Pervasive Unreality

One or two further thoughts on my last post, in which I produced some evidence suggesting that the uprisings in the Arab world were in part a consequence of the smoking bans which have been multiplying through the region over the last year or two.

To me, it just seems obvious that this is most likely the case. Smoking bans entail a profound loss of freedom for smokers. Smoking bans expel smokers from society. It’s an absolutely terrible thing to do to millions and millions of people. And smokers feel angry and baffled and hurt that it’s happening to them.

But nobody articulates this view. Or almost nobody. And it’s really only when people say this that such feelings are validated, and people start to feel justified at feeling angry and baffled and hurt and all the rest. While these feelings aren’t validated, they get suppressed. People feel they ought not to be feeling what they feel.

There is no public validation from the media. There are no reports of angry smokers complaining or marching or anything. And so smokers don’t find their feelings being reflected and articulated in the media, in current affairs programmes, in soap operas, in anything. So smokers tend to feel that they are alone with what they feel. And that other smokers don’t share their experience. And that there must be something wrong with them.

I don’t know, for example, how the smoking ban was handled on the Archers or Emmerdale or Eastenders, but I doubt that it was authentic. I’m just guessing, because I never watch soaps, but probably the fictional smokers in these soaps expressed shame for continuing to smoke, or for not having enough will power to give up smoking. Or they may have welcomed the ban as something that would help them give up smoking. And they regarded the ban as a progressive measure. I’m sure that many of the fictional smokers successfully gave up smoking after a few episodes, and ‘rejoined society’. What none of them would have been allowed to express was any feeling of rejection or isolation or anger. Nor would they have been allowed to condemn the ban, or the antismoking ideology underlying it. Any real smoker watching these fictional smokers would have wondered why they didn’t feel the same way, whether they were entirely alone. (Viewers of such soaps are of course welcome to correct me.)

The public perception of smoking bans is that they are an unqualified Good Thing. They are such remarkably Good Things, furthermore, that – unlike all other Good Things – they have no negative consequences whatsoever. Smoking bans rapidly improve public health. And they clear the air in public places. And they bring numerous new non-smoking customers to pubs and bars. And they are universally welcomed by smokers, 70% of whom (perhaps it’s 99% these days) want to give up smoking. They are in other words an unqualified blessing. And it’s quite impossible, given such an unqualified blessing, that anyone would be in the least bit upset about them. To suggest that smoking bans might cause riots would be a bit like saying the Mother Theresa could do something wrong, and that’s obviously impossible.

So you’re never going to hear a news reporter say anything like:

“Riots erupted in Tunis yesterday. Protesters voiced anger at the slowness of democratic reforms, the price of food, and the continuing divisive smoking bans.”

This simply wouldn’t make sense to a lot of people. Sure, protesters would be entitled to feel aggrieved at lack of democratic representation, and also at high food prices, but what could anyone have against smoking bans? Everybody loves them! They improve everybody’s health! What’s there not to like about them? Any reporter would said this would have his sanity questioned. After all, everybody knows that smoking bans are a good thing. Like Mother Theresa. And sliced bread.

So there’s a kind of blindness happening here. Ideology (antismoking ideology) is being allowed to re-write or re-interpret reality. If the Sultan of Bahrain ever expressed, for example, any doubts about the ferocious new antismoking laws being enacted in his Kingdom, his medical advisors would have told him that most smokers welcome smoking bans, and 99% of them want to give up smoking, and there’d be no loss of business for any cafe or bar, and there was nothing to worry about. And they’d have WHO studies to prove it.

Yet, in fact, all smokers hate smoking bans. And none of them want to give up smoking. And smoking bans always damage business. And there’s worse. Any Sultan of Bahrain who had even the faintest inkling of this would never have done anything so stupid and divisive as to ban smoking in his Kingdom. To do so would have been to invite upheaval.

There’s a pervasive unreality to all this. The media coverage of smoking bans is unrealistic. The policy decisions are unrealistic. The science is fabricated. And even smokers are caught up in the  unreality. They’re not sure if they should be feeling so angry and frustrated, given that nobody else seems to be much bothered.

