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As I may have mentioned, the book I’m currently writing is set in New York City in the 1930s. This was a time when many people smoked and the health risks were not generally known. Advertisements at the time linked smoking with being liberated (especially for women), glamorous and sophisticated. I remember seeing a series of 1930s Camel ads in science fiction magazines that featured the US Olympic team—mostly swimmers and divers—extolling the health and fitness benefits of smoking. In the Hollywood films of the period it’s easier to count the actors who aren’t smoking than the ones who are.
An accurate portrait of the period would have to have at least some of my characters smoking.
I hate smoking. I hate the smell of it. I hate getting into a car that reeks of it or eating at a restaurant with smokers. I hate what it does to people’s health. I hate the industry built around it that has led to the untimely and painful death of millions of people world-wide, including two of my grandparents.
I will not promote smoking.
But I want to write a book that evokes the period as accurately and evocatively as I can. The haze of cigarette smoke was a large part of NYC right up until 2003 when the smoking bans—hallelujah!—came in.
What to do?
Posted by Justine at 14:50, 11 October 2008 under 1930s NYC novel, New York City/USA, Research | 42 Comments »
Christopher Barzak Says:
Is it possible to create a portrait of all that smoking propoganda of the period, but cut through it and reveal it for what it is with a character who has tried but cannot keep up with this aspect of the fashionable culture because despite the advertisements and cultural attitudes, he or she can’t help but acknowledge the reality that these things stink and taste gross and ultimately aren’t worth it?
Not in a preachy sort of way, obviously, but in the way that there are cultural trends now that people follow along with, oblivious to why they’re even participating in them, and then there are those people who just don’t or can’t fall in line, whether they’d like to or not.
October 11th, 2008 at 3:04 PM
That is a truly tough issue. I don’t put smoking in my books either, nor binge drinking because I think they’re both horrible misuses of healthy teen rebellion. Would it be possible for you to refer to the smoky atmosphere of bars without actually having your characters themselves smoke? No depiction of a world or a character’s life is 100% complete. Presumably you won’t be describing the state of plumbing at the time either, right? Any chance you can flesh out the world with other pertinent details? I watched Now Voyager recently and the sheer volume of cigarette smoke, which was meant to be sexy and dramatic, read as comic and ridiculous. So even if you were to be faithful to the smoke-choked times, it might wind up being a distraction to your readers anyway. I can’t wait to read this one!
October 11th, 2008 at 3:07 PM
I get a slightly different picture of smoking and attitudes around it from books written in the era than I do from the movies. In the movies, smoking is full-on glamour and all those things you mention. Smoke looked good in black & white and you could idealize it without having to smell it.
But I know I’ve read novels from around that time in which characters are fully of the opinion that smoking too much results in (or goes hand in hand with) a kind of unhealthy dissipation. Even without official medical links between smoking and illness, it was fairly obvious that smoking too much could cause lung problems; plenty of people considered smoking dirty or distasteful; and smokers who over-indulged were frowned upon much as a sloppy drunk would be. (I suspect this had a lot to do with why it was considered liberating for women to do it: they were freeing themselves from the narrow image of sweetness and purity as the only socially-acceptable way for a “good” woman to behave in public.)
So you could probably have your cake and smoke it too if you wanted to have for example a more robust, outdoorsy sort of character disdain the smoking, and a more unhealthy one doing the smoking… and it would not be anachronistic to have some characters consider it a “filthy habit”.
October 11th, 2008 at 3:23 PM
4. Justine Says:
Chris: I think that’s a great idea. But like you say it will be tricky to do. I worry about that character winding up sounding too much like someone from a later time. You know? Historicals that don’t work for me often fail because they have a way too modern sensibility.
I am looking for evidence in my readings/viewings from that period that shows people not liking smoking so I can see how they expressed their dislike. Given that the health risks weren’t generally known and terms like “cancer sticks” for cigarettes didn’t come into use until the late 1950s.
