Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thank You For Smoking - Christopher Buckley

1994; 272 pages.  New Author? : No, but it's been a while.  Genre : Fiction; Satire.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Wouldn't it be nice if you pulled down a 6-figure salary simply for being a spokesperson for some organization?  Probably.  Except, what if that organization was the Tobacco Industry, and they sent you out to do verbal battle with do-gooders on programs like Oprah and The Larry King Show?

    That's Nick Naylor's job, and frankly, he's very good at it.  But if you p*ss off enough people, sooner or later someone's going to come after you with bad intent.

What's To Like...
    Whether you smoke or not, if you like anti-heroes, Nick's your guy.  He hangs out with two people with similar jobs.  Polly's a spokesperson for the Alcohol Industry, and Bobby Jay speaks for the Gun Lobby.  Collectively, they call themselves the Mod Squad, which stands for Merchants Of Death.

    The storyline of Thank You For Smoking is a bit thin, and very similar to the other Christopher Buckley book I've read, Little Green Men, reviewed here.  But that's okay; the plot is somewhat secondary.  TY4S is superficially a satire, but on a deeper level, it's a scathing exposé on the tactics used by the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms industries (hereafter shortened to "ATF") to keep the public accepting of, and voraciously buying their lethal products.

Kewlest New Word...
Oleaginous : marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality.

    Budd Rohrabacher raised his eyebrows in greeting.  He was leaning back in his big chair reading Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, standard reading matter around the Academy.  BR was forty-nine years old, but exuded the energy of a younger man.  His eyes, light green, intense and joyless and looking at life as a spreadsheet, might strike some as belonging to an older man who had been fundamentally disappointed early on and who had therefore decided to make life unpleasant for those around him.  (pgs. 12-13)

    When their eyes connected for the third, embarrassing time, he smiled at her.  She said, "Aren't you the tobacco person who was kidnapped?"
    "Yes," Nick said, flattered at being approached by a celebrity.  He was about to reciprocate when she set her jaw and said, "I know a lot of people who died of lung cancer.  Good people."
    Nick said to her, "No bad people?"
    She gave him a fierce look, craned about to see if there was an empty seat, and finding none, went back to angrily marking up the script on her large lap with a big, angry red pen.  Some screenwriter would pay for Nick's insolence.  (pg. 159)

"Well Katie, you can't spell tolerance without the t in tobacco."  (pg. 116)
    The persuasion tactics used by the ATF industries are varied, well-funded, pervasive, subtle, and astoundingly effective.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the "puffers" detailed on pages 149-155 bear an uncanny resemblance to the modern-day Tea Baggers, who are ostensibly a grass-roots movement, but are in fact bankrolled by some unsavory special interest groups.  The tricks that worked in the 90's still work today.

    Your eyes will be opened from reading Thank You For Smoking.  You memories of Joe The Camel and the Marlboro Man will turn sour, and you will develop a strong distaste for the Alcohol Industry's present-day seemingly magnaminous gesture of telling viewers of their ads to "Drink Responsibly"9 Stars, and if reading is not your shtick, I'm told the movie of the same title is quite good.

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