But the anger and the exclusion and the loss of trade are real. But since they cannot be explained by reference to smoking bans, they are explained in some other way. People are said to be angry at the lack of democracy, or the price of food, not because of the smoking ban. And the loss of trade is due to the economic downturn, or the weather. It can’t be the smoking ban, because everybody loves them, and they’re always a great success, as everybody knows. No, it can’t be that. No way.

In the end, however, the social atomisation and loss of trade have real consequences. Societies disintegrate. And as they disintegrate, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the unreality, the fiction of the benefits of smoking bans. And the antismoking lie machine runs out of money, and alternative explanations of events can begin to gain currency.

It certainly looks as if nothing short of complete social collapse can break the spell.

About Frank Davis

smoker
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13 Responses to Pervasive Unreality

  1. churchmouse says:

    ‘And so smokers don’t find their feelings being reflected and articulated in the media, in current affairs programmes, in soap operas, in anything.’

    Dot Cotton is about to have a terrible fall …
    http://uk.tv.yahoo.com/soaps/article/13584/soaps-preview-28-march-to-1-april.html

    Not that I watch soaps, but the actress who plays her is really upset about the smoking ban, esp. at work. So sad to be elderly (she’s 80+) and unable to live like a free person.

    • Rick S says:

      Dot Cotton had a rant on EastEnders shortly after the smoking ban was introduced – I can’t remember the details of it, but it was certainly about how everything was getting worse and how her life was being spoiled by it. I presume it was largely written by actress June Brown as it sounds exactly like her own views and situation.

      • George Speller says:

        Lilian in the Archers made a fuss ‘cos she couldn’t smoke in the village hall, or rather, on stage her exit route was taken away.
        But otherwise not a lot.

  2. PT Barnum says:

    It seems to be the case that the actor has to be a smoker to have their character smoke. The pub in Eastenders is as busy as ever, no one ever mentions the ban and there is no cluster of smokers lurking outside. Intriguingly it is the BBC medical soaps which have the most smokers, doctors, patients and relatives all slipping out for a cigaratte at least once an episode. I can also report that Hollyoaks is an entirely smoke-free zone, although there are lots of class A drugs and underage drinking abounds.

    Once you posed the question, Frank, it became clear to me that my brain has been unconsciously clocking up incidences of smoking in prime-time TV. Smokers will know the difference between reality and unreality, but to anyone else it will be invisible. But here’s an oddity. I have never seen a storyline which involved someone trying to quit smoking. Strange, huh?

    Caveat: I can speak only for the programmes which are selected for viewing by Someone Else in this household.

  3. Jay says:

    I sometimes find myself listening to The Archers. There seems to be only one smoking character, Lilian, who strikes me as having been the naughty girl of her generation.

    I think that you’re absolutely right about smokers’ self-perception since the ban and I think that it might have been engineered by the media whose very limited coverage was wholly one-sided. I’m unaware of any anti-ban demonstration and I can’t believe that it’s because most smokers like the ban. Perhaps it’s mainly to do with the fact that smokers are just a disparate group that is difficult to reach. The ban itself is bad enough but even worse was the consequent carte blanche given to bully, insult and sneer at smokers and I wonder how many now feel that they have little choice but to give up, despite not really wanting to.

  4. Rose says:

    I still feel that none of this is quite real and I am going through the motions just as I would do if all this was a particularly vivid nightmare.

    I’m still sitting at my desk in Bletchley Park looking out into the darkness trying to catch the whispers.

  5. Jax says:

    Soaps, like most TV programmes these days, simply don’t touch the smoking ban other than occasionally showing a smoking character having a cigarette outside the pub or the café or wherever. Nobody ever comments on it either positively or negatively, no-one ever complains about it, and there’s never any groups of smokers outside having a cig – only the lead character who smokes is ever out there, all on their own. Airburshing of reality or what? It’s as if the message is trying to say: “Pubs are non-smoking. Pubs have always been non-smoking,” – rather along the lines of “We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia.” And of course the pubs are all still as full of the usual locals as they always were. Nobody thinks “Oh stuff it. We’ll have a takeaway and give standing outside the pub a miss.” Emmerdale is the worst – nobody at all smokes there, ever! I’m surprised that Arnott and her friends haven’t tried to move there!

