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Jack Smith

For People Who Like a Smoke Screen

August 16, 1988|Jack Smith

An anonymous reader has sent me a current Benson & Hedges cigarette ad asking if I can explain what it means.

Perhaps you have seen the ad. It shows five young women and a balding man at a dinner table. We see two of the young women full face, a third in profile. All three are smoking. The other women have their backs toward us. Whether they are smoking or not we don't know. The man is turned away, in the act of raising a glass of red wine to a young man who is standing beyond the table in nothing but his pajama bottoms. He holds a cigarette in his left hand.

Dinner appears to be over. There are four wine bottles on the table, at least two of them more than half-full. The two women whose faces we can see are not looking at the semi-naked young man. They are looking across the table at the other women. They are laughing. The woman in profile is laughing up at the young man. The young man has a dimpled smile on his face. He has a full crown of curly brown hair.

In a smaller, lower picture, the young man is now standing behind one of the women whose faces we can see. He has one hand on her shoulder. With her left hand, she is reaching up to touch his cheek. The man reaches up to touch his shoulder. We see now that one of the two women whose faces were hidden is also smoking. The plug reads "For people who like to smoke. . . ."

"Who is the young man in the pajamas?" the reader asks. "What is his relationship to the other people in the ad? And the most difficult question--does the ad sell cigarettes?"

I don't like to promote the sale of cigarettes by calling attention to this ad, but I assume that almost everyone has seen it and may also wonder about its meaning.

In a recent Times article on cigarette advertising and its unpromising future, Bruce Horowitz noted that the man in the pajamas, Rob Ramsel, has friends who do not tolerate cigarette advertising, but he says, "I can't bear the weight of all that. I'm an actor. I saw it as a chance to do a job." Now they call him "Jammie Man."

Of course I don't know what the ad means. But there are a number of clues that should lead any sophisticated person to one obvious conclusion. Why would five young women be having dinner with one middle-aged man? Why would a young man in nothing but pajama bottoms be free to wander into the dining room? Why would he be touched affectionally by one of the young women and the man? Why would his presence seem to be so amusing?

Obviously the scene is the dining room of a high-class bordello. The women are members of the establishment. The older man is the host, a sugar daddy. The young man is either the custodian, the piano player or a pizza deliveryman. It is a day off. The employees are enjoying the largess and fellowship of their patron. The man in the pajama bottoms has the status of a mascot. He makes no demands of the young women and they treat him as a pet. The message is, of course, that prostitutes enjoy smoking.

I am not suggesting that this is a mean establishment. The women's clothes are casual but chic. The furniture is elegant, with a Greek key design on the backs of the chairs. The tablecloth is white. An Impressionist painting hangs on one wall in a gilded frame, a modern painting on the other. The older man is dressed in what appears to be a gray business suit. The mood is relaxed, festive.

The question is, "Does this ad sell cigarettes?" Four of the five women are seen to be smoking. One of the two men is smoking. We can assume that the other two are smoking also, though their cigarettes are hidden. They seem to be having a convivial time. Evidently wine and cigarettes increase the fun of social events.

The message seems to be, "Prostitutes enjoy smoking; why shouldn't you?"

Life was simpler when they just said, "I'd walk a mile for a Camel."

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