March 11, 2002
6:07 PM   Subscribe

File Under "Duh": Hollywood Colluded With Tobacco Giants. You'd think they'd never seen film noir...
posted by solistrato (28 comments total)
Why is this any more newsworthy than the government's colluding with anti-tobacco activist groups for years?
posted by aaron at 6:18 PM on March 11, 2002

Why is this any more newsworthy than the dairy industry colluding with tobacco giants?
posted by quonsar at 6:30 PM on March 11, 2002

Why is this any more newsworthy than the government's colluding with anti-tobacco activist groups for years?

Odd. I hadn't noticed any warning labels about the carcinogenic effects of anti-tobacco activists.

But I could have missed them. A lot of people don't know this, but when activists advertise, they will make the warning label typescript pretty small. Then you won't even notice the "Warning: the Surgeon General has determined that activism causes cancer" label, and you'll just see that typical picture of activists having a good time, chatting up babes, dressing up in leather, riding horses, hanging out in "Activism Country", and so on.

Or has anti-tobacco activism been implicated in heart disease, stroke, peptic ulcer disease, exacerbation of asthma and upper respiratory infections in children of activists, low birth weight in babies of pregnant activists, low IQ scores in children exposed to second hand activism, impotence, etc, etc, and I just somehow missed the damned peer-reviewed studies?

But I'll look closer, next time I see some of those bastard health activists. Imagine, trying to take the money out of the hands of upstanding businesses like tobacco companies.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 6:57 PM on March 11, 2002

Okay wanna know something people????? Outside my window about ten feet down there is an art student creating a cloud of spray fixative. It smells really odd and the fumes are *exceptionally* bad for you. Imagine archival, nonyellowing, permanent hairspray. That's what this stuff is.

Now I don't know what this has to do with smoking but it pissed me off.
posted by Settle at 7:02 PM on March 11, 2002

So tell the idjit to move it on down the block, or you'll fink him out for WHMIS violations. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 7:10 PM on March 11, 2002

So tell the idjit to move it on down the block, or you'll fink him out for WHMIS violations. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 7:10 PM on March 11, 2002

I've seen this guy quoted in the Chronicle about every other week. He doesn't seem to have any evidence for his claim that cigarette companies are still placing their products in films than this:

1) Cigarette companies stopped direct payments for placement a decade ago.

2) In the last decade, on-screen smoking has increased.

3) QED, cigarette companies are secretly placing their products.

The guy also thinks that any movie that contains smoking should be rated R.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:11 PM on March 11, 2002

(must ... exercise ... restraint ... do ... not ... join ... another ... smoking ... argument)

"Until something is done to reduce and eliminate pro-tobacco images on film, motion pictures will remain one of the most powerful forces in the world promoting tobacco and serving the tobacco industry's financial interest," said Glantz.

What is a "pro-tobacco image?" I can't help but thing that anything but a negative portrayal of smoking and smokers would strike this zealot as a "positive" image.

This isn't the sixties, with Fred Flinstone pimping Winstons during primetime. I can't recall seeing one movie in the past 10 years that has overtly or covertly attempted to promote smoking in and of itself. Yeah, sometimes the cool people smoke, and they are filmed to look cool while doing it, but that's life, not invention, regardless of the hateful stereotypes promoted by Glantz and his ilk.

Try as they might, the anti-smoking contingent can't impose their prejudices on every man, woman, and child on the planet. Hell, I'd bet that even most non-smokers don't believe the negative preconceptions. That's because, smoker and non smoker alike, most people don't obsess over one certain activity or behaviour and use it to define and individual. Where many of us might not even remember after the movie that a certain character smoked, this guy probably wouldn't remember anything that happened after the offending person lit up. Smoking is a part of our culture, and has been for a long time. Movies and cartoon camels and logos on racecars don't cause people to smoke. Death Metal doesn't make kids kill their parents, and the vast majority of people who play violent video games will never go on a shooting rampage. Yes, the media has a profound influence on our culture, but people still make the choices. This guy thinks that anyone who makes a different choice than he would is being brainwashed by somebody. Paranoia like that suggests that his critical faculties are more compromised than those of most smokers.
posted by hipstertrash at 9:14 PM on March 11, 2002

You want evidence, obfuscatrist? Here's your evidence.

And don't make excuses, hipstertrash. By admiting that "smoking is a part of our culture," you've only confirmed his findings. By your surroundings, you find influence. If those surroundings contain smoking, and do not put it in a negative light, you find acceptance in smoking. ...Cigarettes kill people... So does alcohol and drug abuse. But then, I haven't seen a lot of people drinking scotch or shooting heroin in films and being put in a positive light.

