Whenever a film is based on a page-to-screen adaption, I try to read the book first.
Such was the case with Christopher Buckley’s 1994 satirical novel, Thank You for Smoking. I was struck by the parallels between its protagonist, the aptly named Nick Naylor, and the long-time meat-industry champion Richard Berman.
A DC lobbyist, Nick works for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. Adorning the wall above his office couch is a vintage magazine ad proudly proclaiming, “20,679* physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating.’”
The asterisk means that a real accounting firm has actually counted the number of Luckies-friendly physicians. Nick longs for a return to the days when the tobacco companies could rely on physicians to defend their product.
In some ways, Thank You for Smoking is Nick’s extended argument that cigarettes are targeted unfairly, while many more serious moral issues are ignored. Defending his career choice to a skeptical reporter, he contrasts tobacco promotion with vivisection:
“Not that I equate vivisectionists and the tobacco industry. As a matter of fact, I feel very strongly about animals being, you know, used for dubious scientific purposes. The ones they torture out at NIH. My God, those poor little bunnies.”
He also rips into the meat industry — And this is where the comparison with Richard Berman breaks down. Richard would never pit the two industries against each other.
Because he represents both industries. He is said to have founded his non-profit advocacy group with funds from the Philip Morris Tobacco Company. According to 60 Minutes, he’s also received financial support from Tyson Foods, Outback Steakhouse, Wendy’s and Hooters.
While representing these interests, he’s often butted heads with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, The Humane Society of the United States, PETA, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
It’s not surprising to me that the “Real-Life Richard Berman” (aka “Dr. Evil”) shills for increased consumption of both tobacco and meat. What does surprise me is that while American doctors no longer support smoking, they do promote eating meat.
When will we as a society pressure them into, if not abandoning their meat and dairy addictions, at least not flaunting them.
Despite its somewhat crass, wild-ride tone, Thank You for Smoking has me wondering how many must succumb to heart attacks, cancer or diabetes before we say. “NO, thank you!” to eating meat.
In tomorrow’s review, I’ll comment on the film version of Thank You for Smoking.