The Glutton

Smoke Screening

Dalton Ross on the censoring of ''Tom and Jerry'': EW's senior editor wonders about the repercussions of cutting scenes from old material. Plus: his ''Office'' obsession, and more on the TV-vs.-movies debate

PUFFED UP Scenes like this are being cut from old episodes of Tom and Jerry
Image credit: Tom and Jerry: Everett Collection
PUFFED UP Scenes like this are being cut from old episodes of Tom and Jerry

Dalton Ross on the censoring of ''Tom and Jerry''

Where there's smoke, there's ire, and both have been coming out of England lately, courtesy of that mischievous cat-and-mouse team Tom and Jerry. It seems British media regulator Ofcom (which honestly sounds more like the name of some lame Internet start-up) has decided to censor certain episodes of the 1960s cartoon after a viewer complained about smoking in two episodes.

In one episode, titled ''Texas Tom,'' Tom the cat tries to show off to a female feline by rolling, lighting, and smoking a cigarette with one hand, which, truth be told, does sound pretty impressive, especially for a cat. In the other, ''Tennis Chumps,'' Tom's opponent puffs on an oversize stogie. As a result of the complaint, Turner Broadcasting (which licenses the show) has — according to Ofcom — ''proposed editing any scenes or references in the series where smoking appeared to be condoned, acceptable, glamorized, or when it might encourage imitation.'' But it doesn't stop there: Smoking scenes will also be deleted out of shows like The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo. (No word yet on whether Scooby Snacks will be affected.)

There are a few issues at play here. The first: If you're gonna be concerned about editing Tom and Jerry cartoons to eliminate any possible bad influences that could possibly be mimicked by young children, shouldn't you...oh, I don't know, start with the all the scenes where the animals bludgeon each other? I mean, smoking is terrible and all, but I sort of have a feeling I'd rather come home one day from work and catch my son lighting up a cigarette than see him sawing his little sister in half. Maybe that's just me.

That's not to say I condone smoking. In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more passionate anti-smoking advocate than yours truly. I basically think the act of selling and smoking cigarettes should be completely illegal, seeing as it, you know, kills people. And, as a father, I am very sensitive to anything that might promote smoking to young children (especially in light of the whole Joe Camel thing, where a character was basically created to get kids hooked on cancer sticks). Still, I think you run into problems when you start tinkering with old shows and movies to make them more politically correct.

While I certainly hesitate to define a cartoon about a cat and mouse chasing each other around with waffle irons as ''art,'' the fact remains that it is a product of its time and its environment, and should be protected as such. Parents who complain about the objectionable content should probably wise up to the fact that their kid shouldn't even be watching it in the first place. We've evolved, and our standards of conduct have evolved too. Tom and Jerry is no longer a show for the kindergarten set, and parents who haven't figured that out have nobody to blame but themselves for not paying close enough attention.

This also raises a question: When you start going back and editing past works for content, where do you draw the line? D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation is a landmark film in American cinema. It's also racist as hell. Do we sweep it under the rug or examine it as a historical document? Last fall, Sony released the complete 1943 Batman serial collection on DVD. It's quite remarkable, actually. Remarkable in that there is no Batmobile, so the Caped Crusader just drives around in a regular car, but even more remarkable in that the entire thing is rooted in World War II patriotism run amok. The Japanese villain, Dr. Daka (played, incidentally, by an Irish guy, J. Carrol Naish), promises to use his ray gun and zombies to ''destroy the democratic forces of evil in the United States to make way for the new order.'' References are also made to internment camps and how our ''wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs.'' Hearing dialogue like ''I'm not afraid of him or any other squint-eye'' is certainly shocking and reprehensible in 2006, but that was the unfortunate attitude in 1943. Should we sanitize it and pretend it didn't exist? Personally, I think Sony made the right call in distributing the episodes ''as is'' instead of going all George Lucas/Steven Spielberg on us and continuing to modernize and tinker with everything long after the original release dates. And I think parents should put the onus on themselves to monitor what their children are watching, instead of blaming a cartoon that was drawn 40 years ago.

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OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

I can't tell you how skeptical I was when I first heard that NBC was going to attempt to Americanize The Office, especially after what they did to Coupling, which wasn't even a very good show to begin with. But it was immediately clear that they got this one right. While I would not go so far as to call it better than the original British version (as some have dared to), I would say it's the funniest show on TV right now. So imagine my glee when I received a copy of the season 2 DVD set this morning in the mail. It has not only the entire second season, but also deleted scenes, bloopers, commentary tracks, and all those hilarious PSA's and webisodes that appeared online. For any of you coming late to this game, I implore you to pick it up when it hits stores on Sept. 12. That way you'll be primed and ready for season 3, starting Sept. 21. (By the way, in case you were wondering what else I received in the mail today, I got a copy of Fox's new Brad Garrett comedy, 'Til Death — so, you see, it's not all good stuff.

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THE LIST

Reader Caryn Rybarsyk was pretty impressed at the way I publicly shamed Stephen King into coming into the office to hang out with his coworkers, and wants to know who else I would love to stop by EW for some warm cans of soda and baby carrots. My pleasure, Caryn. Here are the Top 5 Celebrities I Want to Come Hang Out at EW:

1) Iggy Pop
My rock & roll idol. Plus, I figure anyone who used to take off all his clothes, cover himself in peanut butter, and start running around like a maniac must have some interesting stories to tell.

2) Martin Scorsese
The man's passion for and knowledge of his craft is mesmerizing. I could listen to him talk for hours... which would potentially happen, because he seems pretty damn chatty.

