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A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 04/23/2006
Smoking Is Good For You

Thank You For Smoking

I am so happy this movie got made.

Based on a novel by Christopher Buckley, Thank You For Smoking is one of the best in the pure-form politically incorrect genre. (Great relationship films, such as Closer, don't count, as those are, of necessity, unapologetically wrong). Smoking is a savagely savvy assault on our absurd, if always reasonable, human hypocrisy. Our challenger? Big Tobacco, as majestically represented by lobbyist Nick Naylor.

I was a smoker once. Spurred by a combination of living in Europe, a desperate desire to identify with my dead chain-smoking grandfather, and, a craving to channel that essentia of Vincent Vega sanitized into my subconscious by "Bullwinkle Part II," I took up the death sticks at twenty-three. Sure, it was only a casual delicacy, in service to socialization and talking to hot chicks, but the craving was real, and continues to be--it's been a while since I quit.

(Once a smoker always a smoker, they [rightly] say. That means I get a little James Dean aura from here on out for my troubles. Gotta love the skeptics. I do. [1])

The message of Smoking is understated but clear and rhythmic: we are responsible for ourselves and our actions-perhaps, even when we are not. To fall into the trap of self-pity, depression and unwilling surrender is never necessarily unjustified, but it is an avoidable, self-inflicted blow on our own happiness. Responsibility for our actions and failures is not a moral necessity, but a blissful one. "Deserve," as William Money succinctly put it, "has nothing to do with it."

I've argued elsewhere that so-called sin is inherently desirable to us. We want access to it. We want the freedom to try it. We want the freedom to deny it. As if sexual and narcotic ecstasies weren't reason in themselves enough for willful indulgence, an even greater pleasure is submission to freewill, the heart of the human experience. People in less fortunate countries would and do die for the range of opportunity for excess afforded to us: artery-clogging blue cheese bacon burgers? Yes. The Playboy Channel? Thank you very much. Alcohol, legalized marijuana, and the Chicken Ranch?

Homegirl, you're speaking my language.

In Smoking, Nick Naylor tells the students of an elementary class to question for themselves the validity of claims as to what is bad and what is good. As an ex-smoker, I suggest the same.

Adios folks! See ya next week!

-- Abel

[1] Sextus, Hume, Nietzsche, and Derrida are my closest compadres.

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