Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Comment About Smoking

I happened to come across a blog that posted this photo that generated a bit of controversy:

This is a photo of very successful male model, Paddy Mitchell, and the controversy was that he was shown smoking. "Aren't you not supposed to show that?" "Is the designer trying to promote smoking?" "This is a filthy habit." "This can cause cancer." "Is this, in fact,"

Well, I doubt that the designer (or photographer) is trying to "promote" smoking, but he (or she) probably IS desiring to attract some attention, and controversy is one way to do it. Since I, myself, have never smoked a day in my life, and don't ever intend to, I am somewhat immune to any attempts to GET people to smoke (in fact, I didn't really even notice that he was smoking in this picture, its qualities have already been subsumed into the effect of the whole), although I do understand the techniques involved since once upon a time I worked as a research project director for the nation's largest market-testing firm and one of our major clients was the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company (their major brand was Kool, the largest-selling menthol cigarette), and the name of THAT game was to unseat Marlboro from the number one spot among all cigarette brands (which I think will remain impossible). None of the time-tested techniques are on display here, for the motivation here is not to cause an interest in smoking, but to generate an interest in being this particular model (however you perceive him) and wearing the style of whatever clothes he ends up wearing, when he does wear any (and in the case of this particular model, he sells better by NOT wearing many clothes, which is ironic, but then, fashion is subtle).

So in this photo, the cigarette is used as a fashion accessory and to tell us something about the persona that is being sold here, which is a kind of "devil may care", "rebel", "bad boy," which as all men and women know, is a very appealing image. I guess what I am saying is that people generally do not admire sheep. They want to be able to decide for themselves what they want to do, or at least, they admire others who make their own decisions and act upon them.

So yeah, the rebel sells and it has nothing to do with "health" or "non-health".

CAN smoking be sexy? Well, what do you think? I think it is not so much the smoking itself, but the style, skills, and rituals involved. There is a lot of communication going on, such as the brand that the guy smokes. "Marlboro" says one thing, "Camel" says another, "Benson and Hedges" says another (and, yuck, one of those antiseptic low-tar-and-nicotine brands says another, especially some generic plain-packaged brands picked up at a discount store if they still even MAKE those anymore). If I smoked, I would probably smoke some never-heard-of foreign brand (although I understand that they are all awful) to indicate that this was something I had picked up in an exotic foreign land I had visited (how plebian to simply smoke some typical American brand). My father, when he smoked (he quit when I was a little boy), liked to roll his own, having the tobacco in a little bag in one pocket and rolling cigarette papers in another; he prided himself on being able to roll his cigarettes with one hand while astride a horse, so I guess you could say he out-Marlboroed the Marlboro Man and then some. I was also impressed by the style of James Bond as described in Ian Fleming's novels, in which James had a gun-metal cigarette case (that saved his life at least once by deflecting a bullet aimed for his heart) that he would daily fill with fifty cigarettes, which were custom-made with a particular foreign tobacco blend and specially-selected papers. James Bond, by the way, for someone who was really a professional killer, had an amazing fashion-conscience, even down to the designs on his dishes and the brands of jam he would put on his crisp breakfast toast. His taste for life helped fill up the empty spaces in which he was aware that he could be horribly tortured, or killed, at any second. Also, he used smoking as a method of being quiet and to think and plan; as if smoking were the incense used to support meditation.

Think of all the various ways a person can hold a cigarette, tough guy holding it between his thumb and index finger or doing something weird such as holding it backwards and sucking the smoke with the hand twisted outward (this says "Watch out, I am very scary"), somebody effete holding it delicately between the first two fingers as if the cigarette were a porcelain teacup held with pinky finger extended. There are those guys who hold the cigarette inside their hand so that it looks like any second they will be burning the palm of their hand except for the fact that while they are immune to the fear of danger, they are also utterly in control and every second are aware of what is going on with their body and in their surroundings.