Heck, one of the main characters in "The Royal Tanenbaums" offers her brother a cigarette, he accepts, and they take a nice, satisfying drag from their cigs at the end of the movie... That's life, right?

It's not paranoia if it's really happening.
posted by Down10 at 10:16 PM on March 11, 2002

But then, I haven't seen a lot of people drinking films and being put in a positive light.
(clipped to make a point)

you're kidding right? i'm guessing that 90% or more of the film-noir genre films that have the hero light up a cigarette also have him pouring himself a glass of scotch...
posted by juv3nal at 11:04 PM on March 11, 2002

Okay, outside of noir (yeah, a lot of those in the last decade!), I don't recall protagonists in movies blatantly abusing other drugs and not suffering consequences in some way.
posted by Down10 at 11:17 PM on March 11, 2002

The "one certain activity" he obsesses about is one of the biggest public health risks in the Western world - to speak as though Glanzer is unfairly singling out smoking as a pasttime is disingenuous. "This guy thinks that anyone who makes a different choice than he would is being brainwashed by somebody" is an outrageous exaggeration, at least if your read the same article I did. And of course while all people make choices, those choices can be influenced, else advertising, pr and education would be all be useless wastes of money.

What are the hateful stereotypes promoted by Ganzer and his ilk, exactly? As mentioned in the article?

Paranoia, indeed.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:43 PM on March 11, 2002

Try as they might, the anti-smoking contingent can't impose their prejudices on every man, woman, and child on the planet.

Movies and cartoon camels and logos on racecars don't cause people to smoke.

Right. Check. Big tobacco, via movies and advertising and sponsored sporting events and "Virginia Slims" and internal tobacco company memos detailing marketing plans to adolescents and little brown camels placed at children's eye level in convenience stores don't have an effect on peoples' choices to smoke... but it is "the anti-smoking contingent" whom we really need fear, because with their ever more powerful brainwashing techniques, we are in danger of the imposition of "their prejudices on every, man, woman, and child on the planet."

Yeah, right.

And given that, it is Glantz the antismoker who is paranoid. Gotcha.

I can't help but thing that anything but a negative portrayal of smoking and smokers would strike this zealot [Glantz] as a "positive" image.

Well...let me know if you can come up with anything BUT a negative portrayal of smoking and smokers.

Well, all right....the only positive thing I thought of about smokers (after considering the matter at some length) is that when I need to do some welding, I can get oxygen across the street from the lady with emphysema, instead of waiting for the O2 truck.

Convenient, eh?

But all levity aside, the only folks defending big tobacco are either addicted to the product, or are making a mint off that addiction. I have a soft spot in my (mostly black) heart for addicts, but I'd like to personally escort tobacco company executives, shareholders, and those who smoke around nonsmokers on a little trip through some of the local hospices, pulmonary clinics, and children's wards.

You know. Show them the return on their investment.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:10 AM on March 12, 2002

Smoking is so ubiquitous in movies that when a movie comes along that has zero smoking in it (like Memento), the lack of smoking tends to stands out. Memento is an interesting example because the film plays with some film noir elements but tosses out the whole smoking aspect that one often sees in noir films.
posted by gluechunk at 12:21 AM on March 12, 2002

Down10 - By admiting that "smoking is a part of our culture," you've only confirmed his findings. By your surroundings, you find influence. If those surroundings contain smoking, and do not put it in a negative light, you find acceptance in smoking.

Smoking has been a part of our culture since the introduction of tobacco into Europe around 500 years ago. There were no movies or television shows or any kind of unified mass media back then. Smoking had plenty of time to make its way into our culture before Hollywood or health warnings came about. Despite all of the recent attempts at social engineering (taxes, regulation, lawsuits, etc.), smoking will not dissapear overnight. Even if this guy had his way, and all non-moralistic references to cigarettes and smoking were removed from all art, entertainment, and media, people would still smoke.

And as far as "acceptance" of smoking is concerned, I regret to inform you that it is still legal to smoke cigarettes in every free country on the planet (I'm guessing that some dictatorial regime somewhere has banned it, but maybe not). People have a right to smoke. Artists and entertainers have a right to portray smokers as something other than the lepers of the modern world if they feel so inclined. You may not like it, you may not like big tobacco, you may support the ever-increasing legal attempts to curtail smoking. You can boycott films and other media outlets that you feel contribute to this "problem," you can peaceably demonstrate, write letters to the editor, run for office, donate to the anti-smoking lobby. I would support your right to do these things with my own life if it ever came down to that. But along with all of these things that you can do and think and feel, one thing that you must do is accept the fact that people smoke and that they have every right to do so. Because it isn't your place to find it 'unacceptable,' at least on a societal level.
posted by hipstertrash at 12:47 AM on March 12, 2002

joe's spleen - Keep in mind that we're talking about the movies. People get in car chases, they have high risk sex, they climb sheer cliffs in dangerous conditions without the proper safety equipment. they kill and steal and lie. sometimes, they live happily ever after in spite of making unhealthy choices and doing dumb things up until 5 minutes before the credits roll. Singling out one questionable activity when many movies offer a multitude of choices is a bit myopic.

