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“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.”

Much has been said about the alleged fragility of this generation of millennials because of the so-called cancel culture — the erasing by those self-anointed as more enlightened of things deemed offensive such as the disarming of Elmer Fudd — and I think I have found the smoking gun.

More on it in a bit.

When I was a child, the “sticks and stones” adage, which first appeared in The Christian Recorder in 1872, was the go-to comeback should an insult be hurled in your direction on the playground. Yes, during those days we left the house. We also used the more versatile insult, “Oh yea, well your mama (insert your own clever barb),” which allowed for more of a personal touch.

These days I believe the offended skateboards home to mom and dad, advises them of the insult and the damage done, probably having been scarred for life, is awarded victimhood status and the lawyers get busy.

So times are different.

I was reminded of this just recently when I was watching a movie on Netflix and in advance of the launch of the movie the viewers were warned of content that might be deemed offensive. We have all seen them, and for this movie there was violence, not to be confused with graphic violence, language, strong sexual content as well as nudity.

I have always considered strong sexual content and nudity more of a promise than a warning. If I am considering two movies equally, then nudity and strong sexual content can be used as a tiebreaker with the movie that contains it getting the nod.

The warning on language seems superfluous as our nation has grown numb to curse words, and George Carlin’s seven dirty words you couldn’t say on TV are now routinely said on TV.

But I do get the need for those warnings.

What I don’t get is the smoking gun, pun intended, that was among the warnings for this Netflix movie, which contained, drum roll please, smoking. Yep, people could be seen smoking in the movie, and some Karen somewhere had decided this was worthy of a warning.

Now I am not a scientist, but I know that carcinogen-laced smoke cannot travel through the atmosphere and then seep from the television set to invade the living room, so all I could figure is that it had been decided that someone watching others smoke would be more likely to smoke. As we all know, smoking is unhealthy, for the smoker and those not social distancing.

A couple of thoughts. When I pledged the PIKA house at UNC in the fall of 1975, thus ending any chance of a stellar academic career, I would guess that 95% of the brothers smoked cigarettes. But I never lit up with them, the proof being I don’t smoke as a 63-year-old. Unfortunately, few things that bring me pleasure have I quit in life.

The other thought is that I am not so easily swayed by the actions of a fictitious movie character. As an example, I watched “Silence of the Lambs” and I have never developed a taste for liver, beef or human.

Now the graphic violence warning I have always appreciated, and it is the reason a lot of movies others have seen I have not. “Silence of the Lambs” somehow is an exception although I watched it with my dominant eye mostly closed.

This aversion took root in 1964, when I was 6 or 7, depending on the month, and my family was visiting my father’s parents in Greensboro, their home being within walking distance of Friendly shopping center. My younger sister Terryn and I crossed busy Friendly Avenue on our own to take in a movie at the shopping center, probably “Bambi” or something similar from that genre.

In advance of the movie and during Coming Attractions, trailers for a just-released horror flick titled “Thousand Maniacs” came on, and before I could escape the theater for some popcorn and a Pepsi, I saw a woman’s tongue cut out, a woman’s heart cut out, and the amputation of an arm with an ax.

Terryn giggled through it while I was traumatized. I had graduated college before I would stay seated in a movie theater for Coming Attractions.

True story. Fact check the movie. It became a cult classic, one that I have not watched and won’t absent a gun to my temple.

Sometime between then and now it was decided that it was not wise to show the preview of horror flicks at Disney movies, and I had nothing to do with that. But it makes sense to me, and perhaps sometime in the future a more enlightened society will look back and see that warning others that they might see someone smoking in a movie was a good thing.

But I doubt it.

So it’s clear to me that my generation was tougher than these millennials and not so easily offended or traumatized. With some exceptions, such as me. I was clearly born before my time.

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