Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar... But What Brand of Cigar Really Makes the Difference!

David Sedaris offers a hilariously spot-on discussion of how choosing which brand of cigarette to smoke was for him like choosing a religion. He runs through all the ways in which what you smoke defines who you are for others: never lend money to someone who smokes Marlboro Lights but you can be sure you will get your money back from someone who smokes regular Marlboros, Camels are smoked by people who write bad poetry, etc. etc. Distinction here is not about class -- or at least, not about class alone, pace Bourdieu. The cost is pretty much the same (cigarettes are all about the same price). What is at stake is who you are as a person, what you saying about yourself as an ethical being.

Sedaris' monologue is brilliant not just because he is so astute at identifying the types of smokers associated with brands (though he could make millions as an ad executive based on these insights), but because he shows how a matter of taste is laden with power, a choice imbued with high anxiety. A wonderful illustration of the phenomenon Foucault analyzes in his last works on the history of sexuality.

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