Closet Fascination

A blog about a journey, smoking, not smoking, vaping and everything in between



Smoking and the Media: The Handmaid’s Tale

*This post contains spoilers, stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoiled*

I recently finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I am currently halfway through the TV series. I’m enjoying both, but my inner fetishist isn’t happy that they decided to practically remove all the smoking from the book. I mean, I get it. When Margaret Atwood wrote the book, smoking was commonplace, despite the fact that we knew it was unhealthy. The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the future, the TV show puts that future around right now, when smoking is less common, but still exists. But only bad people smoke now in TV and movies, unless we are talking period pieces, so there is no way we could make the main characters smokers.

Smoking is something that is forbidden in the world of the Handmaid’s Tale. But people still smoke. They buy cigarettes on the black market and if you are powerful and well connected enough you might get your hands on some. The Wives are often referenced and still drinking and smoking as they have their handmaiden’s to have children on their behalf as they are barren.

In the show, we see Serena Joy, the wife of the Commander smoke twice so far. Both times have been right before the Ceremony, where she must watch her husband have sex with the Offred, the Handmaiden. She smokes far more than that in the book. In fact, Offred comments frequently on how much she’d like to smoke when she sees Serena Joy smoking. Interestingly, when she gets Serena Joy to give her a cigarette in the book, Offred is excited to smoke the cigarette, but then realizes that with the match she could burn the house down and presumably hides the match (this is alluded to later) and gets rid of the cigarette (not sure about this, but she doesn’t speak of it again).

When she goes out to Jezebel’s with the Commander she smokes and when she continues to have regular sex with Nick she smokes every time she sees him. The more risks she takes, the more she smokes. Smoking in the Handmaid’s Tale is a symbol of freedom, but also of rebellion. It is taboo breaking at its finest. As much as I am enjoying the television adaptation, for me it losing a little something cutting all that smoking out. But I guess it wouldn’t seem like ‘now’ if everyone smoked, now would it?


Smoking and the media: Call the Midwife

After spending the weekend binge watching three seasons of this amazing BBC show and wanting to write about here the whole time I watched, I finally get to. This show is a must watch. If you have not seen, run, don’t walk, to go watch it. It will make you laugh, cry and of course, since it is a 1950’s period drama, there is lots of smoking. It isn’t quite as overt and in your face as Mad Men, but for me that made it better. In Mad Men, you get the sense that for the most part, smoking is no big deal, everyone smokes and after awhile, it definitely seems very normal and almost less special. In Call the Midwife, smoking is much more intentional and for me, that made it that much more wonderful to watch. So if you don’t want to be spoiled. Stop reading now and go watch it.

The only regular smoker of the female characters is Trixie. She smokes Sobranie Black Russians which I had to look up because I wasn’t even aware of what they were. With Trixie, smoking is very glamorous and fits very much with her character of being the daring, outgoing, somewhat brash nurse. While I appreciated her smoking, she is not the character that inspired me to write this post. For the life of me, I have not been able to find any pictures of any of the stuff I’m going to talk about so you’ll just have to go watch to show when you are done reading this.

At various points in the show, you see most of the non-nun female leads smoke although sometimes it is in the background and none of them are regular smokers.

For me, the most fascinating of these occasional smokers is Sister Bernadette/ Shelagh. She starts the show in the first season as a nun. By season 2, we she her start questioning her calling and by the end of season 2 she decides to stop being a nun and pursue a relationship with Dr. Turner, the chain-smoking doctor that answers to the midwifes when they need him. The first time we see her smoke is with him. They have just finished with a difficult delivery and they step outside where Dr. Turner is about to smoke a cigarette:

