On Smoking: Mad Men, Friends, and Sex and the City

Mad Men is one of my favourite drama series. When it has become available on Netflix, I have watched the whole series that were available as fast and as much as I could. I could not stop watching it the first time and watched the whole series couple of times more.

For obvious reasons, I smoked more that I usually did while watching the programme. I was still a smoker back then. The plot of the story is after all premised within the time where smoking was not yet frowned upon.

In that programme, smoking is associated with strength and smokers are presented in the light of success. The underlying message is: smoking cigarettes makes us strong and courageous. It helps us not only to get through our difficult life but also to thrive in it.

In many countries today, tobacco companies are not allowed to advertise their products, not directly at least. However, one could always find a Loophole. For instance, I do not see billboards, ad posters, and TV commercials that entice consumers to buy cigarettes. That said, it does not mean that cigarettes are not being advertised. Mad Men is one case in point. Here, Lucky Strike is being advertised.

In the previous blog entry entitled, Friends on Netflix: From Watching To Studying It, I have pondered upon my impulsive behaviour of watching the hit sitcom Friends. Unlike 60s in which the story plot of Mad Men is premised, people are becoming more and more conscious of how harmful smoking is into our health during the 90s. One would think that unlike in Mad Men, smoking cannot be advertised in Friends. One could not be more wrong.

There are episodes in Friends that smoking is advertised. These episodes are the following: first, The One with the Thumb (Season 1, Episode 3); second, The One with Rachel Smokes (Season 5, Episode 8); third, The One Who Could Have Been Part 1 (Season 6, Episode 15); fourth, The One With Rosita Dies (Season 7, Episode 13); and perhaps also in many more other episode.

In all of these episodes, although smoking is demonized (smoking is bad to your health), it is also being depicted as a necessity (you need it to survive). In the episodes where Rachelle and Phoebe smoke, cigarettes are aligned with success and power to the extent that cigarettes are phallic substitutes in the same way that Sigmund Freud has once argued that women acquire the phallus through her child.

Let us take the episode where Chandler was teaching Joey how to smoke. Chandler: ‘Don’t think of it as a cigarette. Think of it as something that has been missing from your hand. When you are holding it, you feel right. You Feel complete’.

Here, cigarettes are even internalized and portrayed as part of the smokers body. Without it, the body of the smoker is as good as a mutilated body. Furthermore, the character has already stopped smoking and it was getting well. In this particular scene, it is being emphasized, how Chandler missed smoking so much and that he will missed it forever. This notion makes it difficult for smokers to stop smoking and ex-smokers not to smoke.

I definitely wanted to smoke while watching this scene. However, being aware of how these ads affect our way of thinking certainly builds a defense mechanism. Being conscious of how we are being manipulated makes us immune to the same manipulation we have become conscious of. Do not get me started with Sex and the City. My first attempt to stop smoking couple of years ago has been very difficult especially when I see Carrie Bradshaw walk on the streets of New York confidently as if she owns the street.

In his book entitled Easy Way To Stop Smoking, Allen Carr how subtle and yet powerful messages with regards to smoking infiltrates our conscious minds. This book is very useful for those who wishes to stop smoking and its method is based upon changing our views with our smoking addiction. In Chapter 7, Brainwashing and the Sleeping Partner, he brought the readers’ attention to the ways in which the media representations have played a pivotal role on how our attitudes and views on smoking are formed.

The representations of cigarette smoking implies that we need cigarettes and our life without it would be difficult, which is of course misleading, because cigarette smoking does not complete our lives. On the contrary: it creates a void. The truth of the matter is that our lives are more complete when we do not smoke.


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