3) Halle Berry
What can I say? I'm a guy.

4) Prince
Wow, Iggy Pop and then Prince — I must have something for undersize musicians. In any event, this might not be so great, because he never seems to have a whole lot to say, and even when he does talk, I don't really understand much — but the Purple One has always intrigued me. Plus, I might be able to get him to finally put Apollonia 6 back together.

5) Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal...together!
Okay, I'm cheating a bit here, but how cool would it be to get them both in a room together, lock the door, and then start talking a little smack? (''Uh, Steven, Jean-Claude told me your ponytail makes you look like an idiot. Do you agree with that assessment?'') I could retire after charging $100 a head just to watch these aging 1990s action stars duke it out.

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READER MAIL

You know, I thought I would stir up a bit of controversy with my article last week on why TV is head and shoulders better than the movies. I thought wrong. Only one letter — one! — came in disputing my claim (''Thirteen thousand channels, and you list five shows and say TV is not a wasteland? What are you talking about?'' asks Jeff Fisher). Which leads me to the conclusion that you, dear readers, are pretty damn smart after all. Readers like, say... Ken Haller!

I so agree with you about TV vs. movies. What TV does that movies, even the best of them, can't do is follow characters over time, watch them grow, evolve, even devolve sometimes (e.g., Willow on Buffy). Being able to be part of this over a period of months or years can't be replicated in a two- (or even three-) hour film. My biggest problem now regarding TV is how many shows I want to watch that I don't have time for. I'm sure Rescue Me and The Shield are great, but my TiVo's booked solid. I can't remember the last time I watched a movie on HBO or Showtime, because I've got too many episodes of Deadwood, Brotherhood, Entourage, and Weeds to get through, not to mention Reno 911!, Life on Mars, Little Britain, et. al. — Ken Haller

Excellent point, Ken. Of course, that's the big challenge of TV as well — keeping characters fresh year after year. We saw how quickly Desperate Housewives bottomed out creatively in its second season. That's what makes long-running shows like The Sopranos and The Shield even more remarkable.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for standing up for us TV guys! My friends are all movie fanatics, and while I admit Little Miss Sunshine made me laugh out loud this summer, it can't compare to the weekly cliff-hanging thrills I get watching great summer TV like The 4400, whose recent Jordan-returns-from-the-dead-and-stops-Shawn's-wedding development had me gasping and screaming at the TV. There's not much at the movies that elicits such a response. And Lost and Veronica Mars haven't even begun their new seasons yet. I agree, there's crap on TV, too, and not every great project soars (RIP, Book of Daniel), but I'm with you—I'd rather be on the couch with a remote than in a theater with a bucket of popcorn! —Kevin Sullivan

See, Kevin, that's what I'm talking about. There are still solid movies being made, but how many of them are people really passionate about? You may go to a film and laugh or enjoy a ridiculous CG-enhanced car chase, but there is rarely anything that truly inspires debate, discussion, and just general delight at the prospect of seeing more. And as good as Litte Miss Sunshine may be, would you rather watch Steve Carell in that or The Office?

I'm not so sure about Tucker Carlson and the bow tie on Dancing With the Stars. If it could be combined with sequins and a deep V-neck showing chest hair or lack thereof, I think we'd have something to see. Spandex pants, too. In fuchsia. Yes, I can see it now. If Jon Stewart could be on hand for color commentary, that would be a must-see. —Sue Morgan

Look, I have absolutely no doubt that Tucker Carlson is going to find a way to embarrass himself on an Evander Holyfield-type level once this thing starts. Of course, as a lifelong Redskins fan, it is Emmitt Smith I am rooting for to get the first boot.

Nice list of scary Goth bands, Dalton. I would ask for special consideration for Alien Sex Fiend, mainly because they are called Alien Sex Fiend and they sang songs like ''Rocket to Uranus'' while weighing 40 lbs. (20 lbs. of which was black eyeliner). —Bryan Petersen

The importance of black eyeliner cannot be underestimated for any Goth band, or, for that matter, people like American Idol's Chris Daughtry or Rock Star's Ryan Star, who have been known to flirt with the dark side. And, as someone who currently hovers around 140 pounds, I certainly have a fine appreciation for the emaciated look. Junkie chic, I believe they call it (or, as in my case, when you'd rather just talk smack than shoot it — ''weakling chic'').

My favorite Atari game was Yars' Revenge. That's the game where you were the ship that had to blast through the bad ship's shield while dodging the bad ship's bullets. In the lower levels there was a pixilated zone that you could fly in and the bad bullets couldn't hurt you. I don't care to think about how many hours I spent mastering that game. —Kelly Swails

Not as many as I did, Kelly Swails! Yars' Revenge was easily my favorite Atari 2600 game, even though it was repetitive, and truth be told, pretty damn easy. Come to think of it, maybe that's why I liked it so much. A few years back I found a Yars' Revenge read-along record and book set. It tells the whole story behind the game, and frankly makes little to no sense. But I don't care. As long as I am successfully dodging that wacky multicolored cannonball swirl, it's all good in the 'hood.

Where do you stand on the whole cartoon censorship situation? What's better: the U.K. or U.S. version of The Office? And does black eyeliner ever go out of style? Let me know your thoughts by sending your questions, quibbles, and comments to theglutton@ew.com. Or just fill out the handy-dandy e-mail form below...but you know that by now. I'll be off next week but back on Sept. 6 with a look at the upcoming fall TV season and much more. C ya!

Originally posted Aug 22, 2006
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