies. At all. Because we feel like assholes any time someone dares to light up.
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