A Trigger Warning About A Trigger Warning: Audiences Should Walk Out Of The Movie Theater When This Appears

This is not a joke. This is not The Onion. This is real. And frightening.

At the beginning of “Darkest Hour,” the new film about the wartime heroism and brilliance of  Winston Churchill, this warning appears on the screen:

“The depictions of tobacco smoking contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration and are not intended to promote tobacco consumption. The surgeon general has determined that there are serious health risks associated with smoking and with secondhand smoke.”

Winston Churchill, you see, smoked cigars. Actually he chain-smoked them, and inhaled. They were among his trademarks. Any adult who doesn’t know that should not have graduated from high school. Interestingly, shooting and bombing people are also serious health risks, so I don’t know why it wasn’t noted that the depictions of warfare contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration.”

Whatever “based solely on artistic consideration” is supposed to mean…

Of course, showing Churchill smoking cigars is not an “artistic consideration,” but one of historical accuracy and integrity. Does this mean that there was really a debate in the studio about whether or not Churchill should be shown smoking, so as not to trigger good little progressive totalitarians, who believe in changing the past for the greater good of the present? I wonder if they considered making Winston, who was fat, appear slim and ripped, since the surgeon general has determined that there are serious health risks associated with obesity and over-eating. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, if they felt that showing people smoking in the 1930s, when almost everyone smoked,  might be interpreted as promoting smoking today.  Churchill also drank like Bluto in “Animal House.” Why no warning about that? Uh-oh—does this mean that the film, for artistic considerations, only shows Winston sipping soda water and prune juice?

That warning says to me, “We, your Hollywood moral exemplars, think you are an ignorant, illiterate  dummy who can’t tell the difference between a historical drama and a tobacco commercial. We also support the government’s belief that it should impose on every aspect of your life, including your entertainment, to protect you from yourself.”

This is an insult to the audience, history, and Winston Churchill, who, it should be noted, lived to the ripe old age of 90 while chain-smoking huge cigars and drinking, by his own estimate, at least a quart of wine, whisky and brandy a day, and often more.

The only way to nip this insidious development is for audiences to stand up and walk out in protest. I am completely serious. The warning shows such disrespect, such arrogance, such utter stupidity and warped priorities, that the film and its producers should suffer for it.

I am not certain which is more troubling, that the progressive movement has metastasized into such a fanatic, obsessed, warped cult that it could slap this idiocy on a movie and not expect roaring laughter in response, or that so many Americans, especially young ones, have been so indoctrinated into the cult that they won’t realize that the warning is ridiculous.


Now a brief salute to Professor Turley, who flagged this nonsense. In addition to writing an interesting blog with a lot of ethics content, he also labors on it by himself, as I do here, and like me, types terribly. The headline for his story about the Churchill movie reads (as I write this), Churchill Biopic Features Warning Against Second Hard Smoke.

The post has several more typos, syntax and punctuation errors before the jump, and unlike me, the professor does not have Pennagain and other helpful Ethics Alarms readers calling his attention to the errors so he can fix them, at least not quickly.

Professor Turley’s proofreading problems have more than once saved me from the depths of despair when I was embarrassed by my own errors. It doesn’t make typos any more excusable or less unprofessional in a serious blog. It does remind me that to err is human, and to err while blogging daily in short breaks between more lucrative or essential tasks isn’t a flaw unique to me. This is small solace, but solace it is. Thank you, Professor.

I like solace.

85 thoughts on “A Trigger Warning About A Trigger Warning: Audiences Should Walk Out Of The Movie Theater When This Appears

  1. So the the move producers thought they needed some kind of disclaimer because they feared some kind of class action lawsuit from parents in the audience who are going to sue them because their minor children are going to be whispering among themselves something like, “Winston Churchill smoked cigars; dang, I gotta get me some of that!” and walk out the door, pick up some cigars, and be addicted.

    The producers thought they needed a disclaimer because they’re fucking idiots and they think their audiences are just a fucking stupid as they are.

    If this movie is made for stupid people then I have no interest in seeing it.

      • “-Me thinks Zoltar can Speak better than he can type.”

        How would we know? 😉

        I am concerned about being judged by how I express myself in my worst keyboarding debacle ever, rather than on how I express myself in person…

  2. I just thought of something…when actors smoke on-screen, are those usually real cigarettes/cigars/pipes, or do they use fake cigs that let you blow out but not inhale?

      • I don’t know if they’re using cloves in US films. Cloves are now illegal in the US. In 2009, Obama signed a law that outlawed the sale of “flavored” cigarettes other than menthol in the US, with the idea that they were appealing to kids. It was really just a protectionist law – clove cigarettes mostly come from Indonesia, IIRC.

        • Well, I have smoked something non-tobacco that was purchased through no extraordinary efforts. I was under the impression “clove” meant “non-tobacco”; although my lifetime non-tobacco cigarette is less than 1, so I have no idea.

  3. Compared to the how pot is portrayed in movies (favorably), the disclaimer is at least internally consistent.

    They have no qualms about promoting pot use by having admired stars openly smoke, even if Seth Rogen is turning into an even bigger blathering idiot is somehow a positive portrayal.

    Having the one of the great civilian leaders of the twentieth-century openly smoke on screen, while the actor delivers a highlight reel of his character’s greatest quotes, cannot help but make smoking look positive.

