Jan 8, 2010

Do you mind if I smoke?

An online row has erupted over the depiction of smokers in movies, and in particular Sigourney Weaver’s smoking in Avatar. “This is like someone just put a bunch of plutonium in the water supply,” argued an anti-smoking activist in the New York Times. The Times' chief movie critic, A. O. Scott, in a blog post entitled “Movies and Vices: Made for Each Other,” defended the decision to light up:

As long as there have been movies, there have been scolds who condemn the movies for glamorizing vice. And the scolds have generally been right: one of the great pleasures of movie watching is that it allows us to witness and vicariously take part in all kinds of behavior we wouldn’t dream of (or would only dream of) undertaking in our daily lives.
In New York Magazine, David Edelstein surprisingly, came down against Scott's argument as “a savvy piece of hipsterism,” arguing, “for our kids’ sake, let’s treat the addiction to deadly chemicals as a vice and not as a normal, healthy part of everyday life.” Only to be rebutted by Richard Brody in The New Yorker:
I’d argue that, for our kids’ sake, we shouldn’t lie to them: we, and movie-makers, ought to be able to make clear that vices are, in fact, pleasures, even if, ultimately, destructive ones—because, if they weren’t pleasures, nobody would bother with them in the first place.
Fine and dandy, as far as these things go. Nobody addressed my concern about Sigourney Weaver's smoking in Avatar: she was just so bad at it. She held the thing like she's just been told what it did, no attempt to inhale, just holding the smoke in her mouth and then letting it drift out. I've witnessed sturdier exhalations from a sparrow. In this day and age, there's no excuse. Cameron went to all the trouble of simulating Kate Winslet's freezing breath in Titanic. You're telling me that with half a quarter of a billion to spend on special effects he couldn't rustle up a decent smoke ring?

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