Lauren: I am totally with you on not glamorising either of those. Though there is smoking in my next book (the Liar book) but in the time-honoured Buffy mode: it’s a bad character who smokes and it is totally unglamorous. Also it only happens in one scene.
I definitely won’t have smoking on the scale of movies like Now Voyager (though that’s the forties not the thirties—not that it matters). I suspect I will wind up doing as you suggest.
Presumably you won’t be describing the state of plumbing at the time either, right?
Actually I will be doing that . . . Who’s not fascinated by plumbing?!
Karen: Can you remember the titles of any of those books? Because so far I’ve not found any novels from the 1930s that are down on smoking.
October 11th, 2008 at 3:30 PM
The things I remember so vividly from my growing up in the fities were the way everyone’s teeth were stained, the nasty way food looked in restaurants when people stubbed out cigarettes on plates. The pall of brown on walls, and the whoosh of stale cigarette toxins when you sat down on naugahyde couches. The way your jacket would stink when you took it out of the closet. Cigarette breath when people bent close.
Oh, lip-stick smeared brown teeth figured in my nightmares for years.
October 11th, 2008 at 3:45 PM
Hm… offhand, one that comes to mind is The Bent Twig, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (whom I love). It’s from earlier: 1915, but I am sure I’ve seen others in the same vein, with consumptive people coughing and others telling them for god’s sake to stop smoking. My impression is that many people felt it was bad for you, but by the 30s it was trendy to take a devil-may-care attitude. It didn’t erase the earlier awareness; it just sort of overrode it.
You get a lot of stuff written in the 30s that doesn’t condemn smoking so much as just recognize that there’s something a bit unhealthy about it. Here’s a minor mention from Fitzgerald that I found in a minute on the internet:
“Charley was twenty-six, with that faint musk of weakness hanging about him that is often mistaken for the scent of evil. It took no psychological examiner to decide that he had drifted into indulgence and laziness as casually as he had drifted into life, and was to drift out. He was pale and his clothes stank of smoke; he enjoyed burlesque shows, billiards, and Robert Service, and was always looking back upon his last intrigue or forward to his next one. In his youth his taste had run to loud ties, but now it seemed to have faded, like his vitality, and was expressed in pale-lilac four-in-hands and indeterminate gray collars. Charley was listlessly struggling that losing struggle against mental, moral, and physical anæmia that takes place ceaselessly on the lower fringe of the middle classes.”
The bit about smoking is buried in there but very typical, I think: Fitzgerald isn’t “anti-smoking” or anything like that, he just associates the smoking with a general spiritual and moral dissolution. I get the impression that people felt smoking was much like drinking, that it was fine in moderation and part of being young and wild, but ultimately it got a bit icky and gross if you did it too much, and indicated a certain weakness of character. So I don’t know if that helps you, but it might let you get some legitimate 30′s attitude in there that isn’t gung-ho on the stuff.
October 11th, 2008 at 3:56 PM
7. Justine Says:
Karen: Hmmm. I’m finding cigarettes and tobacco more often described in positive than negative terms. The smell is earthy, masculine, comfortingly reminds people of their father etc. That bit from Fitzgerald is more subtle than I’m hoping for though obviously I’ll take a few “stanks”.
Sherwood: Hah! Gorgeously described, Sherwood. So. Very. Gross.
I’m now going to describe my smokers exactly so. You and Karen are right.
Don’t you love this new mostly non-smoking world we live in? (If you don’t go to Spain or China or any of the other smoking countries.)
P.S. I had to OED “naugahyde”. Here’s what it said:
A material, originally used esp. in upholstery, consisting of a fabric base coated with a layer of rubber or vinyl resin and finished with a grain so as to resemble leather. A proprietary name in the United States.
