Burn Notice is (was?, sniff…wait…there is always Netflix or similar options…IS) an action-packed television series centered around Michael Westen, a former spy. Westen was burned by his former employer, the CIA, and dumped in Miami, Florida. The show features his pursuit of personal justice (revenge?) and helping a variety of colorful characters with dilemmas especially suited for Westen’s spy skills and training. Westen is supported by Fiona (his girlfriend and ex-IRA operative), Sam (a former Navy SEAL), Jesse (a former counter-intelligence agent) and Madeline (his mom).
I enjoyed this series because it is high quality all the way around. The acting, action, plot twists and dialogue are all great. My “tell” for a great action-oriented show is that I feel the tension of each episode’s dilemma, though I KNOW that the main characters have to survive for the show to continue. Most of these episodes caught me this way.
Now, for the burn topics.
Take one: Westen was burned by the CIA, which is part of the underlying premise of the show. His initial focus is to figure out why he was forced to leave the CIA on very bad terms.
Take two: Westen’s girlfriend, Fiona, loves to blow things up, as in with explosives. She is good at it, and, she should be, because she gets a chance to do so often.
Take three and the version connected to a REAL health issue: Westen’s mother is a chain-smoker.
I know that showing a character smoking a cigarette is shorthand for a specific vibe, and in this case, it matches…pun intended… Sharon Gless’ (the actress who plays Madeline) voice, which has a gritty quality, and the fact that Gless smoked cigarettes until she recently quit. I also know that as a smoker, Madeline represents the estimated 43.8 million adults in the U.S. who smoke cigarettes, which is about 19% of all adults in the U.S (CDC).
Still, every time I saw her smoke on the show, I was distracted. Evidently, other fans were, too. Some fans expressed outrage that smoking was featured on the show (e.g., The Definitive Smoking in “Burn Notice” Thread in USA Network Forums).
After all, credible studies link depictions of smoking on television (and other media) to smoking rates, especially among youth (2012 Surgeon General Report: Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults).) And, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for 440,000 or one of very five deaths in the U.S. every year (CDC). Some fans see no justification for entertainment content that might encourage someone, especially a young person, to start or keep smoking.
Other fans are not bothered by Madeline’s smoking scenes, in part, because the show’s writers and producers did not really glorify smoking. For examples, they showed Madeline smoking mostly when she was worried or nervous; Michael and his friends openly expressed their distaste for it; Michael asked her to stop doing it; And, the vast majority of the show’s scenes did not include it. Finally, Burn Notice is aimed at a prime time audience largely comprised of adults who can make their own decisions about smoking.
Whether you were bothered or distracted by Madeline’s smoking habits on screen, by the final season of the show, she had stopped…SPOILER ALERT….for a very good reason: to take care of her grandson. That typed, her smoking almost steals the show in the end. (Wow, right?!)…END SPOILER
‘Burn Notice’ Series Finale: Sharon Gless on Madeline’s Farewell, by Terri Schwartz
Today’s Top 10 Tuesday was prompted by cigarette smoking’s place as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. (as mentioned above) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 plan to extend their Tips from Former Smokers national ad campaign, which was launched in 2012. (Yes, I am a bit “tardy for this party.”)
The CDC’s 2013 Tips campaign included ads, like the two below, the first of which I have seen on TV several times. This successful public health campaign’s website includes more details about the campaign and links to resources to help smokers and their families.