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Monday, January 07, 2008

That's just silly!

I'm sure I can't be the first to have noticed this, so forgive me if you've seen this complaint elsewhere. 

Look at the new U.S. Postage stamp that was recently issued honoring film star Bette Davis and tell me what seems to be missing:

Bd_stamp

Give up?  Look at the odd way she's holding her hand.  How stupid do they think we are?  Did they really think nobody would notice that someone had Photoshopped out the cigarette?!

Look, I loathe everything about smoking.  I hate the smell, the mess... and don't get me started on the health issues associated with both active and passive smoking.  I am a champion of just about any legislation that limits smoker's ability to inflict the byproduct of their habit on those of us who don't wish to partake.

But...

This business of the thought police trying to sanitize the past in such a way as to try to make it seem as though famous people didn't smoke way back when... well, that's just plain silly!  I mean, the next thing you know they'll be taking away Churchill's (or Groucho Marx's) cigar, for crying out loud!

I remember when they did something similar to the stamp honoring James Dean.  At the time I wondered why they'd bothered.  Anyone who had ever watched a James Dean film or seen a publicity shot of him knew that he smoked.  The same can be said of one of my favorite movie stars, Humphrey Bogart, who was rarely seen on or off screen without a cigarette in his mouth of hand.  It was part of his persona.

If you are going to honor someone like Bette Davis, either pick a picture of her without a cigarette (if such a thing exists) or simply leave the cigarette alone.  That was her... and that was then.  Full stop.

But that isn't to say I am against all tinkering with history when it comes to smoking. I have no problem with cleaning up historical fiction so we don't make old vices seem too attractive to modern consumers.

My wife (as strident an anti-smoker as I am) has recently started watching of a TV series about the Madison Avenue ad world of the 1950s called Mad Men.  I watched it once and immediately felt like I needed to take a shower and wash my clothes.  You see, everyone in the show smoked. EVERYONE! ALL THE TIME!!!  In meetings, on the street, during meals, in bed... there was literally no on-screen respite or refuge from the filthy habit.

Look, while the show may be historically accurate (I loved the Danish modern furniture and snappy clothes), these are fictitious characters who don't absolutely have to be smoking during every moment of the show!  Unless, of course, the goal is to completely desensitize the viewer to the whole smoking thing... in which case bravo, mission accomplished! 

I can't help but be bothered that such a show is offering a whole new generation of viewers (who weren't even born in the 50s) an attractive glimpse of well dressed, successful, beautiful people who seem to subsist on a steady diet of nothing but cigarettes. 

Looking back over this post I see I'm doing a bad job of expressing myself... maybe even contradicting myself.

On the one hand, I have no problem watching 'Casablanca' or 'All about Eve' with my kids and explaining to them that they were filmed at a time when people didn't fully understand the dangers of smoking.  I trust them to be able to see the cigarettes as an anachronistic prop of the era, and then look past them to enjoy the story.  But on the other hand, to build a modern television series almost entirely around the act of smoking among actors who are not otherwise known for promoting this habit... well, like airbrushing the cigarette out of Bette Davis' hand, I just found it silly.

Posted by David Bogner on January 7, 2008 | Permalink

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Here is another example...http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/17/books/17moon.html

Posted by: Safranit | Jan 7, 2008 12:32:45 PM

Not completely relevant to your post, but, if you'd bothered to listen to the dialog, you'd know that a good deal of show is based the fact that it had just been proven that cigarette smoking is a health hazard. This is the task these ad men are faced with: how to sell a dangerous product without claims that it isn't harmful.

I agree that it is revolting to watch everyone with a "cancer-stick" hanging out of their mouths -- but it is appropriate to both the era and the subject matter. Additionally, the show is really about how Madison Avenue became a marketing and advertising powerhouse -- forever changing how Americans consume products.

Posted by: zahava | Jan 7, 2008 1:12:44 PM

We had to suffer a performance of Grease where the whole cast puffed smoke in our faces and all we got was a nasty letter from the thetare saying that we don't understand art.

