Saturday, 19 September 2009

Censoring reality

Mark Lawson has written an interesting article at The Guardian in which he discusses some recent examples of photos being ditched from promotional material because they show a celebrity smoking.

A quiz question: what is the link between ex-President Jacques Chirac, the composer Rachmaninov and interviewer Lynn Barber? If this were a picture round, you'd get it immediately, from the little angled strip of white on their hand. The answer is that attempts have been made to ban photographs of them on the grounds that they were shown smoking.

The publication of Chirac's latest volume of memoirs has mysteriously been delayed, allegedly because of concerns over a dustjacket image which shows him having a puff. This matches the experience of Barber – who withdrew from the Richmond Literature Festival when objections were raised to the inclusion in the brochure of a publicity shot in which she palms a gasper – and, posthumously, of the Russian composer. When the pianist Stephen Hough chose to illustrate a recording with a snap of Rach toting an elegant cigarette holder at the keyboard, his US distributor asked for this dissonant health and safety note to be taken out.

It should be said that these were all decisions taken by private companies. I am not aware of any anti-smoking groups calling for photos of celebrities who smoke to be banned (let me know if I am wrong). They are, however, calling for smoking to be banned in films, and so this could be seen as just another "logical step" in the "denormalisation" of smoking.

The argument of the censorious forces in the above cases is that the shocking ciggy pics might encourage those seeing them to light up at home or outside the office door; could, in the terrible official lingo, "normalise" the activity.

Which just serves to highlight the central problem with the denormalisation programme. As much as those in Tobacco Control would like it otherwise, there are well over a billion smokers on the planet. Presenting a picture of the world that doesn't include them requires, by necessity, a certain degree of deceit.

And once photos of smokers have been banished, the next logical step - surely - is to banish the sight of smokers themselves. That, incredibly, was the argument used this week to justify an outdoor smoking ban by New York City Health Commissioner Dr Thomas Farley:

"We don't think children should have to watch someone smoking."

Dr Michael Siegel has more on the New York story, and Mark Lawson's article is well worth reading.


BTS said...

They could try to ban tobacco altogether of course, but that would lead to too much lost revenue. So what's at the end of the line in the (possibly not too) distant future? Smoker's ghettos? Internment camps?

I'm just wondering how they can really protect all their precious kiddies from the sight of the demon weed when we can't smoke outside and nor can many smoke indoors as landlords are including it in their tenants' contracts?

It may sound melodramatic, and it is, but there is a train of thought that leads to the conclusion that if they don't ban tobacco outright, but rather simply keep restricting freedoms further, then we may end up with communities of smokers living in separate areas to the righteous.

Okay, it's definitely melodramatic, but it's a thought. I could write a novel about it I suppose, but I don't want to give ASH any ideas..

Anonymous said...

First, they want all bar patrons to smoke outside in the street, then they say they don't want kids seeing people smoke. They can't seem to make up their mind.

Leg-iron said...

"We don't think children should have to watch someone smoking."

I don't think children should have to watch politicians lying, but we all have to watch that. Not just legal, but compulsory.

Anon- they have made up their minds (such as they are). They don't like us. They don't like the idea of anyone enjoying themselves. They want the Puritan way to prevail.

And by damn, they are good at it.