Just when the MPAA were starting to make some decent decisions to improve their film rating system in the U.S., of course they had to go and make another boneheaded move. They announced yesterday that they will be stepping up the significance of cigarette smoking in a movie’s rating, which means that any character seen smoking a cigarette in a film could potentially bump it to an “R”. In the past, images of underage smoking would have been cause for a higher rating, but now according to MPAA head Dan Glickman, “all smoking will be considered, and depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of a historic or other mitigating context may receive a higher rating”. While some supporters felt that smoking should result in an automatic “R”, Glickman said that this was an extreme view and not indicative of how the decision would be handled.
Well, I can’t say I’m all that surprised about this. Family film critics in newspapers have long cited warnings if a movie contains any smoking at all, and anti-smoking groups have some pretty insane power in the U.S. For the most part, as a non-smoker and someone who grew up with a smoking parent, I’ve been happy with decisions to remove smoking from public places. But something like this, where you may be judging a work of art in order to protect younger viewers from potentially dangerous and influential images… this is sketchy at best. Does this mean they will go back and re-rate older films? What about classic characters like cigar-chomping J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man films? Does this mean all future Spider-Man movies will be rated “R”? The good news is that movies like Good Night, and Good Luck. should still escape with their rating intact because the smoking has a historic context. What do you think, is this decision going to help stamp out smoking for good? Or is it nothing more than useless censorship?