Christians the world over will be delighted to welcome a new recruit to the faith in the shape of Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.
The final details have yet to be hammered out, but the basic deal is that if God sorts out Joe’s throat cancer, Joe will (a) hold his hand up to helping in the murder of millions and (b) campaign to make sure no one else becomes an accomplice to the same crime.
Whilst the case sits in the in-tray awaiting the nod from God, Joe has started praying, exercising, going to church on Sundays, and flagellating himself in the New York Times with self-pitying articles about what a bastard he’s been.
Enough obfuscation: Eszterhaus is a self-confessed, erstwhile, hard-drinkin’, hell raisin’, rock’n’rollin’ kinda Hollywood guy with 14 movies (including Basic Instinct) to his credit. He prided himself on being a shooting-from-the-hip, “anti-smoking-campaigners-are-hysterical-freedom-hating-fascists”, type of dude. Militant chain smoking was top of his life-agenda. Now he’s got throat cancer, and it’s top of his death agenda.
Joe now mixes it up with the movin’, shakin’, coughin’, wheezin’ emphysema boys, and he rather wishes he’d not smoked. He thinks he might avoid a painful death by confessing to his life of crime, and telling Hollywood types not to be as naughty as he was: namely, he relentlessly used his power as a movie script-writer to glamorise and hype smoking.
That was his crime. That’s how he played a key role in the murder of millions. The fact that the chickens have come home to roost in his own trachea is why he’s asking the rest of Hollywood to pack up smoking on celluloid. He thinks that his appeal might earn him some remission. Tragically, cancer cells don’t read the New York Times, and probably wouldn’t give a toss about Joe’s road to Damascus, even if they did.
In Joe’s movies, all the cool sexy types fag it up non-stop. Fans who aren’t just freeze-framing the action to check out whether Sharon Stone was or wasn’t wearing any knickers, will be aware that smoking is a powerful part of the sexual subtext in “Basic Instinct”. Stone’s character is horny as hell, sexually uninhibited (weh heh!), with a lesbian lover (fruity!) and smokes like a trooper; Michael Douglas is the hard-bitten cop on her tail – and he’s trying to quit.
She seduces him, as Joe says in his article, “with literal and figurative smoke that she blows into his face”. In the wake of the movie, one manufacturer launched a cigarette called Basic. Joe comments “My movie made a lot of money; so did their new cigarette”. The link couldn’t be more blatant.
Tobacco advertising is now being stubbed out in the ashtray of history. The upshot is a load of PRs and product placement specialists are salivating at the prospect of Marlborough Man’s big butch bucks landing foursquare on their bottom line, as the lads with the tabs turn to PR to shift the smokes.
So Joe’s energetic call to arms is coming just at the wrong time. The sexiest coolest stars will be smoking like chimneys: Nicotine Kidman will wheeze up at the Oscars to collect her Ashcademy Award, for her part in the remake of “Our Man Smokes Havanas”. And agile minds will be working out cunning ways to slip the cigarettes into the editorial pages.
As usual – this is beginning to get a little tiresome for me, since I seem to say it every time I write or say anything at all about PR – none of this is new or news.
The so-called father of public relations, Edward Bernays (whose techniques and thinking incidentally were much admired by Joseph Goebbels, which was unpleasantly ironic since Bernays was a Jewish eacute;migreacute;) got involved with fags in the 20s. He paid high-society women to wander round Broadway’s coolest spots, looking sophisticated, with beautiful coloured cigarettes smouldering in long elegant holders poised prettily between their perfect pursed lips. Phwoor.
Later, Bernays nipped across to Paris and persuaded a couturier to design an entire season’s fashions in grey and green, to coincide with the launch of a new line in cigarettes, packaged in … grey and green.
PRs planning to make a wad out of tobacco’s impending advertising invisibility should take a look back at Bernays’ work. It could see them through to a lucrative retirement (which probably won’t last very long if they’re too enthusiastic about consuming the product they punt).
I don’t hold out any hope that everyone in the PR industry will be too principled to accept the tobacconists’ shilling. And for all the hard time I’ve given Eszterhaus, in the interests of world-weary cynicism and irony, I applaud his stand wholeheartedly.
Especially when he expresses himself like this: “A cigarette in the hands of a Hollywood star onscreen is a gun aimed at a 12 or 14-year-old. The gun will go off when that kid is an adult. We in Hollywood know that the gun will go off, yet we hide behind a smoke screen of phrases like “creative freedom” and “artistic expression”. Those lofty words are lies designed, at best, to obscure laziness. I know. I have told those lies. The truth is that there are 1,000 better and more original ways to reveal a character’s personality”.
Sadly, I suspect that despite the current clampdown, the tobacco multinationals will find new ways to promote their gear, both over here through the arts, the media and the movies, and in whatever third world country can be (easily) persuaded to buy into “first world sophistication” by puffing through a packet of cigs.
Sorry, Joe. Your call will be falling on death ears.