At the Cannes film festival American actor Sean Penn lit up a cigarette despite France’s prohibition on smoking inside a building where the public congregates.
Ho hum. While we are always happy when anyone openly defies a law that prohibits smoking we’re less than thrilled by Sean Penn’s rather anemic show of rebellion. He performed the same stunt at a film festival in Canada several years ago and the outrage from anti-tobacco was very gratifying indeed. Last year, however, at the same Canadian event Penn scrupulously obeyed the smoking ban. It appears that the film festival planners had admonished him most strongly not to smoke where it is forbidden.

Good manners to one’s hosts is one thing while acquiescence to tyranny is another. Wishy-washy rebellion deserves boos. Sean Penn’s occasional mute displays are enough to reveal his disgust with fascistic antitobacco, so then, why has he not spoken out plainly? His reticence is surely not due to any intrinsic bashfulness about expressing himself in public. Mister Penn’s politics are of the highly "progressive" brand. That is no secret. He is in fact annoyingly voluble in expressing leftist positions to any reporter or available audience. These most often hang onto his every word. Instead of railing against politicians he detests, and advocating actions such as impeaching the president and vice-president, which will never, ever happen, he could be providing a valuable service by denouncing the imposition of a minority’s morality upon those who enjoy a smoke and upon those who welcome smokers onto their own property.

Sean Penn is a nullity on the political stage but could be a positive force on the issue of personal freedom and individual rights if he so chose. In California, where he resides, he could ignore that state’s smoking ban law, with impunity for himself and the locations where he smoked. The penalties imposed for breaking the law are generally negligible anyway, but for the august Sean Penn, it’s most unlikely they would ever be imposed. Screen icons benefit from a wide and general dispensation in star-dazzled California. Yet Penn remains namby-pamby in defense of personal liberty. He doesn’t do much and says nothing on the issue. Instead he continues wasting valuable media coverage by flogging the soon-to-be irrelevant Bush administration, while in general displaying merely irritated acquiescence to the forces of brute intolerance that are behind the smoking bans. He should exchange personal irritation for righteous rage. He could, if he pleased, trade his role as a poseur for that of the provocateur. This we would applaud.



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