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 ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù campaign make me long for the halcyon days of ‚Äúthis is your brain; this is your brain on drugs‚Äù or the follow-up ad where the woman destroyed a room with a frying pan (‚Äúthis is what it does to your family!‚Äù). ‚ÄúThe truth‚Äù 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‚Äôs family, friends and life would be the user‚Äôs exclusive fault and the resulting guilt would be the user‚Äôs to bear.
But ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù chooses an antithetical strategy. Rather than implicating smokers and their personal responsibility towards their actions, ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù implicates the corporate structure of Big Tobacco. The ads of ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù 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 ‚Äúpublic service.‚Äù But, in the case of ‚Äúthe truth,‚Äù 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 ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù 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 ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù campaign is a belief that the choices of people are inauthentic and ungenuine when made under the influence of corporations. In ‚Äúthe truth‚Äôs‚Äù view of the world corporations have the power to make individuals choose things they don‚Äôt really want, the mass of people constantly make illegitimate choices, and the only thing that can save us is the salvific grace of ‚Äúthe truth.‚Äù These premises rest at the ideological core of the movement. Clearly if one does not accept some version of these premises ‚Äì possibly a weaker or stronger adaptation ‚Äìthen 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 ‚Äúthe truth.‚Äù 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 ‚Äì a very quick someone ‚Äì 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù to claim that the deaths of smokers are the fault of Big Tobacco ‚Äì as it has clearly claimed numerous times ‚Äì 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 ‚Äì by discounting the authenticity of choice.