What about those guys who blow smoke rings or exhale forceful dragon-plumes from out of their nostrils, what are THEY saying (very skilled, practiced, their bodies are fine-tuned fearless machines, almost like circus-performers, I guess).

I had a friend who did shipping in the warehouse at a place where I worked. Here was a guy who had such masterful control of every movement of his body that I craved to have him be an actor on stage that I could direct, he was a one-man body-communication-machine. He could immediately BECOME whatever race or nationality group he was with at the moment. He nearly made me laugh when he played pool with a gang of black guys (who all were packing heat), white skin or no--he was actually a redhead, himself--he suddenly was perfectly black. Or when he got together with his Latino friends, he slouched and sauntered so that you could almost see a Zoot Suit and you wondered where the low-rider Chevy Impala was parked. But when he was with me, he was the earnest, artistic youth, all wide-eyed, poetic, and philosophical. He used all his tools like juggling instruments. If he did a tire rotation or a brake job, he made the wrenches spin the hubs like Waring blenders and even doing some routine task in the shipping warehouse such as stapling a label on a crate, he'd do it by grabbing the bottom end of the stapler and spinning it around with a slam so that in one singular quick motion he both opened up the stapler and nailed the staple home in the label. It was actually orgasmic to watch him work.

You can be sure that he was a master at handling a cigarette. I liked to lean against the wall next to him when he was on a smoking break, just so I could see him dispose of the cigarette after he had sucked it dry. Without even seeming to move at all, he'd somehow do a subtle flick with his finger that would send the butt flying yards away like a bullet. It was like the physical version of an African click language, whereby periodically the speaker will make a click inside the hollow of their cheeks that could make your ears ring (this verbal sound is indicated as an exclamation point in their written language)--how do they DO that, instantly generating such force and power? Well, his flicking the cigarette technique was just like that and while for him it was merely just a practical method of getting rid of what was now trash, he knew I loved it, so during our conversation he would look up at me with a certain expression for a moment which would tell me to "watch for it" and then "FLICK!", that cigarette would go flying. Kind of reminded me of a girlfriend I had who loved to watch me masturbate and would give a little shriek when the cumshot came. For her this was somehow almost better than having it inside her, where the masculine force of it was buried and absorbed instead of being on fascinating display.

Speaking of women, there, too, cigarettes have their own sexuality. Just this morning while enjoying my fourth cup of breakfast coffee, I was thumbing through a magazine that had arrived in the mail yesterday, Wallpaper, and came across this photo:

And if you don't understand that the photograph is heavily swimming in female sexuality, maybe the bowl of fruit in this picture from the same series will make it more clear (and if IT doesn't, just take my word for it):

That photo of the female cigarette case with the colored Vogue cigarettes very definitely reminded me of another girlfriend I had had when I was in college, who started out smoking black-papered, gold-rimmed cigarettes held in a long cigarette holder, but then moved over to hot pink, turquoise, and other beautifully-colored cigarettes about which I was quite frank in my admiration of. Maybe I was weird in the kind of stuff I liked about women...we could use Faye Dunaway in the original Thomas Crown Affair, one of the most stylish movies ever, as a model of what I liked:

Because of her in that movie, I made all my girlfriends wear hats. I, of course, was Steve McQueen, where even bank robbery was sexy:

I frankly never worried too much about why one of my favorite movies of all time had two main characters who were utterly amoral; this had nothing to do with my own sense of morality, but had more to do with an awareness that beauty, style, and sex can trump morality any time, but morality has to do with an inner character whereas beauty, style, and sex can exist in the realm of outer appearance, and so I see no conflict between my thinking that one probably ought to not smoke, yet I can still see it as sexy and communicative of a strength that is very appealing and maybe even admirable. And what is life, anyway, but conflict and contrast and mysteries that only manage to add up in arcane dimensions that one can spend a lifetime discovering and exploring. So yeah, please don't smoke, but I don't mind it if you do.


Andrew said...

Who doesn't like the bad boy image? Not me.

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