1919 Rubber Age 10 June 206/2 Naugahyde Traveling Bag… The ‘Naugahyde’ traveling [bag] is..of one piece construction, without a stitch or rivet. 1937 Official Gaz. (U.S. Patent Office) 7 Dec. 41/2 Naugahyde for upholstery material, more specifically fabric base which has been treated with rubber and other substances producing artificial leather. 1967 Datamation June 104/1 Casually seated in a naugahyde chair..a fully-dressed ‘patient’ can now be tested for cardiac and cardiac-related conditions without electrodes being fastened to his body. 1973 H. NIELSEN Severed Key v. 58 The apartment was..finished in contemporary motel naugahide. 1994 Ethics 105 211 The black leather will have to be exchanged for black Naugahyde.
But now I know what it is your image is even more gross. Thanks, Sherwood! Ewwww.
October 11th, 2008 at 3:58 PM
I should add that I think a lot of the 30s attitude doesn’t fit into our modern dialectic of pro- or anti-smoking because it was perfectly acceptable to smoke and nobody was pushing the issue. The biggest anti-smoking campaigns in the 1930s were, I hate to say it, on the Nazi agenda. In America, it was seen as a basic expression of personal freedom. But that doesn’t mean nobody could see that it could be gross. Even smokers (like Fitzgerald) knew there was a downside. The attraction to smoking can be seen as part of a larger deliberate recklessness that was fashionable.
October 11th, 2008 at 4:01 PM
You could have a character or two whose lungs are pretty much shot from smoking and is coughing up phlegm all the time. That should be gross enough.
And maybe an afterword talking about smoking and the lengths tobacco companies went to in order to glamorize it and cover up the health risks.
October 11th, 2008 at 4:04 PM
10. Justine Says:
Karen: Funny you should mention the Nazis. I’m just reading a fascinating piece about youth movements in the 1930s including Hitler Youth. *Shudder*.
I guess that’s exactly what I’m struggling with: getting across the attitudes of the day without letting the understandings of this period get too much in the way. I do not want this book to wind up being preachy.
Cheryl: Most of my main characters are still teenagers. Bit young for the lung hack. Though I guess I could blight a parent or two.
I suspect this book’s going to wind up with a very lengthy afterword!
October 11th, 2008 at 4:15 PM
Since I’m not old enough to remember when smoking was so prominent in the U.S., I didn’t really appreciate that people don’t smoke much until I visited a country that smokes a lot. And now I’m living in Spain for a little while, and I’m really missing places where there’s little smoke!
As regards to your dilemma, I don’t think portraying a smoking character will necessarily make people think you’re promoting smoking, especially if you just portray it matter of fact and don’t glamorize it (which I know you won’t).
October 11th, 2008 at 4:29 PM
Maybe a lovable grandparent – obviously dying, very tragic.
October 11th, 2008 at 4:47 PM
That’s tough. If it were me, I guess I’d try to portray it as it was as much as possible, but add some subtle hint at how bad smoking is. The characters wouldn’t necessarily realize it’s because of smoking, and of course readers now would. For example, like you said, a grandparent dies from lung cancer or something.
So many people in my family used to smoke, and oddly, most of them have stopped. My dad, and both my grandfathers. My uncle and aunt haven’t been able to stop, and ironically, their son, my cousin, has started smoking. Sigh.
October 11th, 2008 at 5:00 PM
There was a health focus on how often one went to the toilet, too – will you be considering that equally? (Constipation, you know, was a curse…) I guess I’m saying that you may need to mention smoking, but you only need to focus on it if it’s key to your character or plot, and then you’re doing it through their eyes or the plots’ needs.
October 11th, 2008 at 5:26 PM
Chris Lawson Says:
Justine, when I was writing one of my WWI stories with Simon Brown I had a protagonist light up a cigarette and take pure, unblemished pleasure from it. This is despite myself having exactly the same attitude to smoking as yourself (with the added weight of it being my professional responsibility to advise against smoking — I strongly suspect that most people assume that bit came from Simon, but no, it was my doing). The reason I did this was because it was essential to the story. The protag was a soldier in the trenches and they *did* use cigarettes as one of their few genuine pleasures in intolerable circumstances. It would have been dishonest of me as a writer to insert any sort of caveat or anti-smoking information at that point. I hoped that the reader would be smart enough to know that I was not endorsing smoking but describing the soldier’s experience.
