Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And speaking of tobacco ...

I finally saw the film Thank You For Smoking. It's just great. Similar to the way South Park can pull one's philosophical strings, I was reminded of all the Nietzsche I read in college, as morality in the film was flipped in a very politically incorrect way.

Many critics miss the point- on the bonus features there is a segment from the Charlie Rose show, where Charlie interviews the minds behind the movie, including screenwriter and director Jason Reitman and Christopher Buckley author of the original novel. Charlie asks about the supposed anti-hero, Nick Naylor, and asks if people like to watch a tobacco lobbyist in action because they enjoy watching how a con man works. This is the point where plenty of people just don't get it. They can go half way- and see that crusading senators and intrepid reporters aren't always the moral beacons they are made out to be- but they can't go the rest of the way and see that Naylor really is the hero of this movie. The lines Naylor shoots off in the film about freedom and choice and the hypocrisy of those who spend their time bashing big tobacco are not meant purely is spin- Naylor only presents them as spin because he's a lobbyist- everything he does is spin.

Charlie Rose calls Naylor a con man, but in reality, he's one of the most honest characters in the movie- at least he's honest about what he does, to others and to himself. He sells cigarettes and isn't ashamed to do it. All the other characters (other than his son, of course) reek of moral ambivalence and wishy-washnyness. Tobacco wouldn't need any spin if it hadn't been left as a legal product that everyone from school teachers to senators will spend their life condemning.

I bring up Nietzsche because I remember being intrigued with the notion in college that Christian morality had flipped traditional morality on it's head. To be meek was morally righteous, and the strong and the powerful were condemned. The same sort of morality pervades our culture today, where victimhood is celebrated and individual success is shunned or downplayed. What's more righteous- to crusade against substances and activities you find harmful, or to crusade for those substances and activities in the name of free choice?


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