Media critique #1

Thank You for Smoking


I was having a hard time on what I wanted this to be, the news media is rife with topics, relevant television shows and movies all sprung to mind. Ultimately I chose Thank You for Smoking directed by Jason Reitman. The film itself is a satire of big tobacco. Through the main character who is a big tobacco lobbyist it allows us to take a look at some advertising techniques, spin and propaganda used by big tobacco.

The beginning scene allows us to see a talk show using a cancer stricken teenager as propaganda to garner sympathy to the anti-tobacco lobbyist. “It sees the individual not only as a cell in the social organism but as a cell organized into the social unit. Touch a nerve at a sensitive spot and you get an automatic response from certain specific members of the organism.”(Bernays, 28) In this scene I think it illustrates what Bernays wrote in a number of ways by showing while a noble cause their flagrant use of the teenager to garner sympathy and as a symbol is a way to anchor the individual to their cause and to not support big tobacco.

The main character ever the spin artist even manages to turn “it on it’s head” so to speak by using the same methods. This time though in the direction of big tobacco garnering the admiration and overall attention of the audience to his side by stating how it’s in big tobacco’s “best interest to keep him alive and smoking” and that a fifty million dollar campaign against “teen smoking” also giving credence to the quote above as he gave the people what they wanted to hear and used his chance to sway public opinion on his side.

After the television broadcast it shows the main character talking to his boss. The boss is livid as the original sum was to be fifty thousand dollars as he says “not enough to make a dent.” Later during the climax of the film a hearing is held discussing the addition of a skull and crossbones to cigarette packs. The doctor who is brought to testify on behalf of big tobacco argues that images are an affront on the non-English speaking population as “symbols carry distinct meaning in all cultures” Jhally wrote “If goods themselves are not the focus of perceived happiness, then they need to be connected in some way with those things that are.” (Image based culture, Jhally, 201)

Obviously the skull and crossbone denotes something is deadly and should be avoided. It’s the opposite of what advertisers want, they want to sell you a lifestyle choice and death isn’t exactly a selling point. The movie shows how it could be used one way to change a person’s perception through images alone and how it can affect those that don’t know the local dialect or lack the ability to read. All propaganda tools seem to be capable of transcending numerous communication barriers making them extremely effective.

The next is the main character watching a movie in his house. The guy in the film offers a cigarette to a friend, immediately he reaches for a cigarette of his own. This brings back the idea to “put the sex back into cigarettes.” Detailing how during the 1930’s cigarette production tripled why? He asked, the answer silent movies. Directors needed to give their actors something to do on screen, stating one of the greatest romances in film history involved a female actresses seductively asking for a light. Only to have the man stand up and coolly throw some matches towards her and having her catch it. The aim to have Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt smoke in their new movie and move away from the RAVs (Russians, Arabs and Villains) that usually smoke on film. A quote from Bernays; “Modern propaganda is a consistent enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group”. ( Bernays,14) As the quote above stated “create or shape events to influence” now ask yourself who is more influential than two of the most beautiful people on the planet?

The attempt is to make cigarettes cool again in the public eye so that it doesn’t have the negative connotations that are usually associated with cigarettes. In today’s celebrity obsessed age the job would already be done for them. As people emulate, and change themselves to be what the hottest celebrity trend is. Imagine the impact something like that would have on popular culture it shouldn’t be that hard. It’s already happened with numerous products.

One that stands out is the Marlboro Man, everyone knows who that is. Rough, tough cowboy, masculine to the core he echoes adventure, freedom, the wild west all appealing to the male demographic. They show the downfall of the Marlboro man but also hit on some of the ads successes. These also were very successful in influencing the public, most people I know smoke “reds” the Marlboro man’s cigarette. BR a senior executive states that cigarettes were cool and addictive so half their job was done for them those ads were the other half. This advertising campaign was the longest in history so successful in it’s job that Ewen states “It was a legend. If the Marlboro Man had crashed, well, then, brand equity had crashed as well.” (Ewen, 10) Not a lot of brands can say that. The tobacco industry is very good at propaganda but the Marlboro man as the movie and Ewen seem to agree was as Barney Stinson would say “legendary.”

A part of the film also tells you about the “Academy of Tobacco Studies” and introduces you to their lawyers and most importantly their scientists who have been conducted studies for over thirty years. Their main goal is to try to link smoking with lung cancer, which they have not found any conclusive evidence. “The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused.” (Bernays, 12) With this information, knowing that the “Academy” is funded by big tobacco it’s easy to see things can be a little skewered. The average American doesn’t know who funds what from political parties to other institutions such as the “Academy.” Meaning when they see a poll, or a scientific study from the “Academy” their inclination is to believe what seems to be a trusted source.  In misleading the public through the misuse of what generates public opinion they knowingly endanger future generations.

Now the biggest propaganda, spin, what have you is the main character Nick Naylor. Whether we like it or not an attractive charismatic person is more capable of capturing and holding your interest than anyone else. This is the ideal person you want to send your message. “The beauty of argument is that if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.” Nick Naylor says this in the movie and thinking about that statement with what I wrote above I thought about what Ewen quoted Bernays as saying “The group mind does not think in the strict sense of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses habits and emotions. In making up its mind the first impulse is usually to follow the example of a trusted leader. This is one of the most firmly established principles of mass psychology” (Ewen, 165) In the movie Nick Naylor is akin to a young John F. Kennedy, confident, attractive and articulate. He is somebody you could see yourself following.

While you see yourself able to follow Nick Naylor, he is essentially “regimenting the public mind.”  (Ewen, 168) How he is doing this is through argument he is great at public relations and spinning public opinion. So throughout the movie you are shown the “best” and worst of some interesting tobacco propaganda and also shown that if a person has enough charisma and has an “attractive” quality you tend to be more receptive of the message they carry interesting how propaganda can take so many forms and be so effective huh?


Works Cited

Ewen, Stuart. PR: A Social History of Spin. New York: Basic Books, 1996. Print.


Bernays, Edward. Propagnada. Ig Publishing, 1928. Print.


Reitman, Jason, dir. Thank You for Smoking. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2005. Film.

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