    So the producers find themselves in a bind, how to reconcile:
    * Pot and idiocy = good
    * Tobacco and saving the free world = bad

    So, the producers (possibly under the influence of former) come up with the disclaimer above, so that they do not have to confront their sins against public health. An brain damaging precedent produces produces an infantalizing result to their dilemma (but hey, they had no choice!).

  4. I clicked on this thinking you were talking about the absurdity of trigger warnings only to discover you’ve redirected your anger to something that doesn’t deserve any condemnation at all.

    It’s really not that big of a deal on any ethical level (which is what you’re blog is supposed to be about?). I think this has more to do with the fact that you originally wrote about ethics and now you just want to shove it to the PC culture. I’m not a huge fan of PC culture either, for the record, but I think it’s a nice reminder that we should be mindful of tobacco’s harms.

    It sounds like you’re condoning the many unethical practices of the tobacco industry solely because condemning PC culture is more important.

    • I see. You didn’t understand the post.
      If, as I understood it, the warning was at the beginning of the film, then it was a trigger warning, If at the end, it is an insult to every viewer’s intelligence. Insults are uncivil and unethical. It also was naked presentism, implicitly criticizing the conduct of someone in the 30’s and 40’s by using current standards.

      It is also using a historical drama to push governement effort to control individual choice, which is artistically offensive to the film and its subject. The ethical value is integrity and, again, respect.

      Here, maybe you missed this part: “We, your Hollywood moral exemplars, think you are an ignorant, illiterate dummy who can’t tell the difference between a historical drama and a tobacco commercial. We also support the government’s belief that it should impose on every aspect of your life, including your entertainment, to protect you from yourself.”

      • I disagree on three points:
        1 you make a point of how you doing like insults but that’s what we’re debating, only you choose to read it as insulting. I would make the same point to liberals who choose to be insulted by cultural appropriation
        2 it’s ethically permissible to criticise a historical figure, that’s the point of biopics. If you don’t like the films depiction of a film that’s called controversial art at worst (assuming other people agree with you) but not irresponsible art. But, without having seen the movie, I would still guess that it’s likely a positive portrayal of the man
        3 education is something the media is allowed to do. Putting a fact out into the ether is different than imposing a belief system. You might call out clunky from an aesthetic standpoint, but, first, the filmmakers have a right to fine tune their message however they want, a2nd secondly,
        you still never answered whether the tobacco company is morally responsible. I think because the film is not responsible for giving tens it’d thousands of people lung cancer each year, it certainly has the high ground

  5. I’ve been seeing warnings similar to that (perhaps with different wording) during the closing credits of films for a long time. (Another source indicates that the Darkest Hour message was also at the end.) What the studio means by “artistic considerations” is that they did not accept money for product placement advertising for tobacco products, as they do for other things. They’re saying the character of Winston Churchill is depicted as smoking because he did, not because it makes them money to do so. Tobacco companies themselves agreed not to do product placements when they settled their lawsuits a couple of decades ago, so this might even be some sort of bizarre legal thing, so no one accuses the studios of illegally advertising tobacco products or sues them for promoting smoking or something. In any case, it wasn’t just for this movie.

  6. There was a statement added in the credits of the Richard Donner cut of Superman 2, where he mentioned how the culture surrounding smoking had changed, and that he no longer stood by the way smoking was treated in this movie.

    I’m OK with THIS caveat for two reasons.

    1. It reflects a change of attitude by a filmmaker over a long period of time.
    2. It’s at the END of the movie, during the credits, where stuff like “all the opinions are of this person, etc.” are far more tolerable.

    I also rankle at the movies that must say, up front, that they are based on a true story, but that’s a personal preference.

    But then again, there are movie theaters where there are signs that explain that the sound dropping out in a dramatic moment in the new Star Wars is, in fact, intentional and not the result of faulty sound equipment.

    • All movies are of their time, and important markers of our culture for that reason. Directors should resist the impulse to reframe older works. Again, it’s unfair to the work itself, and us. Do we really need to hear a Quentin Tarentino who’s found God telling us at the start of “Pulp Fiction” that he no longer approves of violence?

  7. Trigger warning in Chaucer???

    Up front: I’m inspired to ask this because I listen to an excellent podcast (among many excellent ones I listen to) about the English Language. For full credit, you can find its website here: https://historyofenglishpodcast.com/ . It’s fascinating, start from the beginning.

    But the most recent episode highlights a line in the Miller’s Tale that sounds like a “trigger warning”, in middle english it essentially provides full disclosure that the following storyline contains extreme vulgarity.

    Here’s an excerpt of the Miller’s Tale, provided by an interlinear translation found here:


    I’ve deleted out the Middle English portion to provide the current verbiage.

    What more should I say, but this Miller
    He would not refrain from speaking for any man,
    But told his churl’s tale in his manner.
    I regret that I must repeat it here.
    And therefore every respectable person I pray,
    For God’s love, think not that I speak
    Out of evil intention, but because I must repeat
    All their tales, be they better or worse,
    Or else (I must) falsify some of my material.
    And therefore, whoever does not want to hear it,
    Turn over the leaf and choose another tale;

    Has Chaucer provided a trigger warning to readers sensitive to foul language and vulgar story???

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