Joe Eszterhas is a powerful Hollywood screenwriter. He has written 14 films, his most famous being “Basic Instinct,” which made Sharon Stone a star. The film revolved around two women, both at least bi-sexual, who were crazy and/or cold-blooded ice-pick wielding killers. Surprisingly, this Hollywood powerhouse has written an opinion piece for the New York Times confessing his guilt about the content of his films.
Of what exactly has he finally realized his culpability? His portrayal of Sharon Stone as a psychotic lesbian ice-picktress? Or Stone as a stalked victim-to-be in “Sliver”? Or Linda Fiorentino as psycho-whore-maybe killer in “Jade”? Nope — he’s upset he glamorized smoking. That’s right. Why? Eszterhas has been diagnosed with throat cancer, has lost most of his larynx, and has difficulty speaking after years of what he termed being a “militant” smoker.
While anyone getting cancer is a tragedy, and he deserves the best of luck in his recovery, Eszterhas’ personal hypocrisy is truly stunning and worthy of criticism. Yes, it’s good he finally recognizes that glamorizing smoking can influence people, but what about glamorizing violence? Perhaps I’ve been living on a planet different from Eszterhas’ but the fact that smoking causes cancer has been known for decades. As has film’s impact in general on an audience’s social attitudes and mores. This is where the real danger of his movies comes to light. Choosing to smoke is ultimately a direct personal decision. The impact on attitudes, however, especially about women, is much more sinister and insidious problem.
What are the common themes in his films from the 1990’s? Like “Basic Instinct,” “Jade,” “Showgirls,” and “Sliver,” alternately sexualized violence against women (and men!), glamorized murder, portrayed women as whores who were not to be trusted and declared in image and word that violence against women is erotic, understandable and inevitable. After all, if you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you first! This sick contribution to our popular culture demeans both women and men, and has made Eszterhas, and other associated with his films, very rich and famous.
Considering the fact that three women are killed every day in this country by a husband boyfriend or acquaintance (and that comes from the FBI and coroner statistics, not from a feminist think tank), and women have also been known to kill the men in their lives, this is quite the creative legacy for Eszterhas and others of his ilk.
But now, after years of making movies that contribute to the woman-as-evil syndrome, Eszterhas has seen the light and declared that his films have actually influenced people (whadya know!), comparing the Hollywood film industry to an advertising agency that affects what people think and do. “My hands are bloody,” he wrote and vowed “I want to do everything I can to undo the damage I have done with my own big-screen words and images.” But apparently only about smoking.
Eszterhas made a choice to come out in a big way to declare his war on one of the less insidious parts of his films because he personally has been afflicted by the Big C. Just like my feminist establishment mentor (one of the last women in that bastion who had integrity and class), who smoked and died a lingering death due to lymphoma and lung cancer; and like many members of my family, who also smoked and are now dead either due to emphysema or cancer.
My mother was a chain smoker. I don’t smoke. I decided against it. It was that simple. It took a thing called a “decision.” Images encouraging and glamorizing smoking are indeed a problem and with those images it may also take some willpower, but some of us take personal responsibility and choose to not smoke.
Eszterhas demands in his piece that smoking should be as illegal as heroin. That’s just silly. What’s really at issue here is what can’t be made illegal — Eszterhas and his colleagues making ugly personal and professional decisions that have repercussions. Like the eroticization of violence and yes, smoking. Our culture suffers for it, and now he does, too. Everyone loses because of a moral compass that was lost long ago by the Left Elite in the entertainment business for whom personal responsibility and common decency are so foreign they’ve been completely forgotten. Until, of course, the resulting rot imposes itself on them.
I’m not sure how much Eszterhas’ belated brainstorm will help all the people he’s now so concerned with. His films are still out there, and with video and DVD, will always be seen, yes, with their slaughtered human beings and smoking superstars. The saddest commentary is that we do not expect or demand common sense and decency from these people while they are in charge of our increasingly morally relativistic culture. It seems to only happen, like with Eszterhas, when something happens to them. Personally. As cultural gatekeepers their responsibility is larger than that, and it’s time we remind them so.
Eszterhas said in his op-ed that he has made a deal with God and has pledged to try to “stop others from committing the same crimes I did.” I applaud that as I’m sure you do. If he really is committed to doing the right thing he needs to get going and make a list of all that his films glamorize—including murder, violence against women, indecency, stalking, lying, cheating, prostitution, marital infidelity and, oh yes, smoking. It is time for him, and the rest of the Cultural Elite, to look beyond themselves for once.