Movie Smoking Scenes May Get ‘R’ Rating

Lobbying groups and some Members of Congress, notably Sen. Jay Rockefeller, are pushing to force the Motion Picture Association of America to assign an automatic “R” rating to movies depicting characters smoking cigarettes. MPAA president Dan Glickman is resisting but says the ratings board “will now consider smoking as a factor among many other factors, including violence, sexual situations and language, in the rating of films.” Glickman points out that the percentage of films that included “even a fleeting glimpse of smoking” dropped from 60% to 52% between July 2004 and July 2006 and 75% of those were rated “R” because of other factors.

This points to the silliness of the ratings system with its broad categories.

To the extent that ratings are there to give parents information so that they can make responsible judgments about what movies to allow their kids to see, providing information about smoking seems reasonable enough. After all, smoking is addictive and can bring substantial health risk to those who smoke large numbers of cigarettes over a long period. There’s little doubt that seeing positive portrayals of smoking by movie stars and other role models can influence kids to think of smoking as “cool” and therefore take it up.

Then again, most parents would likely not object to their kids seeing somebody smoke a cigarette, figuring they can teach them about the risks. Yet, rating a movie “R” would take that call away from the parents, unless they want to sit with their kids in the theater watching the movie. (Although, in the age of Netflix, they could just wait a few months and let them see it at home.) Further, parents who wouldn’t object to smoking scenes may well decide against letting their kids see an “R” rated movie even if smoking was the primary culprit in earning that rating, since the basis of the ratings is far from transparent.

We’d be far better off dumping the current system for one that simply provided information about the movie’s content. Some parents may strongly object to graphic violence but have no problem with nudity, whereas others may take the opposite position. Some may object to nudity and violence but have no problem with the use of the “F” word. Ditto smoking, strong sexual situations, or whatever. Inform the parents and let them decide.

We could continue to automatically bar children from obviously pornographic movies (most of those now rated “NC-17,” formerly “X”) but theater owners would be free to sell tickets to other movies to all comers. Leave it up to parents to monitor their kids. If they don’t trust them not to see movies they’ve been told not to see, they shouldn’t be unsupervised at the theater, anyway.

via Matt Keller’s Facebook page

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    We’d be far better off dumping the current system for one that simply provided information about the movie’s content.

    I believe the problem was that teenaged boys would have their decision-making greatly facilitated: “full-frontal nudity AND sexual situations … we are DEFINITELY going to see this movie!”

    But the tobacco thing is just silly & the kind of thing that will further discredit the ratings, to where parents shrug them off.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I believe the problem was that teenaged boys would have their decision-making greatly facilitated: “full-frontal nudity AND sexual situations … we are DEFINITELY going to see this movie!”

    I was certainly appreciative when HBO provided those helpful warnings back in the day.

  3. Heavin forbid movies have a touch of realism in them. People smoke in the real world.

    The ratings are only okay is figuring out if the movie has material I’d object to. Reviews with some description of the content is more useful to me than a few letters. “R” can be anything from bloody violence to lots of skin to tons of cursing. It’s not very descriptive.

    I was certainly appreciative when HBO provided those helpful warnings back in the day.

    I still use them now. 😉

  4. Mark says:

    The following movie contains smoking. Viewer discretion advised.

    Sounds silly to me.

  5. Anderson says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot those HBO things … those *were* quite handy.

    I also recall looking at James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” newsletter that was posted at my church, which went into even greater detail on what horrors were on display. In retrospect, writing those “reviews” had to’ve been a great job.

  6. Sounds silly to me.

    It’s silly to me too, but I grew up in a family with a mother who smoked. I have no asthma or other health issues. And I never took up the habit either.

  7. William d'Inger says:

    What about eating meat and french fries? Are they next? What about reading a Bible? What about sipping wine in a restaurant? Once the PC thought police smell an opening, they circle like sharks. I thought the Middle Ages were over.

  8. James Joyner says:

    What about sipping wine in a restaurant?

    Well, according to current government guidelines, two glasses a day are good for you. So, they’d have to count the glasses and penalize those showing people drink more or less.

  9. So, they’d have to count the glasses and penalize those showing people drink more or less.

    I’ll apply for that job. Is one of the qualifications knowing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

  10. Does the MPAA still insist that it’s not a censorship organization?

  11. Kent says:

    I think Mark may be on to something: Ask yourself if you could say “This movie is rated R because of depictions of [fill in the blank]” to a gathering of parents with a straight face.

    “This movie is rated R because of numerous depictions of decapitations and disembowelments.” Yeah, I’d have no problem telling them that with a straight face.

    “This movie is rated R because of explicit depictions of sexual intercourse.” Ditto.

    “This movie is rated R because of numerous depictions of tobacco consumption.” Nope, can’t straight-face that one.

    The laugh test can sometimes be effective.

  12. just me says:

    I think this is a dumb idea.

    While I like the fact that movies are given ratings, I like being given details of some sort as to why. I don’t see ratings as censorship, they are useful tools for parents, when choosing what movies we are going to be taking our children to see.

    But smoking isn’t one of those things that bothers me, and I hardly rank it up there with sexual or violent content.