NBC Takes a Stand Against Smoking! (Cannibalism, Murder, and Graphic Violence Remain Ok)
The Constantine Smoking Controversy
Forget Superman, Batman, or The X-Men, John Constantine is the greatest comic book character ever created. Hear me out. Constantine is the protagonist of the groundbreaking comic series Hellblazer. You may remember him egregiously portrayed by Keanu Reeves in 2005’s misguided adaptation Constantine. However, Constantine is everything that Keanu is not. In other words, he’s a badass.
Constantine is the chain-smoking anti-hero of the comics industry. While constantly puffing on a smoke, he solves occult mysteries in London’s magical underworld. With a cigarette in his mouth, he works with both angels and demons to maintain the delicate balance that exists in his darkly fictional London. Did I mention that he’s a smoker? In fact, it’s an integral part of his character and story arch. In both the movie and comic, he contracts lung cancer from his filthy habit, and essentially tries to cheat death.
As a die-hard fan of this character, I was extremely excited when NBC announced an adaptation of the comic last year. Bolstering my fan-boy glee, NBC lined up Executive Producer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight) and Director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones) to work on the project. If anyone can nail the violence and dark humor of the comic, it is these two. It finally seemed that we can collectively wash away the Keanu induced tears of 2005. Furthermore, NBC is the studio that brought us Hannibal, one of the most relentlessly violent and critically acclaimed shows on television! However, our excitement may have been premature.
“No we’re not [having his character smoke]. It’s the one thing, a compromise I guess. On network it’s the one thing — you can’t smoke on network. That’s one of his character traits. We’re working around that. We’re trying to get aspects of it in there as much as possible. We’ll see.”
However, Marshall went on to claim that matching the graphic violence of the comic will not be an issue, as NBC is the home of Hannibal.
“Hannibal is on NBC, and that’s pretty dark and disturbing. Whatever the regulations are, you can be as dark and disturbing as you want and we’re going to go in that direction. The intention is to be as dark and scary as possible with the show.”
NBC’s decision seems counter-intuitive. Hannibal is one of the most disturbing shows ever created. Seriously. The show features some of the most graphically violent images ever featured in either film or television (NSFW Screenshots). On the other hand, NBC won’t allow a character to smoke? In fact, Constantine’s tobacco addiction has a clear anti-smoking message. As a result of his habit, he contracts lung cancer, and has to go to morally ambiguous lengths to save his own life.
First and foremost, NBC should be applauded for allowing such creative freedom when it comes to the violence in these series. They took a nod from FX and AMC, whose shows American Horror Story and The Walking Dead respectfully have garnered both fan-boy adoration and critical acclaim. Both of these aforementioned shows have pushed the boundaries on the level of acceptable gore on television, and in turn paved the way for horror adaptations like NBC’s Hannibal and Constantine.
Second, it is understandable that NBC does not want to endorse smoking. No major studio, or company for that matter, would want to openly endorse such an unhealthy habit. However, is a cigarette wielding protagonist really worse then the graphic cannibalism on display in Hannibal? Such a decision speaks volumes about the cultural tolerance of what we are willing to accept in our entertainment. In fact, as odd as it may seem, it may actually evidence a huge societal progression when it comes to the horror genre. Once again, hear me out.
Horror has had its detractors since the genre’s inception, and every film that pushes the acceptable level of gore and violence historically sparks controversy. From Night of The Living Dead to Saw, horror films are immediately condemned for their supposedly corrupting nature. Such movies have been blamed for violent outbursts, such as the Columbine shootings, and the recent Aurora Theater Massacre.
However, there really aren’t any more “extremes” left any more. Levels of gore that would have sparked protests from Protestant soccer moms just a few decades ago, are now seen nightly on network television. It seems that the world has accepted the rationale that horror enthusiasts have always used to defend this type of content: “movies are not real, and as intelligent consumers, our upstanding of their fictional nature prevents any sort of corrupting effect.” Do you know what is real? Smoking. Do you know what does present a real danger to society? Smoking.
While you will never get me to support the depiction of John Constantine without a cigarette in his mouth, I support the reasoning behind NBC’s decision. I will take creative freedom when it comes to the depiction of violence over strict canon adherence any day of the week.