“The MPAA, More Obama, Right Wingers…”

by on May 17, 2007

To the editor,

Read the MPAA’s announced policy on tobacco ratings closely and you will realize that it is so subjective and vague — with a “may” at the end to undermine it further — that it’s no policy at all. That’s because the MPAA was unable to achieve consensus among the major studios that make up its board about how to respond to thirty-one state Attorneys General who had asked the MPAA to “eliminate smoking from movies accessible to children and youth.” (Nothing vague about that.)

Now consider the health groups’ proposal for an R-rating. There are no First Amendment issues, because the government is not involved. No filmmaker is prevented from realizing her or his vision, including tobacco; they merely need to accept the appropriate rating and the audience is free to see it.

An R-rating does cut the box office by 45%, on average. That’s because adults, who are the bulk of the movie audience, tend to shy away from the content that gains a movie an R-rating: brutal violence, four-letter words, sexual situations. Of course, adolescents are also slowed down by an R-rating, even on video, research shows. Consequently, the studios release about half as many R-rated movies as G/PG/PG-13 movies. With a smaller budget, an R-rated film can still make money, but the big money is elsewhere because the audience is, largely, elsewhere.

The proposed R-rating for tobacco uses these economic realities to help clear tobacco out of youth-rated films. Rating future tobacco R, with exceptions for actual historical characters who smoked and depictions of dire health consequences, need not mean more R-rated movies, only less smoking in PG-13 movies, from which adolescents get half or more of their screen smoking exposure. Producers will calibrate smoking content, just as violence, sex and language are all routinely calibrated, to achieve a desired rating (commonly contracted for by the studio-distributor before production begins) and will do so for the same reasons.

Given the commercial corruption of movies to promote smoking, which dates back at least to PR pioneer Edward Bernays in the 1930s and continued, in the United States, at least into the early 1990s (when placement activity recorded in tobacco documents shifts offshore), it would be useful if the R-rating’s “box office penalty” canceled out subsidies from the tobacco industry, now or in the future. The R-rating would act as an economic disincentive to take tobacco money. And, again, if the smoking is important enough to the filmmaker (or other interests) just take the “R” and hit the multiplexes.

Is the MPAA policing what people see? Not really. The rating system is expressly designed to let almost everybody see anything they want. This is show business, after all. Is the MPAA’s announced tobacco rating policy a billy club? No, it’s a whiffle ball bat, designed to make it seem as if the MPAA is responding to growing concerns about the lethal effects of movies with smoking when it is unable to do so because of history or internal distrust. The MPAA’s Dan Glickman recently promised filmmakers to make the rating guidelines more clear and the process more transparent. This pasted-together placebo policy on smoking betrays that promise.

This leaves us with a globalized film financing system with ample avenues for tobacco influence skirting U.S. jurisdiction, and a U.S. film industry, filled with smoking, that dominates the screen in countries where the tobacco industry is growing its market fastest among a rising generation. Is boosting tobacco company sales revenue by $4.1 billion over the shortened lifetimes of U.S. kids recruited to smoke each year by on-screen tobacco imagery a price we have to pay for great movies? No. This is a chance to free filmmakers of at least one long-standing, exploitative commercial force in the industry.

Saving 50-60,000 lives a year in the U.S, alone? Not bad either.


Jono Polansky
Consultant to the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and EDucation


The Democrats’ preference for Clinton or Obama seems to indicate a preference for identity politics. The smarter members of the corporate-imperial elite realize the efficacy of having a black or a woman to administer regressive policies, just as it was Democrat Bill Clinton who got NAFTA passed after Bush I couldn’t. Edwards should tout Danny Glover’s endorsement, and an Edwards-Webb ticket would be an unbeatable populist-style ticket. Still, I sent a small check to Gravel because in my heart, I know he’s right!!

Vince Bonfitto

I appreciated your diary on Barack Obama yesterday as you brought up some very good points. I would have commented on Dkos but I’m not a member.

Obama is my senator and I have been struck by how different his actions in the Senate have been when compared to his rhetoric. I think that the first indication that Obama shies away from confrontation occurred when his fellow senator, Dick Durbin, gave a speech on the floor of the Senate condemning the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. His speech did contain an unfortunate mention of Hitler (a reference that was badly twisted by Republicans and the media) but I believe that Durbin was courageous in raising the issue of torture by our military and its possible consequences. Obama seemed to waste no time is distancing himself from Durbin.

