Fumus Gratia Artis

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Smoking 2 copyI might have another go at smoking. Cigarettes, that is. I know, I know...it sounds unwise, especially for a man in my condition. But what, exactly, does a man in my condition have to fear from a pack of Luckies? Plenty, I suppose. And, truth be told, I never managed to acquire the habit. Oh I tried. I did so try. My mother smoked Alpines, my father favored Kents, which featured the mighty, manly, micronite filter. So supply was never a problem. I’d pilfer a few of Dad’s Kents when I got the chance, settle for an Alpine if I had to. But for some reason, I never took to cigarettes. Still, all the kids were doing it, and yours truly was no Goody Two-Shoes. I stoically, if reluctantly, puffed my way through high school, and thereafter, only smoked cigarettes when the annual Great American Smokout day rolled around. (Make of that what you will.) But something I recently saw in a Steven Spielberg movie left me jonesing for a Lucky Strike, in the off season. Spite is a powerful force. 

Although, I never liked cigarettes, I had no problem with them or with people who smoked them. But I do have a problem with tiresome annual social-engineering events and nag festivals, such as “National You-Name-It Day/Month.” The American Cancer Society inaugurated their Great American Smokeout” in 1977, and it lives on as an unfortunate perennial reminder of just how embarrassing the 70s were. Every third Thursday of November, hopelessly addicted smokers are urged to abstain for 24 hours, reflect on their sinful ways, and repent. Some smokers play along. Why? My theory is they feel conspicuous, even ashamed on a certain level, if they don’t at least pretend to give a rap. It’s the same sort of weird force that compels people to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, even though they have no emotional, cultural, or political stake in Ireland or her Patron Saint. I refuse to wear green on St. Paddy’s, and when National Smokeout Day arrives, I light up. These are petulant, trivial internalized protests that largely go unnoticed. And I would have rather not noticed that Spielberg et al inserted a Surgeon General’s warning into the closing credits of one of their goofy movies.

My wife and I had just finished watching a thoroughly ridiculous, but oddly entertaining movie on DVD one night titled "Cowboys and Aliens,” starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde. Even the lamest action/adventure films have become tolerable since I put together a modest 5.1 surround-sound system in The Cave. And this movie was...okay; the title tells you everything you need to know about the plot, the visual effects were fun, big sound, lots of violence. We were in the mood for garish entertainment, and the film didn’t disappoint in that respect. Harrison Ford, as Woodrow Dolarhyde (sounds like “dollar hide”), had the most memorable line in the flick; after the good alien (who had taken the form of an attractive young woman) reveals that the demonic bad aliens invaded Earth because they want gold, he growls in incredulous, exasperated disbelief (channeling Han Solo), “Well, that’s just ridiculous! What are they gonna do? Buy something?” Best moment of the film. But at no point did “Cowboys and Aliens” put me on the edge of my seat, until the seemingly endless closing credits almost came to a close, and I read the following: 

Cowboys Aliens Surgeon General edited-1


For those who might have misplaced their cheaters, the paragraph at the bottom of the above screen capture reads…

THE DEPICTIONS OF TOBACCO SMOKING CONTAINED IN THIS FILM ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE TOBACCO CONSUMPTION. THE U.S. SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT THERE ARE SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH SMOKING AND SECOND HAND SMOKE. 

There you have it, smoking for the sake of art; Fumus Gratia Artis.  Even our movies now come with a Surgeon General's warning. The appearance of this particular disclaimer even jarred my wife. I'm generally the only one here who stews over this sort of trivial jackassery. Now, we’re both always happy to see that “No animals were harmed during the making of this film,” and sometimes we even believe it, but ye Gods! Let’s agree that cigarette smoking can be hazardous to one’s health, and all things considered, one is probably better off not smoking. I find the data on “second-hand smoke" even less compelling than those supporting anthropogenic "climate change,” but…no matter. What is disturbing is that...if this particular announcement is considered necessary, appropriate, and in the best interests of our health and wellbeing, then it strikes me as wholly inadequate when considering the movie in whole. For one thing, it fails to scold against the hazards of tobacco chewing, as was depicted in this very same film. Moreover, if DreamWorks really takes their social responsibilities seriously (and we know that’s very important to their ilk), what are we to make, then, of the fact that other seemingly important warnings are noticeably absent. What about all the boozing we saw? Nowhere in the closing credits will you find any of the following warnings:

THE DEPICTIONS OF ALCOHOL USE CONTAINED IN THIS FILM ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION OR IRRESPONSIBLE USE OF ALCOHOL CONTAINERS. (1) ACCORDING TO THE SURGEON GENERAL, WOMEN SHOULD NOT DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES DURING PREGNANCY BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF BIRTH DEFECTS. (2) CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES IMPAIRS THE ABILITY OF MEN AND WOMEN TO AVOID INCONVENIENT PREGNANCIES, DRIVE STAGE COACHES, AND AIM FIREARMS WITH A REASONABLE DEGREE OF ACCURACY. (3) BREAKING GLASS VESSELS CONTAINING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES OVER THE HEADS OF OTHERS CAN LEAD TO SERIOUS OR UNDESIRABLE HEALTH PROBLEMS, SUCH AS CONTUSIONS, MASSIVE HEMATOMA, CONCUSSION, COMA, AND EVEN DEATH.

And what about all those deadly firearms? The movie was shot through with scenes of people shooting through other people who would frequently get shot through and through in return. (Sorry about that; I’m through now.) What kind of message does that send? Shouldn’t they have included something like this?