Dr Turner: We’re like an officer and a sergeant the morning after the Somme! And that’s not to say I see myself as the officer. [takes a smoke] I feel as though I should offer you one.
Sister Bernadr turner bernadettedette: Just a puff.
Dr Turner: Of this?
Sister Bernadette: Quickly, just a wee one. [takes a puff] What kind are these?
Dr Turner: [watching her admiringly] Henleys.
Sister Bernadette: Oh, Henleys! I loved Henleys. They were the kind my father used to smoke. I used to sneak one out of his desk sometimes when I was about fourteen. [hands back] Thank you.
Dr Turner: You’ve earned it.
The next time we see her smoke she is no longer a nun, but Shelagh and she is married to Dr. Turner. They are having a discussion in their house when the doctor offers her a cigarette.
Dr. Turner: Do you want one?
Shelagh: I always want one. But you don’t always ask. (Takes a cigarette and lights up)shelagh
I found this super intriguing and related to it. I almost never get offered a cigarette by smokers. Probably because I am perceived as non-smoker, which is probably how I want to be perceived (as we find out later, so does Shelagh.) But being perceived as a non-smoker, one often gets left out of smoking activities. Case in point, my current co-workers did not know of my occasional smoking status. I also didn’t know for sure that some of them were occasional smokers. So my co-worker and a few other say they need to go get something from her car and come back reeking of smoke. Needless to say, I got to smoke with them later, however, I missed the first opportunity because of how I was perceived by others. Can I blame them? No… there is nothing that would make them think otherwise, even though I don’t actively hide the fact that I have smoked in the past/ occasionally indulge, I also don’t volunteer that information.
The last interchange happens rather rapidly, almost to give us the sense of normalcy, and that this is not the first nor will it be the last request. They are discussing a upcoming choir competition (Shelagh is the choir director) and Shelagh asks for a puff.
Shelagh: Puff, please.
Dr. Turner: You can always have one of your own.
Shelagh: No, because that would make me a smoker.
Both me and Dr. Turner laughed a little at that. The way she smokes, the way she enjoys it, to me says she is a smoker. To Shelagh, a smoker is someone that smokes every day and has there own cigarettes. To me, a smoker is someone who enjoys smoking. They may not smoke all the time, but they both enjoy smoking when they do it and desire to smoke when they are not smoking. People who smoke everyday are simply smokers that smoker more often than I do. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I can hardly say I have quit, because I know I will smoke again, given the opportunity. But I’m not exactly smoking either. The way I see it, I am a smoker with super long interval between cigarettes. Some people might call those “relapses” but to me they are not since I have never said that I was quitting or trying not to smoke.
Why wouldn’t Shelagh want to be seen as a smoker? I don’t know enough about the 50’s to really to guess as  to why, however, I am wondering if even in the ;’50s smoking was still considered a bold maybe even a little bad thing to do. In this case, being a smoker definitely would not fit with Shelagh’s image. Regardless as to why, it was fun/ interesting to see a show actually address smoking directly. I definitely plan on re-watching this series as it was good on many more levels than the fact that it contained some killer smoking. Until next time… smoke em’ if you got them and if you want to.
January 12 Edit: After much searching (and believe me- people like to cut away/remove the smoking as if it doesn’t exist) I found a couple of images to add to the post. Enjoy!

Thoughts about Tobacco Harm Reduction

My idea for this post actually came from those randomly generated links that appear below each blog post. How related are these articles to my blog? Usually not at all. Most of the time it sends me to a blog of a person trying to quit smoking. Because that is what people do now days. This link happened to relate to my post on the smoking in Avatar. It brought me to an interesting anti-smoking website. What? Did she just say interesting and anti-smoking in the same sentence? Yes, dear readers- I did. Most anti-smoking websites or blogs are off-putting, because they assume that smokers are self-destructive idiots. Okay… maybe that is an exaggeration, but they come off as very condescending and very doom and gloom. Much like some sermon’s I have listened to in older school catholic churches. The blog I will be linking you to talks about tobacco harm reduction. What is this? Well- they are all about you quitting smoking, but you don’t have to give up nicotine or tobacco. You just have to quit smoking it. I’ve already had a few comments from Tony about the benefits of e-cigarettes.