Having said that, I would have thought that unless it is essential to the story you could leave the smoking out entirely. I realise smoking was a common practice in 1930s NY, but then so was handwashing one’s own undergarments, starching shirts, and evacuating one’s bowels. I would be very much surprised if any of these acts is going to end up in your story. There are many ways you can establish verisimilitude and you don’t need to do all of them. I think it would be sufficient to mention in passing some of those advertisements, and to describe the haze of tobacco smoke — that way you are reporting on the historical fact that smoking was common while not having to describe specific characters’ smoking habits.
Just my 2c. Good luck figgerin’ it out.
October 11th, 2008 at 6:25 PM
16. Justine Says:
Chris: I totally get that. A WWI soldier would take unblemished pleasure from it.
If only smoking weren’t addictive and clearly pleasurable for so many people. Then no one would smoke. And this wouldn’t be an issue.
I don’t won’t to force my own ethical stances onto the novel. After all, I hate coffee and chocolate but have shown many characters loving those things. But then they don’t kill you . . .
October 11th, 2008 at 6:48 PM
Plausibly, it could be that none of your teenage female characters smoke, even if there are several. Rates of women smoking were still relatively low in the 1930s, up to only about 30%, and people started later, too. I’d guess that rates of smoking among teenage girls have only recently dropped back to 1930s levels, if indeed they have dropped back so far.
Statistically, it is likely that one or more of your teenage male characters would smoke, unless there are very few. 60-70% of men smoked in the 1930s, and those numbers are very high compared to today (more than double). Still, smoking rates also vary by age, socio-economic status, level of education, ethnicity, etc., so you should take those into account.
Perhaps there’s something you could make use of in the disparity between the sexes?
(Got this from L. Garfinkel, Preventative Medicine (1997) 26:447-450, and http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00015531.htm)
October 11th, 2008 at 6:59 PM
Sharon M Says:
I’m positive that Nancy Drew didn’t smoke – and she was originally published in the 1930s.
I have vague memories of villains with cigarettes and the occasional man with a pipe, but no smoking by the central crowd.
The first few Nancy Drews were reissued recently, with forwards by contemporary authors (if you’ve never read an original one, watch out for the casual bigotry).
October 11th, 2008 at 8:12 PM
Adrienne V Says:
Maybe you could have a character that for some reason had an outsider’s view of smoking? Someone with asthma or something of that sort, that sees smoking for what it really is?
October 11th, 2008 at 8:40 PM
Cynthia Leitich Smith Says:
You know, I remember the smoke in my grandparents’ little house being so thick that I had to step outside on frozen winter days just to breathe. I remember my grandma Dorothy saying how the doctors had told her generation that it was good for them. I do think it’s authentic, especially if you’re peeling back even farther in time, and I think the era would be missing some atmosphere (so to speak) without it. I wonder if you could just hit the issue in a heart-to-heart in the author’s note.
October 11th, 2008 at 8:58 PM
It’s hard for us to imagine it, these days when the link between smoking and health has been known throughout our lifetimes, but until the 1950′s, no one, literally no one, not even medical profession, understood the health consequences of smoking. I recall my epidemiology professor telling us about this in the 1980′s. He had done his medical training in the 1940′s, and back then he—like virtually all his fellow medical students—smoked, and no one thought anything of it.
When lung cancer rates started to rise dramatically in post-war Britain, no one knew why. Some suspected smoking; others, including Sir Richard Doll, who was instrumental in discovering the smoking-lung cancer link, thought it might be due to substances used in paving roads.
Given this, I think that any hint of the negative health effects of smoking would be a foreign element to the time setting of the story and if introduced, would have to come from some extraneous (out of the time) source.
October 11th, 2008 at 9:00 PM
Ariel Zeitlin Cooke Says:
Maybe you can do the old narrator-as-fish-out-of-water trick. Like all those historical novels that have unusually “strong minded” heroines. Your character can hate cigarettes though everyone around him or her thinks they’re sexy and fabulous.
