James Cameron Fires Back as Anti-Smoking Zealots Hit Avatar
No sooner had I chosen last year's shrill crusade to vilify and/or criminalize smokers in movies as one of my favorite (read: most abjectly infuriating) stories of 2009, one of the movement's lead creeps navigated his way to more attention in the New York Times. How? How else? By dissing Avatar's cigarette usage.
With a name ripped right out of James Cameron's Bad-Guy Moniker Generator, Stanton A. Glantz told the paper that his Smoke Free Movies Initiative would soon launch a campaign criticizing the film's "pro-smoking message" -- specifically the one represented by Sigourney Weaver's tobaccoriffic scientist Grace Augustine, who famously rolls out of avatar mode begging for her "goddamned cigarette" and isn't often seen without a smoke pinched between fingers. Glantz likened her cigarette consumption to "someone just put[ting] a bunch of plutonium in the water supply." Yes, Stanton, it's exactly like that. But in IMAX 3-D! The irradiated masses never knew what hit them.
As you might imagine, Cameron -- a nonsmoker himself, yet one with an understanding of both the aesthetic and symbolic purpose of cigarettes onscreen -- wasn't especially pleased. Yet who would have thought that the man whose blockbuster just crossed the billion-dollar threshold in two weeks flat would even think twice about such whinging piffle, let alone respond to it at length?
In a statement sent by e-mail over the weekend, Mr. Cameron said he had never intended Ms. Weaver's character, Grace Augustine, to be "an aspirational role model" for teenagers.
"She's rude, she swears, she drinks, she smokes," wrote Mr. Cameron. "Also, from a character perspective, we were showing that Grace doesn't care about her human body, only her avatar body, which again is a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games."
Speaking as an artist, Mr. Cameron said: "I don't believe in the dogmatic idea that no one in a movie should smoke. Movies should reflect reality. If it's O.K. for people to lie, cheat, steal and kill in PG-13 movies, why impose an inconsistent morality when it comes to smoking? I do agree that young role-model characters should not smoke in movies, especially in a way which suggests that it makes them cooler or more accepted by their peers."
Smoking, Mr. Cameron concluded, "is a filthy habit which I don't support, and neither, I believe, does Avatar."
Fair enough -- and just another chapter in this film's hard-earned legend. I will smoke to that.