Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Smoke gets in your eyes

It's 18 days into the smoking ban. I'm surprised how little I've discussed it with people, really -- I know that at the moment I'm pretty hostile to anything that smacks of a Current Affairs Discussion because, frankly, my misanthropy and disillusionment complicated by fatigue and insecurity make me a very bad general conversationalist right now, but still.

I have mixed feelings. I'm not a smoker. I have a particular murderous hatred for the sort of not-really-a-smoker who props the cigarette between their fingers and lets it burn down without actually smoking it, like a curling ashy entrail making the air taste like burnt hair and oxidised wine. I am pleased to see the back of these polluting pretenders. But the pale, blueish clouds produced by those who actually do inhale the stuff -- I don't know. Without the miasma of smoke, some places lack a certain ... there's no other way to say it ... atmosphere. They are supposed to be contextualised and historicised and wreathed by the decades of nuance attached to the causal consumption of nicotine. It's just not the same. The vagueness of seeing things through a haze of microscopic ash particles. The scented, slightly bitter but almost negligible sense of something transgressive -- something transgressive in the air, something transgressive in the people, something slightly black leather, fishnet stockings, stiletto heels, mirror shades, something bad.

Of course, smokers aren't like this any more. But the smoke still is.

10 comments:

Tom Bozzo said...

Of course, smokers aren't like this any more. But the smoke still is.

They never were.

This is a beautifully-written post, as usual. But our smoking ban is two years old, and the only places that have lost their atmosphere are places where the ability to smoke one's self to death while drinking one's self to death was the sole attraction.

The smoke -- avoidable health hazard. (Ask Phantom Scribbler!)

Heidi the Hick said...

I am actually a bit of a cheerleading annoyance when it comes to non-smoking. Cigarette smoke irritates me right in that spot about two inches behind the bridge of the nose. eeeeeeeecccckkkk

but...one of my grandpas was a smoker when I was little. He had a gorgeous old ashtray on a stand. My Grandma planted sprouted geraniums in his empty cans of Daily Mail. (It's a Mennonite thing- never waste anything.) I have memories of watching the smoke curl off the ashtray. Beautiful.

He quit when he was in his late 60s. His health was sadly wrecked by then.

I hate smoking but not the people it comes out of...usually.

(You can hardly smoke anywhere in Ontario anymore.)

Xtin said...

Tom, that's a little sanctimonious for my taste. I think the ban is a good thing and that smoking, especially in a country with government-provided healthcare, should be very severely restricted. The point was not whether smokers were ever really like that. The point was about the cultural historical aspects of smoking. No matter what our modern attitudes, it's just revisionist to suppose that smoking didn't, and does not still, have a battalion of sexy and subcultural associations and connotations. Lauren Bacall with a cigarette in The Big Sleep? James Dean? The entire history of tobacco advertising, complicit in developing this sort of iconography, however egregious? Come on.

I'm glad that I'm not breathing carcinogens, make no mistake. But that's not the whole story. Because it's really not the whole story.

Tom Bozzo said...

Xtin, I don't deny that I'm being at least a little sanctimonious -- I have the ex-smoker's soapbox to climb on! But I'm not trying to revise away the cultural associations -- and I'm definitely not sponsoring any classic-movie DVD bonfires. My real point is that those iamges are maximally romanticized, and those egregious marketing efforts are a considerable part of the story.

My negative reaction to the point of sanctimony is in large part to the delusions fostered by those marketing efforts, that dorks like my late-teenage self think the absurd thought that we could be as cool as (to name my own smoking role-model) Gregory Peck in Twelve O'Clock High, or (more prosaically, and I'm dating myself a little) to ensure that teenagers light up Camel Lights even as they deny that Joe Camel had anything to do with it.

Call me nuts, but the counterfactualist in me says that the smoke-free versions of Casablanca and The Big Sleep would still be great. I don't know exactly how one would replace Bacall taking the light from Bogart, but I don't see why it couldn't be done.

Xtin said...

I've no doubt the counterfactuals are true -- nor that images of smoking are maximally romanticised. Indeed, I think my point just was that images of smoking are maximally romanticised, in the actual world.

I think part of your point is that we ought to commit ourselves strongly to deromanticising such images and the whole tobacco shebang generally, and I think that's right. It's just that sadly, there is at least a part of me (see previous reference to feelings, comma mixed) for which it is too damn late. The romantic smoky bar horse has already bolted.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Have you read Cigarettes Are Sublime?

Xtin said...

No -- it looks really fascinating. I'm putting that in my amazon basket right now. < /cultural history whore >

Unless you have something negative to say about it, PS ...

Tom Bozzo said...

Xtin, I guess I didn't read correctly into "...supposed to be contextualised..." Anyway, I'd rather have my kids appreciate the Bogart-Bacall oeuvre, etc., as other than highly-produced cigarette ads. They're likely to be allowed to watch such things long before they're exposed to R-rated U.S. studio movies.

With Richard Klein, I think that there's some smoke-blowing (as in, even those who do come for the sublime, stay for the nicotine), which is not to say that his angle isn't interesting.

Xtin said...

I guess when I said "supposed", I didn't have some universal moral imperative in mind -- I was thinking of the way things "ought to look" in my weird and wonderful mental landscape. As influenced by thirty years of aforementioned cultural manipulation. Happenings. Whatever.

fatrobot said...

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centre of earth good
molepeople bad
lavamen bad
hydras bad