Monday, March 13, 2006

Nick Naylor on Oprah

Wherein this almost makes me want to take up smoking


Thank You For Smoking opens up this week. I've been looking forward to this for about six months. One of my favorite books (Christopher Buckley) and one I always recommend, especially if you're looking for a good laugh.

Perhaps, in anticipation I'll excerpt the book every day this week.

Nick Naylor is a spokesman for the tobacco industry. In the book, he ends up on the Oprah show. Watching the trailers, it looks like they've tweaked this a bit. Waiting to go on, Nick realizes they've ambushed him with Cancer Kid - a cute 15-year-old boy dying of cancer.

Oprah introduces Nick:
"Nick Naylor is a vice president of the Academy of Tobacco Studies. You might think with a name like that that they're some sort of scientific institution. But they are the tobacco industry's main lobby in Washington, D.C., and Mr. Naylor is their chief spokesman. Thank you for coming, Mr. Naylor."

"Pleasure," Nick croaked, though what he was experiencing was far from pleasure. The audience glared hatefully at him. So this is how the Nazis felt on the opening day at the Nuremberg trials. And Nick unable to avail himself of their defense. No, it fell to him to declare with a straight face the ze Fuhrer have never invaded Poland. vere are ze data?

"Who'd like to start?" Oprah said.

Nick raised his hand. Oprah and his fellow panelists looked at him uncertainly. "Is it all right," he asked, "if I smoke?"

The audience gasped. Even Oprah was taken aback.

"You want to smoke?"

"Well, it's traditional at firing squads to offer the condemned a last cigarette."

There was a stunned silence for a few seconds, and then someone in the audience laughed. Then other people laughed. Pretty soon the whole audience was laughing.

"I'm sorry, but I don't think that's funny," Mrs. Maclean said.

"No," said the national Teachers' Association lady. "I don't either. I think it's in extremely poor taste."

"I have to agree," Goode said. "I don't see the humor in it. And I suspect Mr. Williger doesn't either." But Cancer Kid was laughing. God bless him, he was laughing! Nick was seized with love. He wanted to adopt this young man, take him back to Washington, cure him of cancer, give him a high-paying job, a car--a luxury car--a house, a pool, a big one so he could keep up with his swimming. Nick would buy him a wig, too, and get him eyebrow hair transplants. Anything he wanted. He felt so badly about the cancer. Maybe, with radiation...

Forget the kid! He's history! Press the attack! Attack! Attack!

"Oh why don't you leave him alone," Nick wheeled on Goode. "And stop trying to tell him how he ought to feel." He turned toward Oprah. "If I may say so, Oprah, that is typical of the attitude of the federal government. 'we know how you should feel.' It's this same attitude that brough us Prohibition, Vietnam, and fifty years of living on the brink of nuclear destruction." Where was this going? And how had nuclear deterrence gotten in? Never mind! Attack! "If Mr. Goode wants to score cheap points off this young man's suffering just so he can get his budget increased so he can tell more people what to do, well I just think that's really, really sad. But for a member of the federal government to come on this show and lecture about cancer, when that same government for nearly fifty years has been producing atomic bombs, twenty-five thousand of them, as long as we're throwing numbers around, Mis-ter Sta-tistics, bombs capable of giving every single person on this planet, man, woman, and child, cancers so awful, so ghastly and untreatable, so, so, so incurable, that medical science doesn't even have a name for them yet...is" Quick, get to the point! What is the point?--"...is just beneath contempt. And frankly, Oprah, I'd like to know how a man like...this comes to occupy a position of such power within the federal bureaucracy. The answer is--he doesn't have to get elected. Oh no. He doesn't have to participate in democracy. He's above all that. Elections? Consent of the governed? Pah! Of the very people who pay his salary? Oh no. Not for Ron Goode. He just want to cash in on people like poor Robin Williger. Well, let me tell you something, Oprah, and let me share something with the fine, concerned people in the audience today It's not pleasant, but you, and they, need to hear it. The Ron Goodes of this world want the Robin Willigers to die. Awful, but true. I'm sorry, but it's a fact. And do you know why? I'll tell you why. So that their...budgets"--he spat out the distasteful word--"will go up. This is nothing less than trafficking in human misery, and you, sir, ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Ron Goode never recovered. For the next hour, he could only scream at Nick, in violation of every McLuhanesque injunction against putting out heat in a cool medium. Even Oprah strained to calm him down.

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