Anti-Smoking equals pro-Nazi.
Or so you would have probably believed had you been alive in Germany during World War II (and if you were, congratulations on finally working out how to plug in the computer). See, during his early life, Herr Hitler was a heavy smoker. However, by the time the War had dawned, he had become a staunch advocate of anti-smoking, as it was “decadent” and led to a wasteful existence. (Admittedly, not all his logic for this stance was as characteristically redeemable. Amongst other reasons, he claimed that smoking caused women to age prematurely and lose their attractiveness- perhaps true, but so chauvinistic- meaning that they wouldn’t be the reproducing machines he expected; stated that to smoke was equal to the “racial degeneracy” of Africans; and that Jews were responsible for introducing smoking. When looking to close the deal, it seems to pay to blame the Jews.) Scarred by the fact that Eva Braun and others smoked, he ordered adverts to be taken out in health magazines, rewarded soldiers who quit the habit, and actually outlawed the public ridicule of anti-tobacco activists.
So in a good way, Hitler was ahead of his time.
But then why did it take so long for the rest of the world to catch up?
The first reason that I can think of is the fact that Hitler’s plan failed. Despite all of his anti-tobacco propaganda, the consumption of cigarettes per person in Germany actually increased over the duration of the War. This could be due to the “any publicity is good publicity” theorem that Paris Hilton and the likes have taken to heart so quickly. But I suppose this is wishful thinking; the Third Reich weren’t operating in a fragmented media landscape like today’s. No, the actual first reason is, in all likelihood, the ensuing pro-smoking advertising boom. Fashionistas were often photographed smoking those long cigarettes (damn, I wish I could pull that off). Tobacco companies used smoking hot models (pun horribly intended) in their advertisments, giving the act a certain attractiveness and sophistication, and creating the template for many a Marlboro ad even up to the 90’s.
So in a way, Nazi Germany cigarette companies were also ahead of their time. Though I’m not too sure if this is a good or bad thing.
See, all the anti-smoking advertising ironically placed on the ephemeral packages cigarettes come in is graphic. It illuminates the possible worst-case scenarios that could unfold if you continue to use these deathsticks, in order to shock and disgust you. (A similar techniqe was used on me at orientation for my new job; there, they showed me an 8 minute video displaying the accidents caused by unsafe workplaces. This included impalement, sharp objects piercing the nasal cavity, and a man literally being ripped apart by a forklift. Tremendous stuff.)
But all these warnings do is centre on the aftermath, much like the news does to natural disasters. Rarely do we see someone just sitting there, smoking; the times we do, their lungs appear to be forging a path out of the person’s oesophagus. And why is this? Because smoking is cool.
Now, the side effects of smoking are gross; even short term, they stain teeth and permeate your clothing with a foul stench. But the actual act of smoking, of taking a drag from a pipe, cigarette or otherwise, is so antithetical that it’s insane. Thanks in part to old day movie stars like Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, smoking still has an air of elegance about it. Even now, the most common solipsistic action partaken in to celebrate one’s wealth is to chew on a big fat cigar, as if to say “Look at me! I’m so rich I can smoke 10 cigarettes at once! This is ridiculous logic!”
Alternately, I can now tell with some degree of certainty that heroin is NOT cool. (That is, until heroin chic comes back into fashion in 4 years. I wait with bated breath.) How I can tell this is due to my recent reading of William Burrough’s semi-autobiographical book Junky. To be fair, the book was meant as a completely true retelling of a small part of his life; however, due to his rampant drug addiction in this time, details become skewed, and people are described as being “out of focus, all shrunken and tumescent”- probably not an accurate physical description.
To sum up Junky in a few quick words, it basically is the tale of a heroin addict who goes in and out of prison, addiction, Mexico, and reality. If you wanted to read it for a rollicking good story, then give it a pass, as the scribe is essentially unchanged throughout, and nothing of great interest happens. He’s the opposite of Bryce Courtenay, and for this I am thankful, because Burroughs chooses instead to focus on his superbly weird view of drugs. He believes that as human beings, we start to recede and die as soon as we are physically maximised. The only way to let our cells grow is to get a “kick”, Burroughs says, and for this to happen we must do something that broadens both our tangible and intangible perception of reality- in his case, this means heroin. Attacking his philosophy like a scientist, Burroughs’ unique view of this behaviour results in the underemphasis of certain areas (things that may be of interest to the reader) and the overemphasis of others, such as the actual injecting process. Being a super needle-phobic, I had to stop reading several times as he went into graphic detail of times where syringes missed their mark, either resulting in masses of blood, severe pain for the injectee, or both. Yuck. I’m actually cowering away from the laptop as I write this, that’s how disgusting it was (to me).
So, essentially, Junky would be an absolutely terrible movie: I could imagine a few indie kids loving it as a postmodernist metaphor for their lives (whatever), but it actually wouldn’t contain anything at all; like getting a pizza in a box, and finding out there’s no actual pizza inside. And trust me, that would suck beyond belief. But as a quasi-philosophical discourse on the nature of drug addiction, it actually makes for an alright read.
I better stop now, Bono’s on the stereo.