Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tim Blair, Political Correctness, Suicide, and Thanks for Smoking

(Above: Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo celebrating the joys of smoking in oils. You can find more of his work here. His portrait work doesn't just include cigarettes, but also - gasp - pipes, and I'm told these images are more exciting to smokers than images of naked women, perhaps because of the alleged deleterious effect of smoking on sexual desire. Quickly, before these images are air-brushed from history).

Perversity in the service of stupidity should surely be Tim Blair's family motto. How else to explain the capper to his column Try and pry these smokes away?

Oddly, the same class of social engineers who fret about smoking are also likely to be worried about overpopulation.

This week, South Australian busybody Sandra Kanck - whose surname is but one consonant away from complete accuracy - decided Australia's population needed to be cut to just seven million in order to save us from "environmental suicide".

Well, we're not going to get there if everyone is healthy and reproductive. The alleged deleterious sexual effects caused by smoking should be seen as a positive.

Smoke to save the planet!

Both my grandfathers smoked, though not to save the planet, but because they were addicted in the approved way back in another era. Both died painful, hard deaths from lung cancer, leaving behind non-smoking widows who lived long after them in the sad, solitary way expected in the old days, as they took up a room in the extended family and whiled away the hours.

Being a working class family with many extended levels and bevels, we had many uncles, who smoked and then died of cancer, leaving behind assorted aunts who'd refused to smoke along with them. 

We regularly attended one uncle living nearby, as he lay in his bed, oxygen bottle and mask always to hand, dying a slow, rasping, gasping death as emphysema starved his lungs.

My father, a heavy smoker, also died of emphysema. A man who thought nothing of walking ten miles to work (he never drove a car), in the end was incapable of walking up the three steps at the front of the house. He sat watching television, oxygen to hand, his face sometimes going a mottled blue and splotchy red as his lungs refused to work. Eventually, getting out of bed, and tottering to the television became too hard, and he finished his days in hospital, where they did their best for him by drugging away the pain.

He gave up smoking after urgings from his doctor, and his own awareness his body was about to betray him, but way too late to have any meaningful effect. Of course as children we happily supplied him with packets of fags as Christmas and birthday presents, and endured second hand smoke as part of the joy of living with an addict.

Well I guess he did his bit to save the planet, but I can think of easier, simpler, less painful ways of doing it. Like blowing out your brains, so it's over in an instant.

But is Blair really suggesting suicide, or is he just showing his skill as a recalcitrant, defiant, adolescent boy who persists in plucking wings off flies, no matter what his mother tells him, because it's fun? And it's definitely not politically correct, unlike all the squares who infest the world?

Who knows. His main gripe seems to be that these days smoking is frowned on.

If cigarettes were marketed as "time-delay euthanasia inhalables", they'd be endorsed by the assisted suicide lobby as a medical breakthrough.

Instead, some time between the mid-'80s and mid-'90s, smoking became the new Satanism. Now it's reached the point where Manly Council is airbrushing cigarettes from portraits painted in the mid-40s.

The artist in question, Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, might be a little surprised to discover he has quit smoking some 54 years after dying. In fact, he's become part of a new artistic trend in which cigarettes are being erased from history.

Poor Tim is terribly anxious that the politically correct crowd have digitally excised a cigarette from a portrait of Robert Johnson used on a US postage stamp, and did the same with Bette Davis, and most shocking of all hip existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.

Funny how a right wing commentariat loon can find comfort in a raving left wing socialist commie ratbag philosopher because they share a fondness for living and smoking, except insofar as one activity precludes the other.

Even worse, they took away French director Jacques Tati's pipe, and in the old Soviet Union, lordy lordy, they demanded theatre actors cough if their role involved smoking!

Oh the poor persecuted smokers, who just want to smoke and die in peace.

We're just as bad. Besides the Manly Council debacle, model racing cars can't be sold in Australia if they appear as they did in the '70s and '80s, with cigarette branding. An opportunistic business now exists in after-market cigarette decals.

They'd probably throw you out of the drug injecting room at Kings Cross if you turned up with a little toy Marlboro car.

The place was established so junkies would have somewhere cosy to shoot up heroin (or something described as heroin, sold to them by a filthy scab-armed housebreaker in an alley) but they don't permit smoking.

It's bad for your health.

Well I guess getting heroin this way is not nearly so nice as jolly, kindly big tobacco targeting underage kids with issues of insecurity and esteem as a way of getting them hooked for life. It's such a nice, clean addiction, smoking, and it always ends so well for everybody. Sure kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray, but I've always found ashtrays so bloody erotic, it's hard to restrain myself when I see stubbed out fags and heaps of ash ...

