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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Smoke... and Get an R Rating?

The MPAA ratings system -- which we'll cover in some detail in a future episode of the podcast -- is a strange beast, a compromise that came after decades of struggle between Hollywood, governments, and various watchdog groups. One of the most interesting things about is the way that it changes over time, often somewhat silently. What received an R rating in the past might be a PG or PG-13 today, and sometimes vice versa, as the system attempts to mirror current culture. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising, then, that smoking tobacco is the latest cultural taboo that could end up causing a movie to receive a higher rating.

From a USA Today story:

Smoking isn't only bad for your health. If you're a filmmaker, it may be bad for your movie.

The Motion Picture Association of America said Thursday that it would scrutinize smoking more closely as part of its ratings criteria.

Underage smoking has always been considered behavior that could warrant a tougher rating, the MPAA said in its release. Now, "all smoking will be considered and depictions that glamorize smoking or … feature pervasive smoking outside of an historic or other mitigating context" could warrant a more prohibitive rating, the organization said.

It actually doesn't sound that bad, and since there are no hard and fast rules for what causes a movie to receive one rating over another (it's basically a judgment call for a group of parents who rate the movies), I am not that concerned that any movie which features a cigarette will automatically get a PG-13 or R rating. But not much further down in the article is this nonsense from an anti-smoking group:

"They're pretending to solve the problem," says Stanton Glantz, head of the group and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "We believe an automatic R for a movie with smoking — unless you're showing someone getting sick from it — could save thousands of lives."


I don't smoke. I don't like smoking. I agree that it's a bad thing. But the rating system is not supposed to be used to promote or punish specific beliefs or actions. It works best when it acts as an informational tool to parents, and I have no problem with the little summaries of why a movie was rated a certain way ("Rated PG-13 for sci-fi gore" is a favorite of mine) including the information that you see people smoking in it.

But since the ratings add up to real money for studios (fewer people can see an R-rated film, thus they tend to earn less than PG-13s), they absolutely influence the content of movies. It's not fair for these sorts of wackjob groups to claim that we should treat any instances of smoking as being automatically restricted from children, especially when children can walk outside and see people legally smoking all over the country. Treating it with that little tact is just as bad as the ridiculous Hollywood production code that existed before the ratings system, that completely banned all sorts of topics for purely moral reasons.

So what do you guys think? Is there merit to the new guidelines? Should they be tougher? Non-existent?

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