And yes, I admit that the statements in the article contained no direct slander or stereotyping. But I go back to my original question of definitions. If he is an anti-smoking lobbyist, than by default any image that does not portray smoking in a negative light would be "pro-smoking." The stereotypes are implied. If he doesn't want Hollywood to portray any character who smokes in a positive light, then what is the right way to portray them? Based on his request, I don't feel like I'm grasping at straws when I guess at his feelings towards smokers. If he can't even stand to see a fictional character on a screen that doesn't fit his worldview, how do you think he feels about real people?

Drug education films (at least in the States) have been a mainstay of most children's lives since the 1950's at least. Most kids don't know what drugs are until they see some 5 minute film strip where everyone who takes a hit from that joint goes crazy, turns to a life of crime, and dies by the end. And yet the drug culture still exploded in the sixties and seventies. The billions of dollars spent during the eighties and nineties for the international "war on drugs" did not get rid of the problem. Demonizing smokers in such a manner will not only fail to solve the problem, but it will alienate smokers even more than they already have been, making them less likely to change their lifestyle.

Of course the media, PR, advertizing et. al. have an influence. They are very powerful, but not to the extent that forcing them to change will have any profound effect on how many people smoke. By making the statements in the article, Ganzer is pretty much saying that he believes movies exert enough influence on decision making that changing them would lead to a measureable change in mass behaviour. Like all those predictions warning that an epidemic of violence towards women was inevitable if pornography was widely available. Except that it never happened, the numbers never supported the predictions. The West in the last century alone has seen enough failed moral crusades to know that they don't work, and yet people still press on, suggesting the same tactics to solve the new 'problem' even though the same thing failed to work on the last one. Pardon me if I don't give Ganzer the benefit of the doubt, but this kind of crusade is more often than not the territory of fanatics or the terribly naive.

fold and mutilate - I'd respond directly to your remarks, but the bile and contempt in your tone really leave no room for discussion. But I will thank you for your timely example of the hateful prejudice that pervades the anti-smoking movement. People can only be demonized when they are transformed into gross caricatures. When millions of human beings are transformed into a collection of cliches, it becomes ok to hate them.
posted by hipstertrash at 1:11 AM on March 12, 2002

"Artists and entertainers have a right to portray smokers as something other than the lepers of the modern world if they feel so inclined."

Indeed they do. But the point of the article is that Ganzer believes that disproportionately, they do so as a result of tobacco company patronage, not merely as a natural part of artistic expression. I can well imagine that an artist might wish to portray smoking because it fits in context, because a story might be sanitised or lack integrity without it. Ganzer is complaining of something else: that film producers portray at least smoking simply because they are paid to.

The implication, by the way, is that tobacco companies, like other advertisers, feel that product placement is well worth paying for - so although you may feel that media portrayals have no effect on behaviour, Big Tobacco disagrees with you. Hardly news, but not encouraging for those with an interest in the public health either.

Do you remember some discussion a few months ago about product sponsorship and placement in novels, and whether the integrity of the author was compromised? Isn't this interesting in the same way?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:16 AM on March 12, 2002

that should be "at least some smoking. *bugger*
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:18 AM on March 12, 2002

ht: "Reefer madness" films don't prove the uselessness of education, they prove the uselessness of those films. Well crafted advertising is very effective. If it comes to that, art _can bring about changes in habits and customs: the amusing and famous example being "It Happened One Night" with Clarke Gable making pyjamas acceptable nightwear and consigned the nightshirt to oblivion. And really, if you smoke, can you watch Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction and not be hanging out?

Whatever debate there might be about the dangers of marijuana, there is no dissent except from tobacco companies that smoking even quite small amounts regularly is very bad for you, with no redeeming features other than relieving the pain of withdrawal and a small rush.

More importantly, you're confusing moral disapproval of smokers with moral disapproval of people knowingly selling an addictive poison. You make a number of assertions about Ganzer's presumed moral loathing of smokers, but this seems to be not to be based on anything. If you must cast smoking as a moral choice - an odd thing for a defender of smokers to do - I don't see why Ganzer can't hate the sin but love the sinner.

