Thanks to Mike Daley for pointing me to the most self-aggrandizing mea culpa since Rousseau’s Confessions: hack screenwriter Joe Eszterhas writes in the New York Times that his “hands are bloody; so are Hollywood’s.” Their crime? Writing scripts in which characters smoke, and occasionally even look cool doing so. Eszterhas did so in such cinema classics as Flashdance, Sliver, and Basic Instinct. Not only did these films implant in our empty little heads an uncontrollable desire to smoke which never would have surfaced otherwise, but it turns out that the cigarette brand Basic even owes its success to the runaway influence of Basic Instinct. What I want to know is, when is someone going to hold Tim Burton responsible for the spate of vigilantes dressing up in tights to fight crime?
It’s worth noting that this isn’t just a call for more responsible screenwriting. Eszterhas also says: “I don’t think smoking is every person’s right anymore. I think smoking should be as illegal as heroin.” I’m always a bit mystified when someone who previously defended a certain freedom changes his tune when he begins to regret his own use of it — Eszterhas now has cancer. What had been in his head earlier? Had he meant only to defend choices than never go badly? That sounds rather like the variety of freedom of speech that only covers totally inoffensive utterances. Actually, this is a second, more subtle sort of arrogance. As a member of the elite that tells us what to think, surely Eszterhas is among the most competent of choosers. So it’s inconceivable that if he couldn’t exercise his freedom of choice well, the rest of us plebeians might be capable of such a feat. Just ask Mike Bloomberg.