I happen to have a thing for smoke. The way it smells. The way it tastes. I enjoy the effect of nicotine, but I’m not addicted to it. I do recognize its highly addictive potential though. Well, harm reduction people are anti-smoking advocates who say- obviously people smoke for a reason and that nicotine use is beneficial in some ways so instead of making people give up something they love, replace it with something else. They recognize that smokers are not stupid which made it refreshing to read some of their articles.

Am I going to give up smoking? Probably not. I see occasional smoking as “harm reduction” in a way too. The anti’s will have you believe that there is no safe amount of smoking, which is probably true, but they do exaggerate the risk for a low-level smoker. I plan on eliminating inhaling from my smoking routine, mostly because the type of smoking I will be doing doesn’t really require it and also- I am a nicotine lightweight, which is like being a cheap drunk. Will I have a higher risk of mouth and esophageal cancer? Yes.  But so do people who use smokeless tobacco. Inhaling and the frequency that you do so is what increases your risk so much more. Will I miss inhaling? Maybe… I only inhaled once on Saturday, and while it did feel good in a way, I also really enjoyed just blowing smoke. From the point of view of my fetish, I didn’t look like the pack-a-day smoker confirmed smoker that I always wanted to look like, but that goal conflicts with my greater desire to remain an occasional smoker. I didn’t look like a confirmed smoker when I was inhaling all the time, although my exhales were often quite impressive, the nicotine would kick me in the ass.

Back to the post I wanted to link people too, because honestly they make some really awesome points in it and it is something that I always tell people and they don’t believe me because tobacco has been so demonized. The post is: It’s not the tobacco, it’s not the additives: it’s the smoke. People are under the false impression that cigarette smoke is bad because of the additives, making cigar smoker safer because it is just pure tobacco. Or if I only smoke natural cigarettes, that is less bad than smoking regular cigarettes. Or my favourite, pot smoking is way less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Actually, smoking anything is bad. If I were to smoke tea bags everyday inhaling them like cigarettes and say did it 20 times a day, I would be putting myself at just as much risk as smoking 20 cigarettes a day and getting far less pleasure out of it. Sure nicotine is hard on your heart and blood vessels, but there is no good evidence that nicotine itself causes cancer. The carcinogens come from the combustion of the plant whether the plant you are burning is marijuana or tobacco. The only difference I can see between the two is that the majority of pot users don’t smoke twenty joints a day.

Finally, another article that I want to call people’s attention to is this one: Why Tobacco Harm Reduction Includes Defending Smoking. This is where you see that the people advocating for tobacco harm reduction are the only sane anti-smoking advocates out there. They believe that tobacco use, whether smoking it or other uses is an informed choice that people make. They try not to judge people on what choice they make, although they would prefer people choose smoke-free options. Further, they are actually not really for all the recent public smoking bans. This article: NYC:the city that never smokes talks about how there is not a lot of good scientific evidence for the dangers of second-hand smoke and he is right. The movement is largely a social one, that was backed by pseudo-science. I have a whole paper that explains how in great detail.

So when I talk about antis, I’m not talking about these level-headed tobacco harm reduction supporters who see smokers as people not just a demographic. I’m talking about the zealots who got mad because there was smoking in Avatar.  If the tobacco harm reduction people were in charge, it would be a different world for smokers. There might even still be places to smoke inside, although they would still prefer you switch to a less harmful form. These people take almost as much flack from the antis as smokers do, as they are accused of being “in league” with the tobacco companies.

I’ve covered a lot in this post and I think it might be something that I will revisit again at some point in the future. I find the science behind smoking very interesting, particularly because much of it tends to be biased. There is no getting around bias really, although many people seem to think science is “objective”. People try to be objective when doing science, but is it ever possible to be completely objective? No. What I find even more interesting is the communication of science and how the actually research results can be twisted to mean whatever society wants it to. Or  better illustrated by this PhD comic (click on comic for larger version):

The Science News Cycle

Just some food for thought, that we can’t always believe everything the media is telling us because something could have been lost in translation. Smoking is bad for us, yes. But how bad? That question is a little harder to answer.

