Having initially fallen under the radar of most audiences, “Thank You for Smoking” has recently gained increasing attention due to its controversial way of representing a complex moral dilemma. However, apart from the ethical concern that the film addresses, “Thank You for Smoking” also features an incisive and provocative, yet surprisingly honest and refreshing perspective on the issue of lobbying and its role in the economy. Despite having to introduce several artistic liberties into the representation of lobbying to keep the audiences engaged, “Thank You for Smoking” provides a rather accurate portrayal of key lobbying techniques and the extent of efforts that lobbying groups may take to forward their cause.
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By using a very charismatic character as the main representative of the lobbying group, “Thank You for Smoking” glorifies and, to an extent, glamourizes the very concept of lobbying. Namely, the film captures the power that lobbying has on the legal standards and regulations accepted by the U.S. government. The tremendous power of lobbying has been emphasized multiple times; for instance, Lesica (2018, p. 2028) mentions in her example of lobbying for minimum wages that “When the policymaker cares about political contributions received from lobbyists as well as social welfare, the presence of lobbying can induce her to introduce the minimum wage despite the negative effect on aggregate income.” In turn, the film portrays its tobacco lobbying group as the force that has been preventing any significant arguments against smoking or the production of tobacco to take effect. For instance, the fact that the scientist mentioned by Nick intentionally obscures the results of his experiments in order to keep the industry running is quite emblematic of the concept of lobbying: “The man ‘s a genius. He could disprove gravity” (Sacks & Reitman, 2005, 00:04:42-00:04:43). Similarly, the legal representation, which is a crucial part of lobbying, is also demonstrated in the movie: “Then we ‘ve got our sharks. We draft them out of lvy League law schools” (Sacks & Reitman, 2005, 00:04:45-00:04:46). Thus, the key characteristics of lobbying as the tool for representing an unpopular opinion and striving to promote it are portrayed impeccably in the film.
The direct influence of lobbying on the policies and legal standards is, therefore, depicted in the movie quite accurately. However, the nature and the key stages of the very process of lobbying appears to have been altered to be more palatable to the general audiences. For instance, it is worth noting that most of lobbying occurs in court (Kang, 2016). By presenting their cases during legal proceedings, lobbying groups use their power to alter the current legal standards in regard to their cause (Kang, 2016). However, in “Thank you for Smoking,” very few scenes represent court proceedings; in fact, the nuances of legal proceedings are not shown up until the third act of the movie, where Nick has to make the pivotal ethical choice in his life: “If he really wants a cigarette, I’ll buy him his first pack” (Sacks & Reitman, 2005, 01:23:20). The specified detail, namely, the lack of court proceedings related to lobbying, is very uncharacteristic of the very nature of the lobbying process (Kang, 2016). However, one could argue that the movie director made the specified choice deliberately in order to keep the film appealing to general audiences.
Additionally, the one-note solution that the movie proposes does not reflect the concept of lobbying entirely as well. Specifically, in most instances of lobbying, an issue under discussion is rarely represented as a single-argument point with no nuances provided. Quite the contrary, the lobbying process, particularly, the court proceedings, suggests introducing a sufficient range of solutions that may potentially satisfy either of the parties (Kang, 2016). In fact, the described issue is typically seen as the source of further misunderstandings: “For any given policy issue, there can be multiple policy proposals” (Kang, 2016, p. 272). In turn, the film lacks the specified nuance, representing the problem of tobacco lobbying as a matter of either curbing the performance of tobacco producing organizations, or allowing them to have free reign within the industry and, by extension, the U.S. economy.
Even though the film did lack some accuracy, it still managed to recreate the setting of the late 2000s almost impeccably. Although the film centers on the life of a family that is quite well-off and a business that is quite prolific, which is not quite representative of the financial shock that the U.S. citizens were experiencing at the time, it still provides a rather accurate portrayal of the late 2000s setting in the U.S. Specifically, the anxiety that had become nearly ubiquitous in the American economic context by 2008 can be clearly observed in the attitude of Nick’s boss, who is much less appreciative of the idea of taking high risks: “$50 million?! Are you out of your *** mind?!” (Sacks & Reitman, 2005, 00:06:32-00:06:34).
Furthermore, the scene in question exemplifies another major omission that the movie makes in the name of keeping its runtime and not letting its target audience fall asleep while watching the film. Specifically, the issue of lobbying expenditures has not been addressed entirely, therefore, making lobbying a nebulous concept that exists in a vacuum. However, lobbying, indeed, requires substantial funding, which is why various resources are considered when performing lobbying activities. In fact, Kline and Brown (2021) emphasize financial risks of lobbying as the main concern to be considered when participating in it: “First, there is uncertainty associated with the frequency and magnitude of returns from lobbying activities, as well as the timing of such payoffs” (Kline & Brown, 2021, p. 14). At the same time, lobbying can and should be supported by auxiliary resources such as the organizational slack as Kline and Brown (2021) suggest.
Senator Finistirre, on the other hand, embodies the insecurities and the sense of far that the 2008 crisis has brought onto the U.S. economic setting. Although the movie is set in an environment that is relatively well-off, with very few hints on the actual effects of the 2008 market crash, it still manages to render some of the fears that were haunting both employees and entrepreneurs (Lee et al., 2018). Furthermore, the neurotic nature of his attitude reflects the paranoia that captured a range of U.S. citizens at the time of the crisis due to the drastic loss of resources and the associated challenges (Lee et al., 2018). The specified representation of the infamous financial recession aligns with the existing records of the crisis:
Whether firms engage in lobbying before 2008 as a proxy for those firms’ intrinsic political astuteness can be highly related to whether those firms engage in forming political ties in 2008, whereas it is unlikely to directly affect the bailout money received after the crisis.” (Lee et al., 2018, p. 9)
However, the film chooses to portray Senator Finistirre in a comedic light due to the nature of the genre, which slightly devalues the concerns that people had at the time in relation to the dropping employment rates and the emergent threats. Specifically, Finistirre’s famous statement, “The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!,” epitomizes his character as comedic one, thus, depriving him of his villainous status and, more importantly, minimizing the weight of his concerns, including his sense of insecurity that a range of U.S. citizens shared at the time.
Though “Thank You for Smoking” does feature several minor misrepresentations of the concept of lobbying, which can be considered an attempt at making the film more [palatable and engaging for general audiences, it does capture the spirit and the general idea of lobbying as an attempt at affecting the legal status of a specific issue. While paying due attention to the plot and the characters, “Thank You for Smoking” offers a surprisingly honest, though a bit exaggerated, image of lobbyists, who seek to achieve their goal at all costs and, as a result, may bend the ethical perspective to an extent. Combining economic ideas with acrimonious satire, “Thank You for Smoking” represents lobbyists in a rather harsh yet empathetic light. As a result, the film offers a fun experience while also educating the viewers on the issue of lobbying and represents the very concept of lobbying as an instrumental, although not always ethical, part of the state economy.
Lee, S.-H., Ozer, M., & Baik, Y.-S. (2018). The impact of political connections on government bailout: the 2008 credit crunch in the United States. Economics of Governance. Web.
Lesica, J. (2018). Lobbying for minimum wages. Economic Inquiry, 56(4), 2027-2057. Web.
Kang, K. (2016). Policy influence and private returns from lobbying in the energy sector. The Review of Economic Studies, 83(1), 269-305. Web.
Kline, W. A., & Brown, R. S. (2021). The impact of organizational slack on lobbying activities. Journal of Managerial Issues, 33(1), 8-26. GALE|A654534397