October 11th, 2008 at 9:04 PM
i think if you need to have it in your novel, then have it exactly as it would have been at the time. i think your readership are smart enough to realise that smoking is bad for them, and you don’t necessarily have to endorse everything that ever appears in one of your novels. i’m pretty sure holly black doesn’t endorse drug use, but it features pretty heavily in “valiant”. but she also shows the effects it had on its users… so i guess have smoking in your novel, but show the effects it had on people. i’d suggest talking to your writer friends to see how they’ve dealt with a similar situation, but i bet you’ve probably already done that…
October 11th, 2008 at 9:32 PM
Little Willow Says:
I appreciate your ethical dilemma a great deal. I too am anti-smoking. I don’t understand how or why people would want to smoke. It’s nasty, it’s smelly, and it hurts smokers AND non-smokers alike, inside and outside. I get physically ill when there’s smoke nearby. Migraine and other grossness. I can’t stand it when I see people smoke in movies or TV now, but I begrudgingly permit it for my favorite classic films and books (The Great Gatsby) because I know I can’t exactly (or easily) get into a time machine, travel back in time, and say, “Don’t smoke!” to those folks. Grrr. Anyhow, I say write what feels right to you, because I won’t hate you for writing something that is historically accurate.
October 11th, 2008 at 9:33 PM
carson beck Says:
huh. that’s interesting. i feel for your dilemma. good luck. honestly i didn’t know smoking was so pervasive back then. i mean i knew people smoked but i assumed that like now there were people who did and people who didn’t.
October 11th, 2008 at 10:22 PM
Maybe just have smoking there as part of the background – neither seen as glamourous or really problematic, but just part of life in that era? Something that’s mentioned, but not focused on?
I’m very anti-smoking, but I’ve read a lot of novels written/set during the 30s-50s and I don’t react to smoking the way I would if it were present day. I know I can’t think “oh, you’re being so stupid, ruining your health like that,” – perhaps it doesn’t irritate me as much because I can see that it is a product of the times. But I don’t stop thinking that it’s so problematic, and I don’t want to start copying the characters in that regard just because I admire them in other ways.
I guess trust that your readers will have smoking-is-bad drummed into them from other sources?
October 11th, 2008 at 11:13 PM
When I was in Poland in 1987, before the wall fell, it was still socially unacceptable for a woman to smoke on the street or while walking. Although all the Poles I met smoked like fishes in water. I smoked then as well and as an American I was amazed at the public disapproval sent my way for smoking while outdoors or on the public street. I think it was even more so in the 30′s, which is why all the flappers in the 20′s were “bad girls” with bobs and long cigarette holders as phallic substitutes. I would think even “tough” teenagers would just be starting to smoke and that it would not be difficult to control the smoking you show in them.
October 12th, 2008 at 5:32 AM
Sinclair Lewis, in his novels about small-town American life written in the 1920s, wrote that smoking was bad and led to cancer. (For example, in Main Street, and possibly in Arrowsmith as well). It’s been years and years since I’ve read them, but I remember being shocked in a they knew that ALREADY?? kind of way
October 12th, 2008 at 6:54 AM
Even if you find examples of people who didn’t like smoking or thought it was bad for you from the 1930s, it wasn’t the dominant feeling at the time. If I read a book set in the 30s and came across characters who were ahead of their time in smoking attitudes I’d be annoyed and think the author was using a modern character in a historical setting. And pointed references to ill health seem a bit preachy. I’m with the commenters who say to trust your readers to know that smoking is bad and you think it’s bad even if people in the 30s thought it was sexy.
October 12th, 2008 at 7:56 AM
You could always keep the smoking very much in the periphery for the character(s) who do smoke, and perhaps have one of the more major characters try smoking and dislike it? The disliking smoking would be a much more fleshed-out scene. Perhaps a memory of why one character won’t/doesn’t smoke (bad memories associated with a person or place).
Or, you could have one of the non-smoking characters prefer something else (lipstick, going to the movies, pocket books) above smoking.
