The Truth about “the truth”

For some time now [‚Äúthe truth‚Äù](http://www.thetruth.com/index.cfm?seek=truth) has been full of lies. The highly stylized commercials filmed with an unmistakable ‚Äúindie‚Äù sensibility have become part of the fog of modern anti-corporate warfare ‚Äì another soldier on the ramparts in one of the main ideological wars of modern times. The ads have been common for quite a few years and they have certainly found quite sufficient funds for high-priced advertising during the most popular shows. Funds, by the way, originally filched from tobacco companies in the lawsuits of the late ‚Äò90’s.

Purporting to be simple anti-cigarette informational television spots, ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù has always tried to be as disconcerting and in-your-face as network censors will allow. Piles of body bags, the juxtaposition of winsome childlike imagery with the horrors of smoking, combining the levity of a 70’s sitcom with the stark reality of heartless ‚ÄúBig Tobacco,‚Äù poignant questions left hanging in the air (‚Äúwhy do you make products that kill people?‚Äù), all of these strategies have been used to keep the commercials from simply being part of the background noise while America gets up to get another beer. But the ad campaigns are anything but simple announcements that rale against the dangers of smoking. They are small droplets leaking from a complex ideological reservoir. They intimate and imply like Senators questioning Bush appointees, while avoiding the bigger issues upon which they are surfing. It‚Äôs time to dive into the pool, swim to the bottom, and pull out the stopper.

The ads of “the truth” campaign make me long for the halcyon days of “this is your brain; this is your brain on drugs” or the follow-up ad where the woman destroyed a room with a frying pan (“this is what it does to your family!”). “The truth” sits in an ideological niche that is diametrically opposed to those simple public service announcements. The classic anti-drug ads attempted to highlight the aspects of personal responsibility that are inexorably intertwined with substance use. This is particularly true of the woman with the dangerous frying pan who was saying, not so subtly, that the destruction of the user’s family, friends and life would be the user’s exclusive fault and the resulting guilt would be the user’s to bear.

But “the truth” chooses an antithetical strategy. Rather than implicating smokers and their personal responsibility towards their actions, “the truth” implicates the corporate structure of Big Tobacco. The ads of “the truth” walk a shaky yet well-trod ideological path. Big Tobacco offered a perfect outlet for the hatreds of millions of individuals who were already deeply committed to an anti-corporate ideology. In general, the anti-tobacco campaign has always been an essentially anti-corporate campaign that costumed itself in the seemingly benign trappings of “public service.” But, in the case of “the truth,” the costume is lightly-stitched and see-through. The ideological undergrowth upon which the ads are built is dense and interwoven. However, as is common with insinuations that lightly hint at larger ideologies, believing what is implied by the ads requires believing in a significant number of unstated, yet essential, premises.

Essential to the message of “the truth” is a discounting of personal responsibility. Like so many other arenas of modern life, personal responsibility has been traded for systemic and coercive responsibility. In short, one of the unstated premises that is necessary to “the truth” campaign is a belief that the choices of people are inauthentic and ungenuine when made under the influence of corporations. In “the truth’s” view of the world corporations have the power to make individuals choose things they don’t really want, the mass of people constantly make illegitimate choices, and the only thing that can save us is the salvific grace of “the truth.” These premises rest at the ideological core of the movement. Clearly if one does not accept some version of these premises – possibly a weaker or stronger adaptation –then one is left with no recourse but to (gasp!) blame smokers for smoking.

The clear existence of these essential premises can be seen in the bizarre moral reasoning of “the truth.” Imagine that I flicked a domino that could eventually lead to a chain reaction of falling dominoes ending in the poisoning of a monkey in a cage. However, for this reaction to occur someone – a very quick someone – has to put down every successive domino; and they have to do it 300,000 times. The only way one could make a case that the monkey’s death is my fault is if every one of the choices of the domino placer are discounted as being inauthentic, illegitimate and also, ultimately, my fault. For “the truth” to claim that the deaths of smokers are the fault of Big Tobacco – as it has clearly claimed numerous times – is to take the causal chain leading to the death and cut it short by about, oh, 300,000 salient incidents (the number of cigarettes smoked by a pack-a-day smoker smoking for 40 years), any one of which, had it been different, could have produced a different outcome. They do this in the exact manner that the domino analogy requires – by discounting the authenticity of choice.

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One Response to The Truth about “the truth”

  1. Brad Lopez says:




    I agree on some points, disagree with others.

    Oh wait, I’m on Symbolic Order, let me rephrase that: I concur with certain assertions, yet find myself compelled to differ with other portions of your thesis.

    I once saw a “truth” commercial with some old lady who was speaking through a voice enhancer like Ned from South Park. At the end of the commercial, she said “Is this the voice you were expecting to hear?” as though big tobacco companies are solely responsible for her sounding like a lo-tech Darth Vader. What a joke. She chose to smoke, no one put a gun to her head and if anyone was fooled into thinking otherwise, it wasn’t me.

    I don’t think that thetruth.com is leading an ideological assault on smokERS, though, just smokING. Essentially, what you do in this essay is take offense to thetruth.com’s commercials on behalf of big tobacco companies. This is a sad state of affairs, because you’re missing what thetruth.com is ultimately trying to prove: that tobacco companies really don’t care about you, they care about profit.

    The truth they are trying to expose is, in part, elitist in the way you described. I’m sure many of the members do think people smoke solely because they were “told to.” What they are more effective at conveying is the point that millions of Americans are addicted to smoking, and that tobacco companies aren’t obligated to care that those addicted are slowly dying. They only really care insofar as the government makes them, by placing warnings on every pack, limiting their advertising power and forcing them to pay for expensive anti-smoking campaigns.

    That is why the imaginary uprising of smokers you spoke of is absolutely laughable. It would be a rebellion of those who are being taken advantage of in the dumbest possible tradeoff: a buzz in exchange for your money AND life.

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