The Truth about “the truth”

By using ‚Äúartistic‚Äù handheld cameras and a sense of irony that is as subtle and nuanced as a Three Stooges short, ‚Äúthe truth‚Äù has erected a display full of eye candy that nearly covers up their true point: calling you a duped idiot. You’ve had the proverbial wool pulled over your eyes and you didn’t even know it. If you smoke, you‚Äôre an idiot. If you‚Äôve ever tried smoking, you‚Äôre an idiot. If you‚Äôve ever been even slightly influenced by cigarette advertising, you‚Äôre an idiot. For that fact, if you‚Äôve ever been influenced by any advertising, you‚Äôre an idiot. If you‚Äôve ever been influenced by cultural surroundings to think smoking is cool, you‚Äôre an idiot. (And, for my addendum, if you‚Äôve seen any of the ‚ÄúDie Hard‚Äù movies and you don‚Äôt think that smoking can be cool, you‚Äôre a liar.)

And now “the truth” is here to save you. But they will only replace your wool blinder with a hemp one. The ideological thicket is so thick and convoluted they fail to realize that the attacks lobbed at Big Tobacco are hitting the consumers they are trying to protect: The ideological equivalent of friendly fire.

At this point many readers may have two counterpoints rattling around their heads like the last pieces in the box: Addiction and Children. First, I will deal with addiction. Ever since tobacco has been smoked smokers have known that smoking is addictive. Furthermore, since the change of attitude in the 1960’s, one would have to be woefully and unforgivably ignorant to not know that smoking is both addictive and unhealthy. I would confidently say that there is not a single person – one not crazy or otherwise aberrant – who is not aware of both smoking‚Äôs addictive nature and its deleterious health effects. Yet, with full knowledge of all the injurious effects of smoking, millions of people take up smoking every year. Being burgeoning smokers they certainly aren‚Äôt addicted. All smokers know that it takes a long time to become truly addicted to smoking. Before addiction sets in there is a long period in which cigarettes are consistently chosen because, in some sense, they bring happiness to the smoker. And, even after a smoker is addicted every cigarette is still a choice. The existence of ex-smokers proves this fact. Here‚Äôs a startling thesis for ‚Äúthe truth:‚Äù they smoke because they like it.

Furthermore the facts that a) not everyone who has tried smoking has become addicted, and b) millions of people have quit smoking only destroy “the truth’s” points even further. Big Tobacco offered such an apparent bonanza to the anti-corporate crowd because it seemed such an obvious and documented example of a corporation doing precisely what they already believed all corporations do Рcontrol and dominate people. Although this criticism is easier to levy against tobacco companies, it doesn’t change the fact that the personal choice of consumers, addicted or not, is still the cornerstone upon which the massive, skyscraper headquarters of Big Tobacco is built. All businesses attempt to give consumers incentives so they will choose to give their patronage. This is precisely why businesses are so good at giving us what we want. And, whether “the truth” wants to admit it or not, some people actually want cigarettes. I wouldn’t begin to arrogantly theorize on whether or not that desire is, in some sense, authentic or inauthentic. It is unforgivable to have the audacity to proclaim that millions of individual wants are coerced and inauthentic.

I will agree that evidence that suggests cigarette companies tried to engineer cigarettes to be more addictive is appalling and, if it is true, is clearly unethical. However, this fact is irrelevant to the mission of “the truth.” In other words, their mission would be carried on if this evidence didn’t exist. Anti-corporatism and the elitist attitudes that comprise it are foundational. Corporate scandals and misdeeds – i.e. Enron, WorldCom – are add-ons to the pre-existing structure. They may make it more ornate, but it would exist anyway.

And, extra chemicals or not, the world is littered with non-smokers, smoking dabblers, and ex-smokers who have avoided the omnipotence of Big Tobacco. The existence of these people calls the entire ethos of “the truth” into serious question. If the influence of corporations is so domineering why is it so easy to avoid and relatively easy to remove oneself from? Also, this fact further denigrates smokers as the select few that make illegitimate choices under the control of Big Tobacco while everyone else skips through unscathed.

As for “the children:” well, I actually have little desire to dip my hand into that inescapable morass. Eliciting the plight of “the children” has become the argumentative trump-card of our times. Bill O’Reilly has turned this into a near art-form. Any philosophically serious – and by that I mean way way more tiresome than this essay – discussion of the decision making of children would bring up the interesting issue of the nature of a justified choice, and when children are able to make those choices. Those issues are certainly incredibly relevant to this discussion. However, for “the truth” the point is moot either way. Although Big Tobacco may try to influence children, millions of children are able to resist the thrall. Therefore the “thrall” must be ultimately based on something much less domineering, such as personal choice and parenting.

Peer pressure, that old favorite of after school specials, is also influential. But such social forces only serve to highlight the further absurdity of “the truth’s” ideological core. Throughout our entire lives human beings are assaulted by decision making pressure from all sides – social, parental, corporate, governmental, in addition to self-styled altruistic agencies like “the truth” whose missions only add more fuel to the fire. These pressures are inevitable and also desirable. But “the truth” and its ideological cohorts don’t seem to like any decision making pressure that they don’t apply. It is ironic that, in many ways, they use identical methods to influence decision making as the corporations they revile – pointed slogans that insinuate themselves into your mind, vivid imagery, comedy, and an appeal to your sense of self. “Find your voice” blah; “Seek the truth” blech: They’re both self-interested organizations doling out the half-truths as it suits them. With all of these pressures swirling around us like ocean currents it would seem that strengthening our respect for individual responsibility is the only way to keep from being swept away by the undertow. Peer pressure, like corporate pressure, is far from seamless and parents who instill a sense of responsibility for oneself and one’s actions go a long way towards helping their children avoid its influence. In the end no decision making pressure is seamless except for the personal will to action that you apply to yourself.

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1 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 is leading an ideological assault on smokERS, though, just smokING. Essentially, what you do in this essay is take offense to’s commercials on behalf of big tobacco companies. This is a sad state of affairs, because you’re missing what 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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