I AM LOOKING AT A PAGE OF THE Wall Street Journal -- a story about the marketing of cigarettes. The article is illustrated with examples of cigarette advertising. We see the Marlboro cowboy. The Camel ad shows a motorcycle. A brand called Magna shows what is clearly a powerful sports car, something like the Corvette of old. Men are such fools.
Perhaps I should say "white men" since these cigarettes are targeted mostly at them. Blacks apparently prefer mentholated brands, and women, of course, have their own cigarettes. The names of those often incorporate the word "slim" since some women smoke to keep their weight down. Cigarette makers are a conscienceless lot.
But women have their champions. When R.J. Reynolds planned to market a cigarette brand named Dakota for so-called "virile" young white women, a mighty roar went up from feminist and other groups. There were a number of reasons for that. By "virile," R.J. Reynolds meant what we laymen call stupid -- nothing to do with innate intelligence or, even, the ability to do certain tasks, but as a value judgment (my own, if need be) about women who watch daytime TV and want nothing more out of life than to spend it with their boyfriends. If that's not stupid, the word has lost its meaning.
When The Washington Post got hold of the marketing plan for Dakota, the uproar was enough to doom the cigarette. Although no one came right out and said it, R.J. Reynolds was accused of attempting to take advantage of dumb young women, more or less what men have been doing since time immemorial. If during that flap you sensed a whiff of sanctimony, your nose did not lead you astray. It was present.
Similarly, Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan emitted a shriek when the aforementioned R.J. Reynolds attempted to market a cigarette targeted at blacks. This one was called Uptown, and once again R.J. Reynolds walked into a chain saw of criticism -- BZZZT -- and plans for Uptown were dropped. Blacks, the secretary said, were already seen as the great patsies of the cigarette industry, willing to smoke, and therefore to suffer and die, in proportionately greater numbers than whites. Enough was enough, Sullivan said to his everlasting credit, showing far more integrity, I might point out, on this issue than he has shown on abortion.
In these examples, certain champions, individuals or organizations, rushed forth in defense of a certain group. But no one volunteers for such a role when it comes to another group of dummies, white males. A mere glance at the ads for some cigarette brands -- the Camel motorcycle, the Magna sports car -- reveals such a blatant pandering to the insecure machismo of these dumb galoots that one is tempted to feel sorry for them, to see them as yet another exploited group. Imagine, for instance, the admen on the coffin nail account sitting high above Madison Avenue, wearing splendid Giorgio Armani suits (I wear a 42 medium, Giorgio) and thinking, for that is the word, of yet another way to appeal to the sexual insecurity of these men. The image the male smokers project is Ramboish but, in reality, they're being manipulated by a bunch of Yalies whose game, not to mention favorite veggie, is squash.
Here you see why I think these stupid white males need all the help they can get. To be manipulated -- toyed with, actually -- by Yalies (some of whom, undoubtedly, are women) is ignominious (look it up, fellas), but their humiliation is not limited to cigarettes. The dumb white male is a patsy for almost everyone, including, of course, car makers, who design and name cars intended to reassure these men that they are, really, men. I submit as evidence the Beretta, a car named after a gun, and leave the subject, maybe never to return.
I lied. I'm back. How about off-road vehicles for people who never drive off the road? Or pickups with gun racks? Or cars with dark-tinted windows so the idiots inside can think they're Mafia hit men? Or -- can we say this in The Post? -- a brand of condoms I saw recently at my neighborhood drugstore: Magnum? "Larger size condoms." Now, really. Beyond parody!
But cigarettes are something special in that they can kill. As others have pointed out, they are about the only thing available on the market that is unhealthful when used as directed. So here, you see, are all these dumb white males, tooling around in their Berettas, maybe packing one as well, spoiling for a fight -- and they are being killed slowly by Yalies who play and eat squash! In other words, they are being suckered, laughed at, mocked and, in the process, killed by men who are playing with them in a way that the dumb white male thinks he would never permit. In fact, he doesn't even know it's happening.
Such a person needs help, a person to stand up for him. It could be argued that that was Karl Marx's intention, since it was he who pointed out how (mostly) white men were being exploited by (mostly) other white men. But it is a slightly, although not altogether different, sort of exploitation I refer to today. The awful truth is that society has essentially taken the dumb white male at what might be called face value: as a MAN, who, therefore, needs no help. But anyone who smokes a cigarette to enhance his masculinity needs at the very least to be told how very dumb he is. Therefore, as a public service, I would like to say the following:
Yo, dummy, they're laughing at you.