Saturday, January 10, 2009

Flavour Country Revisited

One of my favourite new television shows is AMC's Mad Men, which chronicles the drama and tension (of both the professional and sexual vintages) rampant within early-1960s Madison Avenue advertising culture. The show's steely, unimpeachably cool protagonist, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), spends his days alternately devising pitches for soap flakes, striving to uphold a typical suburban household, bedding comely women, and wrestling with demons from his past. The secretaries, underlings, and higher-ups are superbly portrayed, bringing to life a savage brand of office politics that makes the average workplace look like student government by comparison. Don's long-suffering wife Betty (January Jones), besides being ridiculously foxy, is a vivid case-study of the era's restless housewife, shackled to subservient child-raising and a generally anomic existence. The sets are spot-on, the characters superb, the storylines clever, and the dialogue never fails to bring it's A-game. In fact, in light of the manifold factors that go into making the show an absolute winner, I only have one minor complaint.

The smoking.

In stellar period re-creation by the program's writers, essentially every character is rarely seen without a Lucky Strike dangling from their lips. The men smoke. The women smoke. Children, the elderly, and household pets smoke. It's a wonder that we can make out scenes through the carcinogenic haze generated by the show's talent.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, Don.

Before I go any further, don't get me wrong: I heartily endorse the abundance of on-screen puffing, as it undoubtably accurately captures the age and environment. No, my complaint is bred purely from personal weakness: see, I'm a recovering cig-monkey. I quit on my twenty-seventh birthday, after roughly seven years of dancing with the regular-filtered, king-sized temptress (wow, 'king-sized temptress' kind of makes it sound like I have a fat fetish). The reasons for my deciding to surrender the habit were threefold:

1) Saving money. I figured that any cash freed up could be re-routed to my first loves, hookers and blow.

2) I'm already cursed with garden-variety looks, room-temperature intelligence, and an overly large head, so figured that not reeking like an ashtray would help keep my then-girlfriend from coming to her senses and ditching me.

3) Blah blah health blee blee whatever.

Fast-forwarding to the end of the story, I managed to quit fairly painlessly. My secret? I was aided by determination, fortitude, and pluck. Well, those combined with the fact that, about a week after my last cigarette, I was afflicted with a painful, mononucleosis-like viral infection that left me hospitalized, and it ensured that sucking Du Mauriers was the last thing on my mind for a few weeks. In all honesty, I'm not sure if I would have been able to kick were it not for said affliction. Still, at the end of the day, I'd recommend trying out nicotine gum or patches to assist in quitting before contracting a dangerous illness. Any port in a storm, I guess, but just an FYI.

But back to Mad Men. I hadn't felt nic-twinges in ages, but, to get down to the brass-tacks, Don Draper is just such a goddamn fantastic smoker that it occasionally makes me consider running to 7-11 for a pack. The man really knows his way around a cigarette, suffice it to say. I haven't succumbed or anything, and I don't really see it happening (after drunkenly accepting a smoke at parties or bars since quitting, I've always regretted it immediately and end up crying 'uncle' after a few drags), but Draper's cig-virtuosity deeply undercuts a taboo promulgated by the health-care industry, authority figures, and the terminally dull: that smoking's a rote, joyless addiction practiced by dead-eyed adherents. I couldn't disagree more: smoking is addictive and extremely dangerous to one's health, but the dirty secret is that it's kind of awesome at the same time, at least when you're young and bulletproof. When I was a student at UBC, I lived to smoke; there was no better feeling than stepping outside following a particularly dull lecture or whilst knee-deep in term papers and lighting up. It enhanced concerts I've attended, plus I met a ton of interesting people in outdoor venue smoke-pits over the years. Stopping off on long road trips for a stretch and a cigarette was just glorious.

Wait, what was my point again? I suppose the underlying message of this blog is that, if you're a recent tobacco quittee, avoid Mad Men like grim death (you may also want to give it a miss if you're a recovering alcoholic). For everyone else, purchase the DVDs immediately.

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