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Saturday 9 February 2013

A Culture of Shame

It never ceases to amaze me just how shitty people can be to others about things that are none of their business. But as we all know, the "business of denormalisation" (and it is very much a business) is all about sticking your nose where it doesn't belong and being as shitty as you can to smokers.

If you already dropped by Dick Puddlecote's today and clicked the link "Pregnant women who smoke are easy targets for the morality police," then perhaps you know what topic I'm going to cover.  A pregnant woman smoked -- not just any pregnant woman, but Australian TV and radio personality, Chrissie Swan. What's missing from that opinion piece that DP linked to is the other side of Swan's story.  It's a story about shame and fear, the product of a decade or more of denormalisation and intolerance. It is, essentially, a modern-day witch hunt.

Here's the story in brief:  A paparazzi photographer snapped photos of pregnant Chrissie Swan smoking a cigarette.  Swan tried to buy the photos to prevent them from being published.  Woman's Day magazine reportedly outbid her for the rights to the photos, purchasing them for $55,000 -- Swan had bid $53,000.  Why did Swan do this?  The children.
Chrissie Swan says she was trying to "protect" her children when she offered $53,000 to buy damning photos showing her smoking. Swan's manager David Wilson issued a statement on Thursday afternoon confirming he "bid aggressively for the photographs" however ultimately "had to withdraw".

"We always understood the story itself would become public, that was a given. Our motivation to buy the pictures was to try and protect Chrissie’s children from ever having to see a photo of their mother smoking. Chrissie has never smoked in front of her children or in her home."
Think about all of this for just a moment. Think about the absurdity of it, at every level. This smoking "scandal" even merited an entry on Swan's Wikipedia page.

While I have no doubt that Swan felt ashamed -- indeed shaming smokers is what denormalisation is all about -- I don't buy the "protect the children" excuse, certainly not as her sole motivation for trying to keep the photos from being published.  I believe this goes much deeper than wanting to prevent her children (one is five, the other is a year-old) from seeing that she smoked a cigarette.  This is partly about how society views and treats women, particularly pregnant women. This is partly about Swan's celebrity and that she works in the media, an industry that thrives on scandal and tearing down celebrities, and I suspect she and her manager were very worried about her reputation and career, as well as her image as a parent ... a mother. And this mostly about the hate and contempt against anyone who smokes because they failed to conform to the tenets of Public Health's religion, something that Swan is evidently well aware of (emphases added):

"Well, two days ago a photographer followed me in my car after work and took a photo of me having that sneaky cigarette - it was my first for the week. I begged for the photographers not to run the story because I know how bad it looks - it is bad - and I told them it was a deeply shameful secret, that no one knew I was having these five cigarettes a week. Not my mum, not my best friend, not my partner...because it’s so the secret that is the most shameful - is the hardest to ask for help about."

Holding back the tears, Swan did not hold back on her shame, saying: ‘‘Here’s the truth. Obviously I know it's wrong I’m not an idiot, no smoker wants to smoke - especially when they are pregnant - but it is clearly an addiction and a very serious one - because it can cloud your judgment and make the unthinkable somehow okay.

‘‘As a listener to this show, you know I’m devoted to my children. I would never do anything to harm them and yet, here I am having five cigarettes and justifying it. It’s madness, I cannot explain it.

‘‘I knew it was wrong that there is so much terrible judgment that only awful people and bad parents and idiots and bogans smoke during pregnancy - and I didn’t feel like I belonged in any of those categories - so I kept it all under wraps and dealt with it how I could."

Those are her words.  "I know how bad it looks - it is bad," and "Obviously I know it's wrong," and "only awful people and bad parents smoke during pregnancy" and "It's madness."

And that's what the New Inquisition has created. A culture of shame.

Some of you might think that I have some sympathy for Chrissie Swan. You would be wrong.  Because there is more to this story, and this is not the first time that Swan has been accused of being a bad parent.  You see, Swan is also a large lady (size 22) and last year she was attacked both for her size and for her chubby children. But she didn't stand for it, and she came out swinging and defended herself. For instance, have a look at this article titled "Chrissie Swan: I'm not ashamed of my size":
Yet now, after almost 30 years, Chrissie says she has come to terms with her size and is happy.

It may have caused her unhappiness in the past, but she has never let it hold her back or define her as a person.

"To me, it was always just weight," she says. "It's quite popular now, television shows like The Biggest Loser and all that stuff. They weep and say how ashamed they are and they are terrible people [for being overweight]. Why can't it just be kilos?

"It's shaming fat people into thinking their heart's about to explode, their legs are about to be cut off due to diabetes. They'll never conceive a child, they'll never get married, they'll never find love, they'll never get the job they want."


"We can't say fat people are bad, we can't have them crawl through mud pits on national television and have skinny people yelling at them, saying, 'How does it feel?' Because kids see that and they go, 'Okay, it's cool to scream abuse and belittle a fat person. I'll do that next time I see Billy in the playground.'"
That's interesting. She's not ashamed of being fat, despite that Public Health is also demonising chubby folk. She'll fight against the bigotry there. Indeed, in another article about Swan being attacked, the author wrote: "Her message is a simple one: I shouldn’t have to apologise for who I am, and how much I weigh."  So it occurs to me that Swan could have just as easily defended her five-per-week cigarette habit. She shouldn't have to apologise for being a smoker, either.  But she didn't defend herself. Instead she tried to hide her "shameful" habit by attempting to buy the photos of her smoking in her car. And while I accept that Swan's situation is complex (being a pregnant woman and a celeb and having to worry about her public image), I have to say that her failure to stand up for herself in this instance bothers me. Breaking down and crying on television because she got caught sneaking a crafty fag doesn't impress. And I despise her for pulling out the "protect the children" card out of the deck as an excuse for her actions. This is why I have no sympathy for her. She should have told everyone to fuck off and mind their own business as she did when they attacked her for being fat.

But I do understand why Swan did it, and why she feels the way she does. It is because of all of the anti-smoking propaganda and sentiment that has built up over the last 40 to 50 years as part of the New Inquisition's crusade, but most recently ramped up to epic proportions in Australia.  We are told that we are bad people for smoking. We are told that we are helpless addicts.  We are told that we are baby killers and the cause of every possible disease or ailment that children and adults might get. We are told that we stink. We are told that we do not belong in society unless we quit smoking, and if we do not then we are forced to stand outside, separated from our friends and family.

Every day we are relentlessly assaulted with anti-smoking rhetoric and propaganda, all designed to stigmatise and ostracise smokers, to make us hate ourselves and to shame us into quitting.  So it is any wonder why so many smokers feel exactly like Chrissie Swan? Well how about instead of being ashamed we fight back and tell these Public Health fuckpuppets and our oppressive governments to go to hell?  What we do is our business. Nobody else's. Indeed, have a look at the end of the "morality police" article at the poll:

That is somewhat encouraging.