Smoking, Teens and Media: Past vs Present

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, probably because these are some smoking related media that resonated pretty strongly with me. Nowadays you are not allowed to show teens or pre-teens smoking cigarettes, nor do they have the PSA style episodes that they used to when I was growing up. My earliest memory of a response to smoking on television had to be watching the Raccoons. I think this is where my ideas of instant addiction came from. The episode showed Lisa Raccoon trying smoking to fit in with her friend from the city. At one point, they show her being chased by giant cigarettes and I think it really frightened me. I can remember that I always felt both excited and uncomfortable watching these young people/animals try smoking. What was even more odd, is that always wanted them to keep smoking. At least I thought that was odd as a kid. Now it makes a little more sense to me. But as a kid all I understood was that smoking was bad for me and the TV shows were telling me not to start unless you want to be a hopeless addict. And yet, I still on some deeper level I still think I wanted to try it. 

My next memory, is probably of Stephanie Tanner almost smoking on Full House. I was so disappointed that she didn’t. Again, this freaked me out a little that I was gunning so much for these TV figures to start smoking. Next was probably, the chick that takes up smoking on the original Degrassi. Honestly, this episode would be downright controversial and potentially even banned now because not only does the focus character for that episode start smoking, but they are ambiguous as to whether she will quit or not. I guess Degrassi was going for realism over PSA. That was long before the Next Generation years of exporting them to the states. I’m pretty sure that episode would never fly nowadays. 

I also remember Claudia from Party of Five experimenting and probably the most recent teen smoking that sticks out in my mind and probably one of the last incidences that would be shown on TV without some sort of PSA attached is the famous first time Ryan and Marissa meet on the O.C. 

You never did see Ryan or Marissa smoke after this. Sandy tells Ryan that if he is living under his roof he can’t smoke and Ryan obliges. After all, better to live in a mansion as a non-smoker than be homeless and a smoker. Or so the message of the show was. The next time you saw anyone smoke anything was when Marissa’s bad sister comes back from boarding school. She likes to smoke the green stuff and after getting some from her, Seth starts to smoke pot. Until he burns down his Dad’s office that is. I think teens pot smoking on TV is the 21st century equivalent of cigarette smoking in the late 80’s and 90’s. No one smokes pot without consequences and they are usually seen to abuse it in some way. Now they do not show teen smoking on TV because presumably they found that teens might be influenced by seeing the young stars light up on screen and it normalized the smoking. The same logic presumably does not apply to pot smoking because it is illegal. 

Gossip Girl, by the creator of the O.C.,  is based on a popular set of novels by the same name. The show differs from the show in many way but the most striking difference is that you would be hard pressed to find a character in the book that doesn’t smoke something. Nate is a pot head, Dan is a chain-smoker and Serena, Blair and the other girls all enjoy cigarettes with their coffee before class. Of course, they couldn’t have that. I mean they didn’t even show teens smoking like that back when I was a kid, let alone now when they seem to be hyper-vigilant about who is seen smoking on TV. 

Here is an excerpt:

Blair shrugged her shoulders and took a long drag on her dwindling cigarette. “I thought we could hang out by ourselves for awhile,” she said. “No one really comes out until later.”
“Okay,” Serena said. She smoothed out her dress and dug around in her little red purse for her own pack of cigarettes. Gauloises, from France. She tapped one out and stuck it in her mouth. “Want one?’ she offered Blair.
Blair shook her head no.
“There’re kind of strong, but the box is too cool, I don’t care.” Serena laughed. She was about the light up with a pack of bar matches, when the bartender swooped in with a lighter.  

We couldn’t have teens saying stuff like that on TV now, could we? And we don’t. Making Dan a non-smoker took a lot of his edge away. On the show, he is a downright goody goody, that is a writer still, but the similarities stop there. It is kind of interesting the difference it makes, but it does.

Anyhow, I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I’m not sure how much longer I will blog for so do not be surprised if this site one day disappears. I do not want to disappear but I might have to for personal reasons not pertaining to my boyfriend.

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