It is a common practice among friends who have seen my dorm room to indict me for my seeming pretentiousness; owning a poster of Bob Dylan smoking a cigarette while being a non-smoker yourself is, apparently, highly ostentatious. Even though my confidantes are highly aware of my endless flirtation with conspicuity, many of them are astonished by my endorsement of the casual tobacco consumption seen in Dylan’s picture, considering my anti-smoking ideology. What many of my acquaintances fail to realize is that I used to consume, although never in large quantities, both tobacco and alcohol, but later consciously abandoned these substances altogether. Despite the numerous health benefits that I have experienced ever since, the desire to resume still lurks in the dark corners of my mind. Looking at society’s treatment of this topic, whilst also reminiscing on my own experiences, this kind of longing is not surprising.
One of my favorite authors and political pugilists, the late great Christopher Hitchens, wrote in his memoir that, “Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.” Evidently, for him and many other writers and artists alike, the consumption of alcohol and tobacco and several other psychoactive drugs — if the artist was brave enough — has functioned as a getaway, a powerful generator of ideas and a guilty pleasure. However, this should be expected of artists; individuals who strive to redefine socio-political, aesthetic and cultural norms may expose themselves to numerous otherworldly and metaphysical experiences as a means to inspire themselves. Even though I am a big fan of Sigmund Freud’s psychedelic Über Coca and David Bowie’s cocaine-infused album, Station To Station, I am highly disapproving of and appalled by the romanticization of such substance use.
I guess it should not be surprising that some of the best advertisements of all time were related to alcohol and tobacco. I shall never forget how captivated I was when I first saw Johnnie Walker’s revolutionary use of computer animation in the famous “Human (Android)” commercial released back in 2006. The anthropomorphic machine’s soliloquy was an attempt to encourage viewers to become aware of their mortality and therefore to just give in to their indulgences. Numerous similar advertisements have emerged on the media throughout the years. Coincidentally, many of them made use of clips from James Dean, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe or Alain Delon movies as a means of relating masculinity and class to the acts of smoking and drinking. As such, new generations of young men and women may be highly influenced by displays of their idols flaunting such pernicious activities. I know I was.
Thankfully, my parents have been tremendously caring and always acted as beacons of reason and understanding whenever I found myself sailing in vast seas of confusion. I remember having my first two drinks with my parents. I later identified what my limits were, and so I never exceeded them when I went out with friends. Nevertheless, my parents had always been quite disapproving of smoking; they always encouraged both me and my brother to stay away from cigarettes.
On the other hand, my father’s parents were avid smokers; to put flesh on the bones of it, they went through numerous stages of their lives when each would smoke three packs per day. Whenever I would ask them why they found smoking to be so attractive, their responses were unclear. During a night out with friends when I was 16, I found myself attempting to find an answer to my philosophical inquiry by smoking a cigarette that one of my friends had given me. I liked it and proceeded to purchase an entire pack the following day. In one of my journals, I would keep a record of the number of cigarettes I had smoked. It took twenty of them for me to become disgusted by their taste and eventually give up this habit as a whole. Coming to Lawrence, I was given the opportunity to begin anew, and after spending time with a highly successful teetotaler, I decided to give up alcohol, too. Did I feel less manly afterwards? No. Do I ever think about it? Yes. Am I going to return to my self-destructing habits? Absolutely not.
Even though drinking and smoking may provide one with temporary solace by dulling most, if not all, of one’s senses, actually succumbing to such deleterious yearnings is quite disheartening. I have come to realize that true contentment comes from surpassing yourself and defying the destructive aspects of your personality. Posing as a cigarette-smoking, whiskey-drinking renegade diminishes one’s status to that of a rebel without a cause and is meaningless.