No, he doesn't smoke. Looking like a big, friendly college kid on spring break, writer-director Jason Reitman was in town recently to chat about his Big Tobacco/shameless lobbyist satire, Thank You for Smoking (see review at left), wherein, oddly, almost nobody else smokes, either. He claims it would've been too distracting for viewers—as in Good Night, and Good Luck. "Halfway through, you think, 'Holy fuck! These guys are smoking a lot of cigarettes!' It's a timepiece, and it's being true to the nature of the characters. I didn't want anyone to think this movie was pro-smoking. This is a movie more about the freedom to smoke, rather than smoking itself." Thank You is set before the 1998 Big Tobacco settlement, he observes, and it's as much about Washington, D.C., politics as about health issues: "This is a movie that takes place in the world of tobacco, but it's about spin. And spin is just as prevalent now as it ever was." Since he depicts them in his film, does he enjoy such dog-and- pony congressional hearings on TV? "I do as a source of entertainment. I find it funny. I think, 'That's a clever use of spin.' I'm watching it like a sports commentator." A past visitor to Seattle, where he's screened his short movies at Bumbershoot's 1 Reel Film Festival, Reitman also casts a jaundiced eye at our own local political theater. Channel surfing here the night before our interview, he chanced upon Mayor Greg Nickels promoting a Sonics taxpayer subsidy for KeyArena. "He was just purely spinning. Basically he wants an NBA franchise in town, and he wants to keep in good with whoever owns that. . . . " I tell him the owners are led by Starbucks' Howard Schultz. "Then it's really obvious!" he laughs. "You have the local billionaires . . . and he wants to get in good with them. He's talking about why the KeyArena is important for cultural values! For me, [spin] is a spectator sport." Ah, but is satire now a growth sport among Reitman's generation (he's 29) and the so-called millennial boom born after the heyday of SNL and the National Lampoon? "The college kids get it," says Reitman of Thank You. "They do not want to be told what to do. They wanna have personal choice. And they're a little fed up with the niceties. I think we're ready" for a new boom in satire. And perhaps with Jon Stewart as its iconic/ironic voice? "I think so. I think Jon Stewart definitely has captured the voice of young America. Stewart's fed up. I think Stewart's politics are fairly similar to my film—fairly libertarian; they don't really align themselves with either party. But he's really fed up with Bush; he's just captured that idea in the right way." firstname.lastname@example.org
The Puffing Point
Hot air, not toxic smoke, is the real target of the satire in Thank You for Smoking.