Actually I don't mind if smokers smoke, but I would prefer to see them herded into glass cages, of the kind they have in international airports, to puff away their lives. They might mock filthy scab-armed housebreakers, but their own habit - which they puff in your face as a defiant Joe Camel kind of coolness - is merely irritating anti-social thuggery.

Eventually they will end up the hospital system, costing us all an arm and a leg, and causing distress to health workers forced to deal with the after-effects of their life time of indulgence.

But whatever turns you on. If you want heroin, so be it. Legalizing that form of death wish would be way better than the current war on drugs, and ditto marijuana. But these drugs, along with tobacco (which is just as addictive and pernicious), don't deserve to be glamourized, or given any social status.

That's why the day when smokers are forced to retreat to junkies dens and shooting up galleries and legal injecting rooms in the Cross can't come soon enough for me. After all, they're just another grubby, skanky form of junkie, who should be kept out of the public eye, especially as they get older and skankier, and they find smoking delivers less pleasure, more pain, and a hapless sense of futile addiction.

Meantime, if they get worried about being rubbed out of history, they can watch endless re-runs of the tedious Mad Men, which celebrates smoking endlessly and is currently airing on SBS for people who never experienced the early sixties and weirdly think that it was somehow an interesting time. Or they can pull out any of hundreds of Hollywood film noirs, and imagine they're private dicks who somehow get a bigger penis and score the girl by having a fag (as well as saving the cinematographer's life by giving him whirls of smoke through which to lens the action).

As for the "alleged deleterious sexual effects caused by smoking", if I were a female smoker, I'd be more worried about the way facial skin takes on a hardened, ugly sheen after years of smoking, or the upper lips show off corrugated tracks from sucking on a fag. That's until I started to get worried about the assorted cancers and life ending illnesses produced by an addiction to smoking. In the end, I think you can say quite reasonably that death has an alleged deleterious effect on sexuality.

All of which reminds me of that excellent film Thank You For Smoking, which is far wittier and amusing than Blair, as it tracks the machinations of big tobacco and the efforts of its hero Nick Naylor as he defends the indefensible:

Nick Naylor: the message Hollywood needs to send out is 'Smoking Is Cool!'

Jeff Megall: Sony has a futuristic sci-fi movie they're looking to make.
Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'

BR: People, what is going on out there? I look down this table, all I see are white flags. Our numbers are down all across the board. Teen smoking, our bread and butter, is falling like a shit from heaven! We don't sell Tic Tacs for Christ's sake. We sell cigarettes. And they're cool and available and 'addictive'. The job is almost done for us!

Kid #3: My Mommy says smoking kills.
Nick Naylor: Oh, is your Mommy a doctor?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: A scientific researcher of some kind?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: Well, then she's hardly a credible expert, is she?

Nick Naylor: My point is that you have to think for yourself. If your parents told you that chocolate was dangerous would you take their word for it?
[Children say no]
Nick Naylor: Exactly! So perhaps instead of acting like sheep when it comes to cigarettes you should find out for yourself.

Senator Lothridge: Now as we discussed earlier, these warning labels are not for those who know, but rather for those who don't know. What about the children?
Nick Naylor: Gentleman. It's called education. It doesn't come off the side of a cigarette carton. It comes from our teachers, and more importantly, our parents. It is the job of every parent to warn their children of all the dangers of the world including cigarettes so that one day when they get older, they can choose for themselves.

Senator Dupree: Mr. Naylor, there's no need for theatrics.
Nick Naylor: I'm sorry. I just don't see the point in a warning label for something people already know.
Senator Dupree: The warning symbol is a reminder, a reminder of the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
Nick Naylor: Well, if we want to remind people of danger why don't we slap a skull and crossbones on all Boeing airplanes, Senator Lothridge. And all Fords, Senator Dupree.
Senator Ortolan Finistirre: That is ridiculous. The death toll from airline and automobile accidents doesn't even skim the surface cigarettes. They don't even compare.
Nick Naylor: Oh, this from a Senator who calls Vermont home.
Senator Ortolan Finistirre: I don't follow you, Mr. Naylor.
Nick Naylor: Well, the real demonstrated #1 killer in America is cholesterol. And here comes Senator Finistirre whose fine state is, I regret to say, clogging the nation's arteries with Vermont Cheddar Cheese. If we want to talk numbers, how about the millions of people dying of heart attacks? Perhaps Vermont Cheddar should come with a skull and crossbones.
Senator Ortolan Finistirre: That is lu - . The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!

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