Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Semiotics of Smoke

In the process of hunting up illustrations for a post about the meanings of smoking I ran across an astonishing example of how a habit, and everything it represents, is systematically being erased not just from daily life — but from history. The photo on the left of Dean perched against the wall of the Dakota in New York is a copy of the original picture taken by Roy Shatt in 1954. The one on the right is the version being licensed by CMG International, the company that now owns the rights to James Dean’s image. Notice anything missing? His cigarette has been Photoshopped out of the licensed version — I assume to make his image more marketable to advertisers that would use it in a world where smoking has become a social disease. The manipulation of dead celebrities’ identities has been going on for awhile, but the irony of sanitizing the original bad boy iconoclast hero — literally pulling the cigarette from his lips forever — is particularly galling.

I’m thinking about smoke. It’s what one does while quitting. And what I’m thinking is that I miss it. Not the smoke itself, of course. The smoke itself is no more enjoyable now than it was the first time I choked on a lung full at the age of eight (don’t worry, I didn’t start smoking that young. I had asked my mother if I could take a drag on her cigarette and she — wisely — said, “Sure.” I did, almost vomited, and didn’t touch another cigarette for almost 20 years…). It’s enjoyable in the same way that the burning poisonous taste of liquor is enjoyable, which is to say: not much. No one really enjoys the medium of illicit or dangerous substances. It’s about the effects, of course, but also something more.



Anonymous said...

Thats pretty low, James Dean has to be rolling in his grave with a cigarette right now!

Grabloid said...

Yeah...I don't think I ever enjoyed smoking...for the 3 years that I smoked cigarettes I knew it was a terrible habit and talked about cutting it, but I still want to smoke every now and again and I haven't had one for over a year. What the hell? Censorship makes me sick. I was disgusted at the part that said "CMG International, the company that now OWNS THE RIGHTS TO JAMES DEAN'S IMAGE." I know this is not weird.

Torben B said...

What does it mean for someone to "own your image"? That's a scary thought.

Torben B said...

As a side note, I never really dug the whole cigarette thing either. I tried them countless times, smoked Black & Mild's for a while, but ultimately wasn't too thrilled by them :)