I have been struck, too, by the fact that, although Obama has made much of the fact that he gave one speech to an anti-war crowd in the primarily anti-war city of Chicago while he was ensconced in the Illinois Senate, he did little about introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate to stop the Iraq occupation until polls were tilted in his favor.

Perhaps Obama simply is not the progressive that we want him to be. Illinois has been particularly hard hit by the trade agreements. While campaigning for the Senate, Obama mentioned that he believed that NAFTA should be re-written. Since he has been installed in the Senate, he has done nothing to rein in the more destructive elements of the agreements. During the last Congress, Sen. Dorgan introduced three pieces of legislation designed to address some of these elements (S. 355, S. 196 and S. 2267). Hillary was a co-sponsor of one of them and Durbin of another. Obama was a co-sponsor of none of them. Two of the measures were introduced at the beginning of 2005 but in a town hall meeting in May, 2005, Obama stated in response to a question about the trade deficit, “This is an issue I agree is of utmost importance to our long-term future and that of our kids and grandkids, but it’s just not being talked about in Congress.” I guess that he didn’t talk to Dorgan.

Then there was the bill to increase the H-1B visa limit after it had reverted to its pre-dot.com boom level. I signed and sent an e-mail from an activist site to my senators, requesting that they vote against this measure since there were so many tech people out of work and H-1B visas were being used to bring in cheap labor. Durbin replied that he agreed and would vote against the bill. Obama’s response contained a lecture, a reprimand, and statistics from 1998 to bolster his stance (this was when he still responded to e-mails; Durbin still does).

A sample of his response:
“I understand that we need to create more jobs for American workers. And, using the technology sector as an example, the economic production of companies assisted by workers on H1-B visas in 1998 created more than $16.8 billion in sales and over 58,000 jobs. The great majority of these news jobs are going to American workers. Immigrants are not the cause of the squeeze on middle class families…. Scapegoating immigrants will not help us rise to meet these challenges.”

Although Obama has stated that he is not an ideologue, I have come to believe that he has a closed mind on the doctrine of free trade. As a short article last week detailed, his economic team consists of Robert Rubin economists.
All in all, Obama is not a candidate that I could whole-heartedly support

Again, thank you for your diary.

Fran G.


In his May 16th screed entitled “America Isn’t Sick of ‘Partisanship’ – Just Right Wingers,” Paul Hogarth gives us a surprising portrayal of being Rip Van Winkle during the last election.

In case you have forgotten, moderate Democrats, conservative Democrats, Labor, Independents, and even moderate Republicans went to the polls to elect a centrist Democratic majority. Folks, this was not a Left Wing coup. Our Lady of Practical Politics led us from the wilderness of failed causes back to shelter under the traditional Democratic “Big Tent”.

Left wingers, you fail to recognize this to the disaster of us all. America is not just sick of vicious right-wing causes; America is sick of extremes. There may be media myths, but this is not one of them.

If polled again, the vast majority of the voters who turned out right-wing Representatives and Senators would loudly shout: “We are sick of ALL smug true believers jamming their ideas down our throats. We are sick of the Religious Right and their cant; we are sick of the Politically Correct Left and their arrogance. We are sick of a failed war and we want out in a reasonable way. We are sick of Voodoo economics, both right and left. We don’t want our Constitutional freedoms raped by either the right or the left. We think Global Warming is real and we are tired of Big Business ripping off the environment, just as we are disturbed by EcoTerrorism. We are tired of crazy right-wing and left-wing educational experiments. We want good education, good jobs, good health care, and good social security. So there…!”

We have a lot of very serious damage to repair. We need a Democratic President and much stronger majorities in the House, the Senate, and in State governments. The greatest threat to this is not failed right wingers, it is a return of the Naderite attitude of take no prisoners, make no compromises.

We need the kind of broad centrist majority that can and will tackle restoring Constitutional freedoms, dismantling the “Patriot” Act, and scrapping Homeland Insecurity. We will not get there via the Naderites [thanks for eight years of horror, Ralph].

We need centrist economic stability to get out of a potentially crippling deficit. We need Public Education that does not sacrifice to the wealthy few, nor to the politically correct. We need “big Tent” medicine in the United States. We need to focus on these practical, achievable, centrist issues. What we do not need is an elitist left wing spoiling things and setting us up for another George Bush disaster.

If it takes living with moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats and Ohio hunters and Texas Truck drivers and Detroit workers to achieve these goals, so be it.

Wayne Lanier
San Francisco

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