Friday, December 19, 2003

Youth up in smoke
A friend alerts me to the tobacco papers, the latest scorching expose from the bowels of the coffin nail industry, wherein I read that the evil swine are actually marketing the product to...young people! On the grounds that it’s sexy and cool!. Is there no end to their iniquity?

What’s more interesting about this is the meta-discourse, the role the tobacco industry plays as the scapegoat of the business world, taking on the burden of unease felt by the public towards the market generally and its various rewards, punishments and trickeries. They key to this is false opposition. Since the tobacco industry is immoral, it follows that the business world generally is moral and acts with nothing but our best interests at heart. But what’s really disturbing about business is the fact that it is amoral and rational, exploiting the legal and social framework in which it operates to the maximum of its abilities. If that context is high wages and secure employment, it can be got to go along. If that means the slave labour camps managed by the SS for Porsche and IG Farben during World War II, that’s also fine. Money doesn’t care how it is made.

If we ever get to the market dictatorship of which libertarians dream, I expect that it will be enlivened by an annual human sacrifice of executives from the tobacco trade, who will die screaming in expiation of the sins of us all.

Nonetheless, there is something depressing about the papers, excerpted here by the Independent.

A briefing paper by the CDP advertising agency in London for Benson & Hedges says: "We want more 18 to 34-year-old blokes smoking B&H than ever before. We want to see these dudes ripping up packets of Marlboro and Camel and treating them with disdain that second-rate, American filth deserves. For Christ's sake, what the hell are people doing smoking brands for 'cowhands' and not [for] the youth of the trendiest, coolest, most happening country in the world."

The briefing paper then goes on to say that it is, "in many ways ... really a charity brief. Trying to help people recognise the error of their ways, thinking they are being cool smoking what 'Roy bloody Rogers' smoked and opening their eyes to the unchallengeable truth that the coolest smoke in the world is a B&H". It goes on: "We want to see Great, British B&H in the Ben Sherman shirt pockets of Brit-popped, dance-crazed, tequila-drinking, Nike-kicking, Fast Show-watching, Loaded-reading, babe-pulling, young gentlemen."

So why do people start smoking? I started late, at 21, by scrounging tabs from the people with whom I was working. There wasn’t really any conscious ‘why’ to it at first. But after I started, I got a definite feeling that I wasn’t in training any more – I’d graduated from the state where everything was arranged for me and was beginning to make whatever mark on life I could. I was serious at last, because I was doing something vaguely life threatening, though not for decades.

How dispiriting, then, to see something so intensely personal for me and millions of others crunched down into data points and picked over by a bunch of braying, honking, clueless wankers from the advertising trade. I’m sure its awareness of things like this that sends sensitive types into the arms of the crusties. Better to forget how to shave and go and live in a tree or a hole in the ground than to have your every peak experience intermediated and repackaged by cretins.