Posted by: asher | Jan 7, 2008 1:33:28 PM

And this is the same PC thought police that insists that we view history "warts and all". To them, the only relevant fact about Columbus' life is that he exploited the Caribs, and the only relevant fact about Thomas Jefferson's life is that he owned slaves. Warts and all, people. Except when it comes to (gasp) cigarettes.

In the old days, they airbrushed out FDR's wheelchair. Now they airbrush out his cigarette holder. It all depends on what the PC folks are afraid to face on any given day. How infantile.

Posted by: psachya | Jan 7, 2008 4:04:59 PM

Trep, you'll recall (or perhaps you've blocked it) that the most recent pictures of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road are missing a cigarette these days... just saw it again recently on a t-shirt in a Target store. Sheesh.

My pop smoked cigarettes. And drank to excess. He doesn't anymore. But I guess that has enabled me to like and love people who smoke, drink, drink coffee (blech) or none of the above.

Love psachya's point about FDR; speaking of which -- for PR points in the Mid-East, shouldn't we always show our president and member of congress with full, luxurious beards? Also smoking like chimneys and drinking tiny cups of coffee syrup, like in Turkey?

I'll get the PC folk on that right away!

But if they take away Groucho's cigar, man -- that will be the final straw for me!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jan 7, 2008 4:22:51 PM

A few years ago I heard of a delay in unveiling a statue of FDR because they decided to remove the cigarette from his hand first. I can't remember seeing many pictures of him WITHOUT a cigarette.

Posted by: Saul | Jan 7, 2008 4:37:21 PM

Safranit... Good one, thanks for that.

zahava... Oh, I see. The show appeals to your sense of historical accuracy and not, say, those broad shouldered men in skinny suits. ;-)

asher... My wife and I recently gave the kids Grease on DVD. Actually I did. Zahava was dead against it because of the ending (where Sandra totally caves and sluts herself up). Funny, but the smoking in Grease (and West Side Story, for that matter) didn't bother me as much since it wasn't omnipresent.

psachya... I wouldn't exactly say that there is some monolithic body responsible for all these acts. But it has become widespread... and therefore worrisome.

Wry Mouth... Don't misunderstand me. I know and like many people who smoke. I have no problem making a separation between the filthy habit and the person who has it. However, I have distance myself from several people who i found to be insensitive )and even aggressive) about their smoking. As far as the portrayal of iconic figures, whether politicians or entertainers... I think the litmus test should be whether the cigarette was also iconic, ubiquitous, and/or inextricably tied up with their public persona. I doubt many people think of the Beatles first and foremost as smokers (although I think they all were, at least for part of their lives). Bette Davis was almost never seen - on or off screen - without a cigarette. The Same can be said for FDR, but since he was rarely pictured in his wheelchair that is not an iconic part of his image and I would consider it optional. Just thinking out loud here, so feel free to weigh in, people.

Saul... Exactly my point. FDR's trademark cigarette holder sticking out at a jaunty angle (which always reminded me of the Penguin from Batman) is what most people think of when you mention his name. It would be foolish to try to portray him without it.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 7, 2008 4:51:01 PM

Funny, no? Makes you wonder what their problem is; try and watch a whole ad block in between popular children cartoons on tv without thinking up ways to sue companies left and right.

Posted by: a. | Jan 7, 2008 5:58:10 PM

see the movie: "Thank you for Smoking"

Posted by: cruisin-mom | Jan 7, 2008 6:04:25 PM

I read recently that some Jewish publications airbrush wigs onto the wives of Rebbeim of earlier generations. Their justification is that if those women were alive and married today, they would definitly cover their hair and would be embarassed to be seen without.

Sorry I am too tired to go find where I saw that.

Posted by: Chedva | Jan 8, 2008 6:08:36 AM

That is a bit odd.

Cruisin-Mom - funny movie.

Posted by: Jaime | Jan 9, 2008 1:54:30 AM

Then again, one of the classic Russian cartoons (I think it's called Nu Pogodi) my husband's mother bought for our kids features an animal (an old fox?) chainsmoking in most episodes. It's such a prevalent image that I just felt it was inappropriate for kids to watch. But one can't really compare the way cartoon imagery assaults kids to an image on a stamp, which lies, for the most part, outside of little-kid domain.

Posted by: RaggedyMom | Jan 10, 2008 4:53:58 AM

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