I am Rubber and You are Glue

"SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide." This medical fact is placed, by law, on every cigarette advertisement, in an attempt to make the ad ineffective. The job of cigarette companies is to come up with slogans, pictures, and ads that take the reader’s attention away from the warning and refocus it on the cigarette. My Camel Cigarette advertisers take this tactic one step further. Instead of attempting to make the warning inconspicuous, they choose to make it a part of the ad. The advertisers try to exploit the warning as a ridiculous judgment from an irrational prude, rather than as a medical warning from a caring professional. This reversal is accomplished on multiple levels. The warning is the visual mirror image of a fireball falling from the sky (the subject of movies that have become overdone, repetitive and annoying, just like the ad wants to make the warning seem). The ad also calls attention to undercooked meat, another guilty American pleasure that medical professionals say should not be indulged. Everything in the ad is so healthy (the people, the house, the dog, the grass) that it makes the warning seem to be the only cause of sickness. This brilliant ad laughs in the face of the Surgeon General’s warning by making it the catalyst for the entire campaign. By endorsing pleasure rather than caution, and stressing the importance of a free life, instead of unnecessary overprotection, the ad encourages the American people not only to ignore the warning, but even to rebel against it.

The parallel structure between the Surgeon General’s warning and the fireball is the most aggressive vehicle for attacking the warning’s credibility. If we considered the center of the ad to be a mirror, the resulting reflection is very intriguing. The warning is placed to be the mirror image of the fireball. Seeing the Surgeon General’s warning as a falling fireball creates a perfect relationship. When a fireball hits the earth in movies, it destroys the land by desecrating it, and burning everything into a black ash. This is precisely what the Surgeon General is telling people cigarettes do to their lungs. Americans obviously do not want this torture inflicted onto their lives. Fortunately, Camel provides a solution by creating a shelter that will provide refuge from not only the fireball, but also the warning. The proof of this tactic comes in a close reading of the ad; we see that the couple is literally running from the Surgeon General’s warning directly into the shelter. After examining even more closely, we see that the warning itself appears to be the force that the couple and the dog are trying to dodge. The woman is trying to stretch her legs over it, with a face full of fear, while the dog and man are both turning their backs to it, and getting into the shelter as quickly as possible. By creating the relationship to the fireball, and portraying the warning as the "true" evil to fear, the ad persuades the American people that the Surgeon General is doing more harm than good with his judgmental punishment.

This warning by the "worry worm" Surgeon General is grouped with other seemingly irrational medical warnings to make it appear even less attractive. An "ignorance is bliss" attitude is strongly presented in this ad as well, persuading people not to worry about certain consequences, and just live their life full of physical pleasure. This couple is portrayed as an indulgent pair, centered on physical pleasure. The wife is a Barbie doll, the husband is Ken, and they eat rare steaks, smoke cigarettes, and probably have lots of sex (all things that medical professions advise against). However, this is not looked upon as a sad existence by anyone in the mainstream American culture. The lustful marriage, the undercooked meat, and even the croquet set are things that most people desire. This ad encourages people to ignore their inhibitions and pursue the physical pleasure that they desire, instead of worrying about the ramifications.

This dismissal of anxiety and worry from our lives is much easier said than done. Today’s society feels the need to know everything. Because of that they are filled with thoughts they cannot help but worry about. The only true way to extinguish worry is to terminate knowledge. In this ad, the shelter this couple is running toward represents that ignorance. And ignorance is a good thing, the Camel advertisers show us, if the alternative is being bombarded with dire predictions about the medical consequences of choices we make about what kinds of foods we like. Ignorance can actually grant immunity from this constant pestering. It assures the viewer that "What we don’t know can’t hurt us," or annoy us. By reducing the warning to the level of nagging from an overprotective mother to a completely grown couple, this ad fosters resentment in its readers -- causing them to much prefer a life devoid of this nagging. That life is a smoker’s life.

In Judo, a type of martial art, the fighter is trained to use his or her opponent’s momentum against them to create a favorable position. This technique is exactly what the Camel advertisers have done with the Surgeon General’s warning. It makes the warning seem irrational and outdated, relating it to a burning fireball, or a constant annoyance that is both unnecessary and overprotective. This ad encourages smokers to go on with their daily lives, not worrying about what is being done to their bodies. It tells us to live every day as if it were our last (since a fireball could come and destroy us any day now), and the best way to do that is to smoke a lot of cigarettes. Camel is telling us "Carpe Diem," or, in this case, seize the smokes. Instead of worrying about a medical "punishment" that has been administered by a man who cannot relate to the joy of smoking, Camel advises us to run (as the couple does) from this cynical reality (the fireball, the warning), and smoke with pleasure, covered by the warm blanket of ignorance (the shelter).