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Thank You For Smoking

I went and saw Thank You for Smoking because I heard that it was a pro-smoking film. It wasn't, but I enjoyed it still.

I am not a smoker, but I've dated a smoker, had friends who smoke, and once smoked an assignment. The student had written along the side of each cigarette a little statement, something like, 'You're Not Dead Yet' and 'Your Addiction is Not Sated', and I smoked it, watching the words disintegrate as I got a fix. My father died from smoking related cancer when I was young, and that has ensured that I've no interest in taking up the habit (my sister, however, has that base covered). And with all this, I can honestly say that I just don't care if people smoke. My complete disinterest in smoking or not smoking even goes as far as my not caring about second hand smoke and if pregnant women light up and puff away for two. The second is simply a matter of personal responsibility: if you want to smoke while your pregnant, your choice, your kid. Plenty of fucked up kids get born each year without the aid of cigarettes. As for second hand smoke, what do I care? If I don't like it, I'll just not go to a pub, bar, whatever. If I'm sitting next to a smoker and it pisses me off, I'll just say, "That's giving me the shits," in the same way I'll tell a friend that the music in his/her car is irritating.

This sort of life philosophy regarding cigarettes is, I feel like adding, one that I carry across to drugs, alcohol and sexuality. I couldn't care less. Everyone's got a right to do as they wish. Therefor, it irritates me when people carry on and on about how cigarettes are bad, and how they should be banned in bars, just as how the negative attitudes to drugs and sexuality also annoy me. I don't actually run into many negative attitudes for alcohol, now that I think about it, but drink, don't drink, what do I care?

So I was up for a film that was pro smoking. I even went with J, who used to work on the Quit Line here in Australia, because... well, I like going to films with people. The fact that he worked on the Quit Line has nothing to do with it. His boyfriend, M, came along too. He used to smoke. That has about as much relevance to this entry as it does everything else I've mentioned so far.

So, the film:

Thank You for Smoking is the story of Nick Taylor, played by Aaron Eckhart, and whose job it is to be public face of Big Tobacco in the States. Basically, it is his job to go out and spin the bad news and make it so that people can buy cigarettes as they please. He has a wife who has remarried, and a son who he can't connect with, and he ends up fucking Katie Holmes, which is just about the list of his problems in the film. Mostly, he spends his time trying to convince people that there is no proof that smoking is bad for you, and that people have a right to go and buy what they want, and make that decision for themselves, which is all well and good.

There isn't much to say about Thank You for Smoking beyond that, however. It's funny, but it doesn't really take the knife out to become a fulfilling satire. It appears to want to attack political correctness, and it appears to want to make a bold statement about how the ability to make a personal choice regarding an instance is important, but it never quite gets there. The problem is that the film gets caught up in its character of Naylor, who, while played with a slick ease by Eckhart, is a rather vacuous individual who, though he smokes, is never seen in the film actually smoking. (It is a curiously smoke free environment within the film, actually--the only confessed smoker we meet is Sam Shepard, the ex-Marlboro Man, who is now dying from lung cancer. He stands head and shoulders above everyone else when we imagine a 'Smoker' and is just one of the things that undermine the film's attempt to present smoking in a positive fashion.) Naylor holds an empty packet of cigarettes, once, which can be read to symbolise the emptiness of his personal life, and perhaps even the emptiness that he holds towards his job, for while he does defend Big Tobacco, there's nothing, outside his rationalisations about freedom of choice, to suggest that what he is doing has any importance for him. He might as well be the spin doctor for the Bush Administration, or the BBC, or me. Defending smoking is just a gig, which is why the end of the film is not surprising.

Director Jason Reitman has put together a slick little film, but the problem is, a few hours after seeing it, you're not left with any real opinion about it. Was it good? Sure. Everything worked in it. Did it do anything interesting? Well, no. It doesn't defend smoking because, as Naylor himself says after an agonising pause in the climax of the film, we all know smoking is bad for us. We all believe that. In the end, the film believes this, and since Reitman neither mounts a defense for smoking in his sunny, white, corporate world, and neither forms an interesting or convincing argument about the importance of individual choice, you're left with a few gags, a few jokes, and what is, in the end, a film with its sentimental heart buried in the relationship that Naylor has with his son.


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Sep. 12th, 2006 04:32 am (UTC)
"Everyone's got a right to do as they wish"

Moderate this to "everyone can do as they wish" perhaps. I don't think a pregnant woman has a "right" to expose her child to an increased risk of a serious medical condition, per se.

In fact I think if you're going to take your current line, many of the more finicky "rights" must be abandoned, because it's the protection of such "rights" that leads to either smoking being banned or alternatively, becoming an activity that is neurotically protected by the law, as gun ownership is in the USA.

I don't usually object to smoke in pubs and bars, but I would object to smoke in other places. It would shite me off in the cinema, for example. In my opinion it should be a decision for each establishment to make, since its smoking / non-smoking character is a key factor in the type of business it attracts.
Sep. 12th, 2006 04:38 am (UTC)
no, i'll keep right.

the problem with rights is everyone has a right to do something that someone else has a right not to have to put up with. it's just a battle for who gets to be right at this present part of time. personally, i'd probably be pissed if people were smoking in cinemas, and i don't like people smoking in the house, for example.

but everyone has the right to make the choice of if they want to smoke or not. how you manage everything after that... well, that's when it all gets difficult. but the right for choice, that's there. that is what i was talking about.
Sep. 12th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
"the problem with rights is everyone has a right to do something that someone else has a right not to have to put up with"

Well, duh. But once one right meets another and a struggle or compromise occurs, what's left is a gray area morally speaking.

