Editor's Note: Wes Burns is on vacation. In his absence, please enjoy this column from "The Best of Burns" file.
When was the last time you saw someone smoking in a movie?
Now, was that person the hero of the film? Or was it some vaguely European villain, while he was explaining his reason for robbing the bank/kidnapping the hero's family/attempting to blow up the moon.
Smoking, once the nerve calming break that kept John "Die Hard" McClane going in the face of Hans Gruber's international team of freelance terrorists, is now relegated to the favorite pass time of seemingly every movie bad guy.
I understand that now that people understand the dangers of smoking, having your lead character puffing away in a film doesn't have the dramatic pull it once did. I get that.
What I don't get is attempting to remove smoking for our great treasure trove of cultural artifacts, also known as "old movies."
Everybody smoked back then. Ever seen "Mad Men," or watched a black and white movie, or talked to your grandparents?
For most of the 20th century everybody smoked. Everybody. Presidents, cops, the military; pretty much anybody who would today be lauded as a "true American hero" was a smoking fiend.
Look at the great maker of heroes, World War II: Churchill smoked. FDR smoked. Stalin (who I'm not really a fan of but WAS one of the Allies) smoked. You know who hated smoking? Hitler.
I know that smoking is terrible for you and is one of the most preventable ways to avoid disease; the guys who were saving the world from Fascism didn't know that.
So when The Winston Churchill's Britain at War Experience installation at the London Museum alters the iconic photos of one of England's greatest leaders to remove his cigar, it is a bit irksome. Also - a travesty.
And why, exactly, was it necessary to remove Churchill's cigar?
For that most maleable of reasons, "for the children!"
Yes. Ad usum Delphini as our now Latin brethren would say.
The idea is that, if kids see someone they admire smoking, they too will want to smoke.
And as we all know, there is no one kids admire more than long deceased World War II leaders!
So, showing a kid a picture of someone smoking is dangerous but it ISN'T damaging to a child to show them a white washed version of history?
And it doesn't stop with just Churchill and his cigar. Cigarettes have been digitally removed from republished pictures of such famous smokers as Bette Davis, Robert Johnson, Jackson Pollock and Disney cartoon legend Pecos Bill, who would light his cigarettes with lightening bolts he pulled down from the sky.
Ok, I'll give you that Pecos Bill should not have been smoking; and it's difficult to make an argument for "historical accuracy" when the guy is pulling down thunderclouds like a Greek god. And I agree that kids shouldn't be encouraged to smoke by children's entertainment. Obviously.
What I don't understand is why, in this age of helicopter parents worrying their precious little snowflake might accidently SEE someone smoking, can I?still buy Big League Chew?
Yeah, Big League Chew. A shiny pouch full of shredded bubble gum, complete with iconic cartoon baseball player and a bag claiming to contain "man sized wads"(yes, really) and "equals 26 sticks of gum;" Big League Chew was the first experience most kids had with wanting to chew tobacco.
Now, I'm a big fan of Big League Chew. And I am a vocal opponent of chewing tobacco, with all of its spitting and general mess, and I am well aware of the hypocrisy of being a smoker who doesn't like chewing tobacco. I?just don't care.
So how is it that smokers get the "1984" treatment of literally being erased from history, while chewing tobacco still gets to sells a "kid's version" wherever fine gums are sold?
I think the solution is simple. It isn't that smoking has entered the pantheon of great scapegoats alongside Communism and Witches, or that smokers, when met with the argument "but what about the children?" never say "why is your kid watching a rated R movie anyway?"
The answer is that, the kids version of smoking was candy cigarettes; so it all boils down to a simple equation.
Candy cigarettes = tastes like chalk, Big League Chew = tastes like a home run.
I think I'm going to go get a pouch right now.
Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.