October 12th, 2008 at 2:46 PM
I was going to suggest what Adrienne V said; incude a character who dislikes smoking because of asthma or another similar condition. Someone very sensitive to smoke, whose eyes water, etc. Someone like you, who hates the smell of it, etc.
Now, someone who grew up around smokers probably would not be as sensitive to smoke as we tend to be now (because we encounter smoke much less often), but you could still have someone with asthma or another breathing problem…
As others have said, you can probably get away with mentioning smoking in passing, without “condoning” or glamourizing it, just stating it’s there and moving on. You can have a few older characters who have the symptoms we now know (and your readers will recognize) are caused by smoking (nasty skin, yellow fingers, gross teeth, hacking coughs),and talk about how gross they are. Your readers will know those people got that way from smoking, so you’re giving your anti-smoking opinion without “betraying” the time/characters, etc.
October 12th, 2008 at 6:57 PM
My instinct is to say be true to your characters and your period and then afterword away. Like others have said trust your reader.
I always found it a bit funny reading and hearing about people who didn’t know that smoking could kill you back in the day. My Nana harassed my mother into taking up smoking ‘to relax her’, it was such a scandalous and surprisingly cathartic story.
Then again, I’m an ex-smoker, so I might be suspect.
October 12th, 2008 at 8:39 PM
How expensive were cigarettes in the 30s? Maybe your character just can’t afford them.
October 13th, 2008 at 9:24 AM
If your characters are teenagers, then they’ll certainly be influenced by the glamour of their favourite film stars smoking, and by the advertising and so on. Some of them might discover they don’t actually like it, but they might persevere anyway, because it’s so glamorous.
My sister started smoking as a teenager. I tried it once, and after struggling not to throw up, asked how she could stand it – she said she felt sick too the first time she tried it, but she kept trying until she got used to it, because she wanted to seem more grown-up and hang out with the cool older girls.
October 13th, 2008 at 10:58 AM
Eric Luper Says:
Justine, I did not read the thirty-something comments that preceded mine but I can tell you that I struggled with the same issue as you in the writing of my forthcoming 1930′s novel, Bug Boy.
After vascillating a whole bunch, I decided to stick to the prevailing attitudes of the time. Some people will criticize me for this. They’ll argue that I ‘m promoting smoking in young people. However, I give teens more credit than that and it is most important to me to be authentic. It’s what makes historical fiction just that.
My protag does not smoke, although he tries a cigar and does not care for it. It was important in my novel because it’s the story of a young jockey’s quick rise to fame and back then cigars were a sign of affluence. It was pertinent because my character, no matter how successful he becomes in his sport, always feels like an outsider. The rejection of the cigar was symbolic of that.
Just putting it out there.
October 13th, 2008 at 11:02 AM
I look at it like this: I sometimes have to have a murder in my stories, but I don’t advocate murder. I sometimes have to include characters with less than desireable eating habits, but I myself am a health nut. Fictionalizing something that is historically accurate or which provides a sense of realism, IMO, does not equate advocating it.
BUT… in 1922, the “cigarette wars” began as some people started to believe they were bad. 15 states (not NY) banned their sale at this time.
@Michelle: 1931-06: Cigarette Price Wars begin. Cigs sold for 14 cents a pack, 2-for-27 cents in the depths of the depression. (Source – http://academic.udayton.edu/health/syllabi/tobacco/history2.htm)
October 13th, 2008 at 11:10 AM
There are a lot of less than pretty things that one has to look and sometimes address at when setting a story in any historical period, (some noted in other comments) but ignoring the distressing portions of history, or only using them as a way to underline a modern moral point means you’re dressing up a modern story in old fashioned clothes. (Not that that doesn’t happen a lot in modern “historical” fiction.)