So is what you object that people who "carry on and on about how cigarettes are bad, and how they should be banned in bars" ignore the fact that a struggle between their "rights" and those of smokers is taking place? I don't think that's the case either - they know they're setting limits on others - it's just best for them if their rhetoric doesn't acknowledge any claims of the opposition.

Since they've got a "right" to successfully lobby for smoking laws to be changed and all!

Personally, what shites me is the law changing in ways with which I don't agree ;-)
Sep. 12th, 2006 05:27 am (UTC)
actually, what shits me about the smokers, is that i see it as part of a larger campaign to sanitize the world, you know? no one can smoke, no one can do drugs, no one can fuck in the ass. i don't need people carrying on about what is right and what is wrong, y'know?

(i guess maybe i don't think that people against smokers are setting barriers, but rather using 'health' to just stop individuals from smoking. whereas they could use this to, i dunno, stop greenhouse gases, and other things that i see as more important.)

and yeah, i get shitted by all the things i don't agree with :)
Sep. 12th, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)
Smoking seems a doubly grey area to me since unless there is a technology that I have not yet encountered, it is not possible for someone to do it without forcing it down the lungs of someone else next to them.

I feel the same was as benpeek about pretty much every other kind of drug use and would certainly hate to see abnormal sex banned, but I tend to think that someone's right *not* to do something outweighs someone else's right to actually do it-- don't see that as political correctness, but self-defense.
Sep. 12th, 2006 05:46 am (UTC)
As far as secondhand smoke is concerned, my view is that in the short term, it's no worse an inconvenience than listening to someone else's bad music (or idiotic conversation, perhaps ...). In the long term, you have the option of going somewhere else or negotiating with the smoker after expressing your health concerns.

Plenty of people stop going to pubs because they don't like the people, or the ambience, or the music, or the crowdedness. Smoking's another factor like that really. The long term health risks don't enter into the average person's mind.

I feel the only people who have a legitimate claim where secondhand smoke is concerned are those who can't control their personal space - mostly children and people who have jobs they can't realistically leave in a smoky environment.

That said, I'm not much of a smoker (social only, baby, or the occasional drag on the wife's one-rette-per-day), and I don't care at all about the pub smoking ban except in the wider sense benpeek mentions - vague paranoia about nanny states or attempts to sanitise the world. The only similar issue on which I've ever had a strong opinion is enforced use of bicycle helmets. Never liked that one bit.

Where children are concerned, I think different rules apply. For example I don't find myself reacting negatively to the recent suggestion of a ban on fast food advertising during children's television programming.
Sep. 12th, 2006 06:14 am (UTC)
and people who have jobs they can't realistically leave in a smoky environment.

Probably why I have such strong feelings about it. At a point in my life when I really needed the job, I was a waitress in a restaurant that allowed smoking. I was sick nearly constantly. I'd never compare it to ambient noise as a result. I quit as soon as I could find something else, but that was not nearly soon enough.

I actually don't mind it in pubs, myself. I hate it in restaurants because it ruins the taste of the food. And while some smokers are open to negotiation, many are not-- they feel armed by their righteous opposition to political correctness.

Agree with you on bike helmet stuff, also agree on exceptions for children. I don't care what people do to their own fool selves-- smoking is an exception for me because I am forced to participate.
Sep. 12th, 2006 06:21 am (UTC)
Well, yeah, in that case your opinion is fair enough. And I do think that the health concerns of wait staff etc. are a valid argument for venue bans on smoking - I'm just not quite sure whether there isn't some middle ground that could be reached - ban it in some venues, or in some parts of some venues etc.

As I said before, I couldn't handle it in a cinema. Nor restaurant, classical concert, etc. etc. Any immersive experience or anything involving special attention to the senses is going to be ruined by a bunch of people smoking - it's too obtrusive.

"they feel armed by their righteous opposition to political correctness"

I absolutely detest people like that - especially the bullies who think they've got one over you by being that way - the John Elliots of this world.
Sep. 12th, 2006 12:09 pm (UTC)
bike helmuts are for losers :)
Sep. 12th, 2006 04:45 am (UTC)
Is Jason Reitman related to Ivan Reitman?

Cos he was a geeenious.
Sep. 12th, 2006 05:28 am (UTC)
no idea, but i figure it's probably likely.
Sep. 12th, 2006 06:04 am (UTC)
Sep. 12th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC)
Chris Buckley (who wrote the book they based it on) is Love. His "No Way to Treat a First Lady" and "Florence of Arabia" are just awesome satire.
Sep. 12th, 2006 12:03 pm (UTC)
did you see the film?
Sep. 14th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
No, I haven't. I've read the book though (very funny in some parts). The movie has to be out on DVD soon. I will see it then. Actually, I'll go put it on my library list right now...

Chris Buckley is William F. Buckley's son. That just makes some of the stuff he's written so much sweeter. Thanksgiving must be awwwwkkkkwwwaaaarrrd.
Sep. 12th, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC)
I don't mind if people want to kill themselves smoking. More power to them. But what I mind is their decision to smoke adversly affecting my health. My mother was a smoker, and I was diagnosed with asthma in my twenties (attributed, though not proven, to enviornmental aspects and years of second hand smoke). If I'm around cigs now, my chest hurts, tightens up, can't breathe so good.
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