ARCHIVE PIECE: Butt out and let people do what they like

PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD SEPT 2019

 

Good man, Killian Scott. The actor best known for playing brain-damaged, fizzy orange-loving, unrealistically-sensitive hoodlum Tommy in Love/Hate has come out swinging against ridiculous criticism of his cop character’s chain-smoking in new crime drama Dublin Murders.

Newstalk went big on the story in yesterday’s breakfast show, interviewing an anti-smoking advocate who claimed that it “normalises” the habit, sets a bad example to kids and is, all-round, Something Awful That Must Not Be Allowed.

Listener texts, read out on air, generally concurred. Twitter – but of course – has been groaning under the weight of “what’s with all the smoking/was this sponsored by a tobacco company/let’s #bansmoking” messages.

Now, this is a show about murder – like, it’s there in the title. Weirdly, though, many of these sanctimonious do-gooders don’t seem too bothered by all the killing, rape, missing children, corruption, greed etc. etc. But God forbid someone smokes a fag!

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw years ago, of an American man bedecked in half an arsenal of lethal weaponry – but the surrounding crowds were disgusted by the smouldering cigarette between his lips. We used to laugh at hypocritical American puritanism once upon a time, you know.

This daft, manufactured controversy even reached the UK-based website Digital Spy – which is where Killian Scott came in. He commented, quite reasonably, “This compulsion to manicure a flaw out (of a character) is something to resist, I think.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s all so tediously moralistic. What’s wrong with imperfect characters in fiction? Why must everything have an ethical lesson or healthy advice or some stupid political point to it?

Why must filmed entertainment be “improving” in some way? Why does it have to “teach” us something? And most of all, who the hell decided that TV shows must provide “good role models” for kids?

If you’re worried that some made-up drama might send your children over to the dark side, then you’re a crap parent who needs to up their game. It’s not TV’s job to instruct and guide those kids – it’s yours. So shut up and do it, and let telly just be telly.

Scott also argued that his character, Reilly, has “a flippant attitude towards death”, expressed through constantly having a fag in his gob. Not so amazing, surely, in a homicide detective; and not so horrifying either.

Grown adults are still allowed laugh in the face of their own mortality, right? Or has that been banned too, along with virtually everything else deemed to be bad for us by the purist guardians of society?

There’s a new alcohol law coming in. Sugar and fat taxes are inevitable. Around Budget time people were clamouring for smokers to be forced, via price hike, out of their habit – or even for smoking to be made downright illegal. Most drugs already are illegal.

Essentially, consenting adults are being instructed: you are not allowed to do something which is bad for you.

But why not? Each of us is the sole possessor of their own life. Nobody else has the right to force you to live it wisely, healthily, or even to continue living it at all. If you, as a grown-up of sound mind, wish to smoke and thus risk a panoply of unpleasant and potentially fatal ailments – that’s your choice. I really don’t feel it’s my place to lecture you about it.

One contributor to Newstalk went so far as to contend that smoking – which Killian Scott was doing on the telly! – was a “social problem”. This is just wrong. In fact, smoking is about the only drug which has no adverse social effects at all.

Yeah, it might kill you. Guess what? If smoking doesn’t, something else assuredly will. The human race continues to post a 100% mortality rate, and until they invent some immortality elixir, it always will.

Yeah, smokers are a drain on the health system. Except of course they aren’t, because they’re paying over ten euro on every pack of 20. This is literally billions a year – all of which, presumably, is going to that health service?

That is most of the point of screwing smokers with these exorbitant taxes, correct? It couldn’t be that their pariah status is being exploited to fund all sorts of things for everyone else, could it?

This all comes down to morality – a particularly mean-spirited, controlling variant. Deep down, social engineers don’t want to ban smoking to save people from themselves, irritating (albeit well-meaning) as that may be. They want to ban it because it irks them that others are choosing to do something which they personally don’t like.

There’s a character in some Roald Dahl short story – a hateful, bitter, pathetic streak of misery – who insists that his wife stop smoking. She assumes it’s because he’s worried for her health. Not a bit of it: he simply doesn’t approve.

Let Killian’s character have his smoke, you pompous bores. It’s the life of Reilly, not you – so mind your own business and, ahem, butt out.


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