Political Film Society - Newsletter #250 - April 1, 2006

April 1, 2006


In Honolulu during the last week of March 1986 the idea for the Political Film Society was approved during the first meeting of the now-defunct Hawai`i Political Studies Association (HPSA). Within two weeks, the Society was launched with the same membership as the HPSA, and soon word spread throughout the political science profession. Membership eventually increased outside the United States, making the Society an international organization. When HPSA folded, the Political Film Society continued, providing newsletters to members and awards to outstanding filmmakers for raising political consciousness through film. In 1998, the headquarters moved from Honolulu to Hollywood, where the Political Film Society was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under California law, developed an award-winning website, and in 1999 offered a syndicated program on the American Radio Network. The Political Film Society has been represented at meetings of several professional societies, offers publications (syllabi and working papers), and provides reviews of films that matter.

Thank You For SmokingThank You for Smoking is based on the 1994 novel by Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, which argues that government has gone too far in trying to restrain the lives of private citizens, who should make their own decisions whether to smoke or not without Washington playing the role of nanny. The film took so long to be made because film audiences were perceived to be not sophistocated enough to be amused by the verbal nuances of a satirical novel. A human interest element was needed, and director Jason Reitman finds one--a son's growing respect for his father's ability to make a living by arguing a lost cause effectively.

The story focuses on Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist for the American tobacco industry. When the film begins, he is on a talkshow along with opponents of tobacco and a bald child who has terminal cancer due to his exposure to passive smoke. Naylor wins the "debate" when he accuses his opponents of brazenly exploiting the young boy's condition to get funds for their organizations, whereas his lobbying organization is spending $50 million in a campaign to stop teenage smoking even though in fact the campaign is actually for $5 million. Nevertheless, he meets a major tobacco company baron (played by Robert Duvall), who commends him for improvising on the air to gain sympathy for the victimization of the tobacco industry. The film portrays Naylor favorably as someone who is simply doing his job, therefore living up to the high American ideal as the best at his trade. The new project that he advances is to portray cigarette smoking as sexy on the screen, so he goes to Hollywood to engage the services of agent Jeff Megall (played by Rob Lowe). In several scenes he dines with two other lobbyists--one for alcohol (played by Maria Bello), the other for gun ownership (played by David Koechner). Known as the mod squad (for Merchants Of Death), the three appear to be less evil in person than stereotypes would suggest. The satire, nevertheless, not only lampoons lobbyists as lying spinmeisters but also the hypocrisy of a United States senator (played by William H. Macy) who wants a skull-and-crossbones label on cigarettes. Naylor accuses the Senator of priding himself as a representative from a cheese-producing state despite the fact that the cholesterol in cheese kills more than the smoke from tobacco. What can one expect from a novelist whose father once stated in a debate at Yale University during 1960, after several agricultural crops on the West Coast were taken off the market in 1958 for being too radioactive, that atmospheric nuclear weapons testing posed a minimal threat to human health? Alas, Thank You for Smoking, in glorifying a professional liar, demonstrates that clever messengers can distract Americans from serious messages, such as the real threat of global warming. MH