THE DEPICTIONS OF GUNPLAY CONTAINED IN THIS FILM ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE THE SHOOTING OF GOOD GUYS, BAD GUYS, ALIENS, INNOCENT BYSTANDERS, OR ANY ORGANISMS OF THE KINGDOM ANIMALIA. THE SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT THERE ARE SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH GUNSHOT WOUNDS AND SECOND-HAND GUNSHOT WOUNDS (FORMERLY KNOWN AS "RICOCHETS").

The violence was hardly limited to firearms in this film. Rock-‘em sock-‘em fisticuffs and blade work featured prominently throughout. But we must assume that sort of behavior is approved of by the Surgeon General as well, because they left this part out.

THE DEPICTIONS OF HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT CONTAINED IN THIS FILM ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE PHYSICAL VIOLENCE. THE SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH GETTING PUNCHED, KICKED, STABBED, CLUBBED, GOUGED, BITTEN, FOLDED, SPINDLED, MUTILATED, AND HAVING A WOODEN CHAIR OR WHISKEY BOTTLE BUSTED OVER ONE'S HEAD.

When they couldn’t get their paws on each other, the combatants would resort to throwing just about anything they could get their paws on; rocks, bottles, empty revolvers. Apparently that doesn’t fall under the Surgeon General’s definitition of risky behavior. Because this warning wasn’t seen.

THE DEPICTIONS CONTAINED IN THIS FILM OF PERSONS HURLING MISSILES AT ONE ANOTHER ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE SUCH HIGHLY RISKY BEHAVIOR. THE SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT THERE ARE SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH BEING STRUCK BY A FLYING ROCK AND/OR BEING PIERCED BY SHARP, POINTY OBJECTS INCLUDING (BUT NOT LIMITED TO) ARROWS, BOWIE KNIVES, SPEARS, LANCES, LAWN DARTS, ETC. A RECENT META-ANALYSIS ALSO SUPPORTS THE LONG-HELD THEORY THAT ONE WHO RECKLESSLY LAUNCHES SUCH MISSILES COULD VERY WELL "PUT SOMEONE'S EYE OUT" (P < .001).

And such language! Dirty words and hurtful things were said by mean-sprited characters without regard for the feelings of the targets of their wrath. I believe the movie was rated PG, though I might be wrong. (Would have been R when I was a kid.) It must be okay, then, to treat others with nasty abusive language. Because I couldn’t find this warning either.

THE DEPICTIONS OF PEOPLE USING NAUGHTY WORDS IN THIS FILM ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE POTTY-MOUTH LANGUAGE. THE SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT THERE ARE SERIOUS EMOTIONAL HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH BEING ON THE RECEIVING END OF PROFANE INVECTIVE OR HURTFUL LANGUAGE THAT MIGHT POSSIBLY OFFEND THE SENSIBILITIES OF ANYONE, ANYWHERE, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, WHATSOEVER.

Further, the movie showed a complete and utter disregard for the institution of marriage, which was unabashedly portrayed from a warped heteronormative perspective. Virtually all married couples involved unions between men and women, and that’s it. I suppose, being a period piece and all, they could get away with depicting old-fashioned homophobic marriage, and only old-fashioned homophobic marriage. I mean, the cowboys dressed like 19th-century cowboys, the aliens dressed like 19th-century aliens, the good alien wasn’t dressed at all…albeit briefly, and back in the 19th century men and women married each other and were referred to as “husbands" and “wives." So the following warning probably wasn’t necessary. But still it seems a bit insensitive—especially knowing a thing or two about DreamWorks and Hollywoodish sensibilities—that they didn’t comfort hypersensitive audience members with the following reassuring words.  

THE DEPICTIONS OF HETEROSEXUAL MARRIAGE (FORMERLY KNOWN AS "MARRIAGE") CONTAINED IN THIS FILM ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE NARROW, OBSOLETE NOTIONS OF MATRIMONY. THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HAS DETERMINED THAT THERE ARE SERIOUS POLITICAL RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH RECOGNIZING MARRIAGE SOLELY AS THE BIOLOGICALLY CORRECT UNION OF A MAN AND WOMAN. IN ADDITION, DREAMWORKS SKG REGRETS ANY FITS OR SNITS THIS FILM MIGHT HAVE PROVOKED AMONG THE LESBIAN/GAY/BISEXUAL/TRANSGENDER/ZOOPHILE/PEDO-/NECRO-/ETC COMMUNITIES IN PARTICULAR AND ALL HETEROPHOBES IN GENERAL. MR. SPIELBERG TOLERATES, CELEBRATES, AND EMBRACES ALL NONTRADITIONAL LIFESTYLES, IS PERSONALLY COMMITTED TO EXPERIMENTING WITH EACH, AND PROMISES THE SPECIAL INTERESTS OF ALL SPECIAL AUDIENCES WILL BE SERVED WITH GREAT DEFERENCE AND HEARTFELT COMPASSION IN COUNTLESS FUTURE RELEASES.

And where was this one?

THE DEPICTIONS OF CHILDREN RUNNING WITH SCISSORS IN THEIR HANDS CONTAINED IN THIS FILM ARE BASED SOLELY ON ARTISTIC CONSIDERATION AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROMOTE...

AH HAH! GOTCHA!

Heck, I was just pulling your lariat with that one! No children were seen running with scissors in their hands in this film. Most were simply sucked out of their shoes into marauding alien warships, herded to the alien hive, and held captive in suspended animation until the vivisectionists were ready for them. Seen, but not heard. Just like the good old days.

Well that’s all, folks. We’re done here. Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. But don’t ever say you weren’t warned.


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