Is a little black humour about emphysema hateful prejudice? Since smokers are 10 times more likely than non-smokers to suffer from emphysema, this seems rather more grounded in reality than your average "hateful stereotype".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:38 AM on March 12, 2002

joe's spleen - I don't think that he was limiting his comments to incidents of product placement. when he says "reduce and eliminate pro-tobacco images," he's seems to be speaking in the most general terms possible. But he's not going to get press if he just comes out and says "I want Hollywood to change," so he wraps it all up in the implication that there are some shady deals going on behind the scenes. The evidence for such a claim is questionable at best. I respect the fact that you're trying to approach his statements in the most reasonable light possible, but I don't think that he lives up to the standard that you're setting for him.

On the issue of product placement itself... there really isn't anything to defend about it, unless you want to wax about the beauty and virtues of the capitalist system at work. In this case, I'm not going to contradict billions of dollars worth of market research outright. Cigarettes aren't a product like Pepsi or Nokia phones. Neither are they exactly like heroin or pornography from my examples. From a socioeconomic standpoint, they fall somewhere inbetween. Like corporations, the government and those who would influence morals and behaviour have both used the media, in this case Hollywood, to push their agendas. Sometimes its been succesful and sometimes it hasn't. The media machine was rolling for Vietnam just like it rolled for WWII, with vastly differing results. Blacklisting suspected communists was touted as a success, and though some careers were ruined, many were just put on hold. How many stars made anti-drug ads during the eighties? Did it stop anyone? Cigarettes aren't just a product anymore. They have been turned into a lifestyle choice, and people are notoriously fickle about the messages they listen to vis a vis what they think/believe/do in their lives. I'm not defending cigarette product placement, rather I'm wondering how effective or adviseable it would be to bring this crusade to Hollywood. In other words, even if putting cigarettes in movies might have some impact on behaviour, it doesn't necessarily follow that removing them will have the reverse effect.

And now I'm done in this thread. I should have known better than to start in the first place.
posted by hipstertrash at 1:56 AM on March 12, 2002

Heck, one of the main characters in "The Royal Tanenbaums" offers her brother a cigarette, he accepts, and they take a nice, satisfying drag from their cigs at the end of the movie... That's life, right?

If you mean that taking a drag from a cigarette can be relaxing, and a moment to be shared...yes, sorry to tell you this, but it certainly can be.

In terms of positive portrayals of anything else, if you're personally predisposed to hate it no matter what, then of course such a portrayal is not really possible. That being said, I think that Spike's smoking habit on Buffy is really cool. Not only does it fit with his personality, but he's already dead. This is a common use for smoking in movies and's often done by characters who live (by choice or by circumstance, depending) from moment to moment, and feel that they should only be so lucky to last long enough to die of lung cancer. The Mel Gibson character in the Lethal Weapon movies is another example. And of course, there's the Bruce Willis character in Die Hard...if he didn't smoke, he wouldn't have his Zippo, and then he never could have said Yippeekayay, motherfucker.

And that bizarre smoke-ring scene at the beginning of Lord of the Rings...sorry, I know it's sort of a kids' movie and all, but that there was a positive portrayal of smoking.
posted by bingo at 2:12 AM on March 12, 2002

ok, just one more thing

Is a little black humour about emphysema hateful prejudice?

As much as I hate to admit it, Lenny Bruce did not succeed in proving that words can be stripped of their power. I can't use certain terms around a black friend, even if he and his black friends use them freely. By the same token, I make emphysema jokes with fellow smokers all of the time, and it does qualify as humour. Its all context, and fold and mutilate's context made the humour derisive, the equivalent of an ethnic joke. People who live in glass houses. He can yuk it up about his neighbor, but he better make damn sure that whatever he dies from can't be connected to his choices and behaviours in life.
posted by hipstertrash at 2:13 AM on March 12, 2002

I can't believe I'm saying this, but: you do not choose, generally, to belong to an ethnic group. I cannot actually help being a Jew. On the other hand, you have effectively argued in this and the other thread you linked to, that you are a rational person - and smoking is a choice. Frankly, I mock people for their choices whenever I am inclined, and I bet you do too. If you are saying that smoking is at the core of your identity as a person, as integral as Islam or negritude, that's pretty bizarre too. To equate mocking smokers with calling a man a nigger is pure hyperbole.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:34 AM on March 12, 2002

Its not hyperbole. I wasn't saying that the severity of the remarks were equivalent, rather that they were both examples of statements/sentiments that rely on context for meaning. What is perfectly innocent or good natured in one situation coming from one individual turns into a derogatory comment in the mouth of another.