This doesn’t mean that a historical story has to tackle every ugly thing about an era, but if the smoking that was prevalent at the time distresses you so much, can you really write an honest story set in that period? Widespread smoking is perhaps one of the lesser things that a modern audience might find objectionable about the era. (Birth control was illegal, women were barely enfranchised, people of color weren’t enfranchised at all, there almost no regulations protecting consumers from tainted food or workers from inhumane conditions…)
October 13th, 2008 at 12:07 PM
38. Justine Says:
Eric: I totally agree with you. Historical fiction does have to be accurate. I definitely trust my readers to get that I’m not advocating smoking. It’s just that the long history of cigarettes and smoking being glamorised is still so strong even now. I know smart adults who right now think cigar smoking is cool and not harmful like smoking. Aaarggh!!
Lunamoth: I agree completely. I have books with teenage pregnancy. There’s a murder in my book that comes out next year. I’m definitely not advocating either one!
However, the history of smoking in the twentieth century is such a dark one and the tobacco industry’s glamorisation of smoking and supression of medical data about the extreme dangers of smoking are so appalling that it really bothers me to add to positive portrayals of smoking.
Further to the price of cigarettes. It was much more common to be able to buy them one at a time for cheap back then. Also loose tobacco was considerably cheaper than ready-made cigarettes.
Julie: My book will be addressing many of the issues you cite. There were many people at the time who actively fought against racism and for women’s reproductive rights. In the 1930s there was a booming African-American press that covered civil rights in great detail. Some of those papers (and there were many of them) had circulations of over 60,000, by the early forties even more. It’s definitely possible to portray the racist attitudes of the time while making it clear that you-the-author don’t advocate them.
I think smoking’s different, however, because its health effect weren’t widely known. In fact the opposite was true some doctors of the period advised patients to take up smoking for their health. The vast majority of the condemnations of smoking were on moral grounds not health.
The difference is, I think, very clear. While there were workers’ rights advocates and campaigners against racism and for women’s rights there was no movement saying, hey, smoking’s bad for your health not because it’s unladylike. That movement was twenty years away.
October 13th, 2008 at 12:10 PM
Have you seen this? Roger Ebert himself feels your pain:
“Look, I hate smoking. It took my parents from me, my father with lung cancer, my mother with emphysema. They both liked Luckies. When my dad’s cancer was diagnosed, they played it safe and switched to Winstons. When my mother was breathing oxygen through a tube, she’d take out the tube, turn off the oxygen, and light up. I avoid smokers. It isn’t allowed in our house. When I see someone smoking, it feels like I’m watching them bleed themselves, one drip at a time.
So we’ve got that established. On the other hand, I have never objected to smoking in the movies, especially when it is necessary to establish a period or a personality.
I think some smoking is okay even in contemporary stories, if only to acknowledge it exists. Movies can’t rewrite reality. The MPAA cautiously mentions smoking in their descriptions of movie ratings (even if it’s the Cheshire Cat and his hookah). If, by the time you’re old enough to sit through a movie, you haven’t heard that smoking is bad for you, you don’t need a movie rating, you need a foster home.”
October 13th, 2008 at 2:03 PM
40. Justine Says:
Jennifer: Hah! That’s awesome. He feels exactly the way I do about it right down to having lost family. I do wish we were already living in the future where no one’s smokes . . . Course they’ll be doing some other hideous thing instead that hasn’t been invented yet.
October 13th, 2008 at 2:12 PM
Electric Landlady Says:
In Connie Willis’s Remake, the protagonist has a job erasing all evidence of smoking from classic movies. He hates it, but does it anyway, ’cause you gotta eat. Then the Temperance League gets started and he has to start erasing all alcohol use as well, and is surprised by how many movies turn into total nonsense…
I’m for trust-your-reader too. I also agree that if your protagonist is young, they may not have started smoking yet; and I’ve read a number of my-first-cigarette accounts which make the habit sound absolutely nauseating.
Your post also made me think of this story, which may partly explain that haze of tobacco smoke in all those classic movies.
October 14th, 2008 at 2:41 PM
OK, I’m sure many people have said something along these lines already but even in the thirties there were people who hated smoking; my great grandparents for instance. Well, at least my great grandmother, she refused to marry my great grandfather until he stopped smoking. She said it gave her migraines.
October 14th, 2008 at 4:15 PM
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