    But on a more serious note, one of the major advantages of smoking – and one of the negative impacts of smoking bans – which is never touched upon is the strangely unifying effect with the action of smoking has on people including, often non-smokers. Somehow it calms people, makes them more philosophical and less angry, and facilitates easy, relaxed communication, even between strangers and even when people are disagreeing with each other. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that these riots have followed in the wake of smoking bans. Not only has the withdrawal of a simple, calming pleasure been withdrawn – which in and of itself is likely to make people touchy and reactive at a personal level, but at the same time the major thing which could enable them to calm down and approach things rationally and sensibly as a group has been withdrawn, too. Clearly the marches and demonstrations aren’t actually about smoking, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the absence of the opportunity to sit down, smoke, chat and think things through calmly and rationally has played a major part in bringing these revolutions onto the streets in such a loud and, often, violent way.

    And all the time this negative effect is swept firmly under the carpet, smoking bans will continue to be imposed, and people will become angrier and angrier, not just at the bans themselves, but at all the other things which their rulers are doing which, pre-ban, they would simply have gone down to the pub, or the bar, or the café and had a good moan about with both their smoking and non-smoking chums, and then gone home. So it’s good to see at least that those leaders who decide to impose such a one-sided, unfair system upon millions of their own people are now starting to reap the rewards of their personal prejudices at a very personal level themselves. And it’s even better to see although the solution to their problems lies squarely in their own hands, their stubborn, wilful blindness prevents them from using it.

  6. Frank Davis says:

    It looks like I may be completely wrong about the soaps. I read June Brown’s outburst in the Sun. I wasn’t aware that she’d said much the same thing in her role as Dot Cotton. Interesting that the medical soaps have the most smokers.

    It reminds me that, on radio at least, while the BBC’s institutional policy is pretty thoroughly antismoking, the creative end of it – the writers – often seems to be almost pro-smoking, and to delight in introducing smokers wherever possible. It’s rather difficult to portray smoking on radio, for example, but it can be done with exaggerated inhalations and exhalations. It’s rather amusing, in fact.

    I also well remember seeing a TV documentary about the artist Mark Rothko, in which he was portrayed surrounded by a cloud of smoke as he contemplated his paintings. It was a sort of celebration of smoking.

    I think there may have always been this tension between the institution of the BBC and the writers and actors and artists who contribute to it, the latter always trying to subvert the former.

    • churchmouse says:

      Let’s not forget David Hockney who moved from Los Angeles back to England to try to escape the smoking ban. Not sure at the moment whether he is headed back to LA or will remain here. I believe that Free Society (along with the Guardian and a few other journals) had one or two of his articles which railed against the ban.

  7. smokervoter says:

    Now that they’ve won the right to more meaningful elections, the newly empowered Arab voters will likely be inclined to cast their lots with the Opposition candidates who promise to rescind the dreaded smoking bans.

    After all, it was the old guard authoritarian rulers, working on Western influence and Bloomberg-cashiered pseudoscience, who decreed these unpopular measures in the first place.

    Much to the chagrin of the western MSM covering the events, I see a lot of smoking going on among the revolutionaries. It’s happening too fast for their censors to edit out and unperson the pervasive smokers.

    I may be getting a little overly optimistic here but anytime the worldwide Tobacco Control forces suffer a setback it’s a good thing for us. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the resistance to tobacco mania caught fire from the repressive cultures of the Mideast, spread back into Europe and then even, God forbid, all the way back to the United States where it all began. Yes, we a-holes that went around Iraq telling everyone to ‘put it out’.

  8. smokervoter says:

    @Jax

    Regarding the “We have always been at war with Eurasia” parallel:

    We now have rewritten history, such as people formerly dropping off like flies from one whiff of secondhand smoke, while we all vaguely recollect otherwise.

    You might note that the Party oration can change mid-sentence from ‘the smokers’ being the main enemy to ‘the obese’ almost imperceptibly.

  9. Tony says:

    Frank,

    Slightly off-topic but might be of interest in relation to your previous posting about the Arab uprising:

    Here is a BBC report about serious trouble in the Syrian coastal port of Latakia. A city that gave its name to ‘Latakia tobacco’. Tobacco still seems to be a major agricultural crop in the region and is exported from the port although Wikipedia claims that most Latakia is now grown in Cyprus. The BBC does not mention tobacco of course.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12873053

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