Yesterday’s posting generated the most hits so far of any posting on our blog to date. It was, as most of you discovered, an exploration of how tobacco is reported in the news in the form of a parody. I strove to create something as perfectly camouflaged as possible so as to pass for the real thing but I also made sure to leave many clues indicating that this was in fact a false report. The last thing I wanted to do was to have someone look at it and immediately identify it as false. I wanted to draw you in and then have you laugh when you realized the absurdity within and with that laughter illustrate the idiocy that all too often passes for respectable journalism in this area. (The kind of effect I was going for was either the LOLs which appeared initially (Treece –thanks), the second response from Anon1 which ended up with a thoughtful comment re this issue –thank you. or a combination of the two (Janet –thanks, as well.)
(Now I have to admit that on further musing I realized that doing this on the web was a bit of a sucker punch. After all, this is the home of Wikipedia that often passes as authority even though some of their “facts” are determined by their popularity or by how senior the editor happens to be. People don’t so much read as skim on the web, and like one of our friends did with this, I too, have forwarded some web article with my endorsement before I realized it was not what I thought it was (I have never done the same with any print version of anything). )
A few readers commented that I was in error to mislead with the “I received this in my inbox…” but that was deliberate and served the express purpose of setting up the readers for the longer payoff. Creative writing 101. I was not trying to fool anyone by accident.
No one reading this critically could mistake it for the real thing. Not only is there no United Press Association (and I did my research to make sure of that), no such organization would or could demand the inclusion of specific passages of the sort I mentioned. It is not impossible that some specific anti-tobacco organization might ask all their publications to include similar passages but no news organization no matter how compromised would do so.
While it is true that these phrases repeat in a way and so often that it would seem to indicate some sort of agency at work, like most trends or commonalities, they build up as a result of many independent (even if influenced) actions rather than a result of any controlling agency.
But the biggest clue of all is the ludicrous article attached as an example. Even a bad editor would have rejected the first sentence as ridiculous. And while it might take a 15 second search to find out that those names and the University do not exist, and another rather ordinary article of this type does, the bit about children being scared of tobacco plants is perhaps the most obvious HELLO that this is a send up. I will concede though that the Banzhaf inanity sounds like something he would do.
This was an exercise in bringing some light and fun into the often dry world of tobacco harm reduction. It was meant to be the pastry with the surprising but tasty filling. And for most it seemed to be. But it was also dead serious.
How anyone can interpret this as counter to the aims of THR is unfathomable (and implies that I strayed from some party line). Some have even worried that were this to go viral it would cause harm. I believe the exact opposite is true. One of the main tenets of THR is paying attention to the details and to be critical of the evidence. We like to think that we push our agenda on the basis of responding to the evidence rather than avoiding it as seems to be the case with many of the anti-tobacco groups. THR is all about reading between the lines. And when we research or write about these things, we expect our audience to hold us to the same standards that they would the people they disagree with.
When I read anything by Carl Phillips or Brad Rodu (who I consider colleagues and friends and both of whom have probably forgotten more about THR than I may ever know) I still read with a critical eye (as they do me). Though we agree on many things, at times we disagree as well. I am certainly predisposed toward their interpretations but unlike the opinions expressed in a few comments on the parody, I do not feel that because I know them I should just turn off my filters.
Just to the left of this post you will see our disclaimer. This blog exists in order for us to discuss various aspects regarding tobacco harm reduction but with a kind of freedom and playfulness that is not possible on our website. In academic terms, the website is more like the lecture hall and the blog is the beer seminar. If nothing else, a lot more people than usual got involved here, and part of that discussion involved whether this kind of a posting is at all appropriate or whether I succeeded or failed at what I attempted. And that is good.
Finally, this and the parody post was my creation alone so if you dislike it the blame is mine alone. This blog represents individual opinions and not any group consensus so it is not inconceivable that Carl might disagree with not only my posting but my follow up and may post his own take on this. We’ll see.
Apart from trying to break up the usual straight talk, this was an attempt to apply a few lessons learned from a group that I think does some of the most effective political criticism on the planet; comedians. One good South Park episode or one Louis CK or Bill Hicks can turn on more light bulbs than a hundred academic papers. There is nothing I enjoy more than have my head just about snap off doing that 180 degree turn from acceptance to criticism thanks to the skills of these artists. This was my attempt at the same.
-Paul L. Bergen