And a non-smoker telling a morbid joke about a smoker does have a lot in common with a white guy telling a derogatory joke about a non-white guy. Both jokes portray the "Other" in a way that asserts the superiority of the teller. "Haha! Dumb smoker went and got himself a horrible disease!" "Haha! Did you hear about the Polish guy who did something dumb?" Both jokes take a certain perspective for granted, rely on the attitudes and assumptions surrounding the subject of the joke, and the relationship between the teller, the subject, and the person listening. Two WASPs sharing a joke about a dumb Polak reinforces both their superiority and his inferiority, and gets a laugh because, to them, the Polak is an acceptable object of derision. Two Polaks sharing the same joke can be a bonding exercise, a way to share the burden of the stereotype. A WASP who told that joke to a Polak probably wouldn't get a laugh.

fold and mutilate's "joke" was an assertion of: A) his superiority as a non-smoker; and B) the social context that informs the "joke" (dying smokers are acceptable objects of derision). In rhetorical terms, his "argument" was nothing more than an attempt to undercut anyone who holds a position differing from his. He first implied that anyone who isn't anti smoking is either too addicted to make a rational argument, or financially involved with tobacco. the joke only reinforced the definition that makes one group of people non-entities, their worth defined by the degree to which they bolster the self-righteous ego of another group.
posted by hipstertrash at 7:51 AM on March 12, 2002

there's also the diamond thing! where before movies in the 40s(?) came along people never proposed with a diamond ring. like it was fictional product placement perpetrated by the movies that became a part of our cultural heritage. i think i saw it on frontline :)
posted by kliuless at 7:53 AM on March 12, 2002

kliuless, Stay Free magazine had a short article about that. An excerpt:
"In the 1930s, De Beers set out to establish social status for large diamonds through giving a number of starlets hefty stones, arranging for glamorous photo shoots, and script-doctoring Hollywood movies to include scenes of jewelry shopping."
posted by gluechunk at 12:27 PM on March 12, 2002

The classic demonstration of the power of PR is Edward Bernays' success in making smoking acceptable for women. His cigarettes as "torches of freedom" campaign is in every PR textbook.

Thus the semiotics of defiant, rebellious tobacco smoking are in part the creation of thoroughly establishment business... o the irony.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:05 PM on March 12, 2002

Equating the condemnation of smoking with "prejudice" is right out of the tobacco company talking point handbook. (It follows the section exhorting smokers on their "civil rights" to spew a class-A carcinogen into the faces of asthmatic children and pregnant women).

And that same little "prejudice" tantrum has been used by everyone from OJ Simpson to NAMBLA.

Look. As far as I'm concerned (the soft spot in my black heart for addicts notwithstanding) people who choose to smoke ARE knuckleheads, much like my idiot-sweet little neighbor across the street, who continues to smoke despite her emphysema, and despite the fire hazard with the oxygen. Sucking that little white anxiolytic-tube outside in the rain, burning up enormous sums of money, harming your own family with second-hand smoke, screwing up your own health...there is the true tragic, miserable, stinking joke.

There is some real "context" for you.

But why stop with that "prejudice"? Let me give you some more people I'm "prejudiced" against. As far as I'm concerned, the "smokers rights" nuts and their bosses in big tobacco are nothing but excrement. And let's see...if we want to pursue the "smoking addiction as disease" theory, that's cool...I happen to oh so "prejudicially" think that smokers who won't take the medical steps necessary to quit, like diabetics who choose not to control their blood sugar, are none-too-bright, either. I also happen to think people who choose to sell smack to teenagers, choose to fly jumbo jetliners into buildings, or choose to molest children, all have less than desirable characteristics as well.

Now, if any members of sets mentioned in that last sentence are outraged and wanna scream "prejudice" or whine about "morbid jokes" told in various "contexts"...good. Similarly, I don't give a damn if I offend any smokers supporting smoking, or any other given tool of the tobacco/death industry. As I said, the bleating of "prejudice" and the false claim of kinship with racial minorities has been tried, and people hear it for the swill it is. I'm glad the "bile and contempt in my tone" is plain to see.

(What an incredible insult to the true struggle of minorities, particularly given that the tobacco industry has historically, cynically, and effectively targeted minorities).

So to restate my original post, I have as hard a time coming up with positives about smoking as I do coming up with positives about molesting children. And calling such condemnation "prejudice" would be laughable instead of contemptible, were it not in support of an addiction that kills millions.

Again, I'll leave it to the addicts, and to those who make money off the backs of addicts, to come up with the positives. Why would they lie?
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:00 AM on March 13, 2002

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