Rhetorical Analysis: Thank You for Smoking
Becoming more and more prevalent in the American media are anti-smoking and anti-tobacco advertisements. These advertisements attempt to warn the viewers of the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes. This is understandably inconvenient for big-time tobacco companies, who profit from cigarette smokers’ addictions. These companies often hire hot shot lobbyists to attempt to publicly protect their product. There is and intended audience with in the movie and to the viewers outside the movie. Within the movie, they are targeting younger generations, while outside the movie the audience could be anyone but more specifically smokers and tobacco companies.
Jason Reitman’s dark comedy Thank You for Smoking, Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for Big Tobacco who uses rhetorical appeals to defend cigarette companies against Senator Finistirre’s crusade to place a “poison” skull and crossbones sticker on all boxes of cigarettes. Throughout the film, Naylor, Finistirre, and other minor characters provide countless examples of logos, pathos, and ethos in their persistent debate over the controversial issue of tobacco use in today’s American society.
Nick Naylor’s uses of logos as a rhetorical device is obvious from the beginning of the film’s opening scene. While on a televised talk show, Naylor demonstrates logical thought in answering questions about a teenage boy sick with cancer.
When an audience member says that tobacco companies don’t care that their products can kill teenagers, Naylor responds that it is in the company’s best interest to keep the boy alive, because he is a customer and the company loses business if the boy dies. While certainly callous and cold-hearted, Naylor’s claim clearly demonstrates a logical thought process. The use of logos appears again most prevalently in the closing scene of the film, when Nick Naylor testifies in front of Senator Finistirre’s Congressial hearing on the proposed warning label. Before Nick Naylor speaks, Senator Finistirre calls both a doctor and a Hispanic man to the witness stand. The doctor’s use of different statistics provides a clear example of logos. He attempts to make the point that cigarettes are dangerous by stating staggering lung cancer statistics. The Hispanic man also uses logos in his claim that literary warnings on cigarette boxes discriminate against non-English speakers. He says that the skull and crossbones image is universally understood, and that non-English speakers would be able to more clearly understand the danger of cigarettes if an image is placed on the box as a warning.
When Naylor takes the stand, he uses logos in a couple clever ways. He argues that American consumers already know that cigarettes are dangerous, and it is up to them to decide whether or not to buy them. His argument is that if we place graphic labels on cigarette boxes, we should do the same with Boeing airplanes, Ford cars, and even American cheese. Naylor says that flying in an airplane or driving a car also has some degree of risk associated with it, and the consumer should be warned. He argues that cheese can build cholesterol and lead to heart attack, so we should place warning labels on cheese as well if we place them on cigarette boxes. While somewhat ridiculous and bold, Naylor’s argument certainly demonstrates a logical thought process, and is ultimately successful in its goal. Secondary to the use of logos in the film, Reitman incorporates pathos into the arguments of different characters throughout the film. A clear example of pathos is provided in the beginning of the film through Naylor appeal to his boss, B.R., to bring back characters smoking in movies. His argument is based around the idea of “making cigarettes cool again”, and he believes that can be accomplished by actors smoking in movies, appealing to viewers’ emotions.
Another clear example of pathos is seen in Senator Finistirre’s conversation with his congressional aide, the one that appeared on the talk show with Nick Naylor and the boy with cancer. Finistirre was furious at the results of the talk show, which Naylor took over through his use of clever rhetoric. He asks the aide “where he got the cancer boy”, and insists that “when you get a cancer boy, he should hopeless. . . he should have a pet fish he carries around in a plastic bag.” Finistirre clearly wants to appeal to the audience’s emotions, drawing extreme sympathy from them. An overarching use of pathos in the film is through Nick Naylor’s relationship with his son, Joey. Director Jason Reitman incorporates a lot of scenes involving one-on-one time with Nick and Joey. Joey is Nick’s “right hand man” and even referred to as being “groomed for the job.” Nick faces a difficult role as the divorced father, and is scared of losing his son to his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. Through his showing of Nick as a loving father, Reitman adds a human face to the tobacco lobby, and appeals to the film’s viewers and their emotions.
While not as obvious as logos or pathos, there are two clear examples of ethos used in Thank You for Smoking. The first of these examples is seen in Joey’s convincing his mother to allow him to travel to California with his dad. Joey argues, “Is it possible you’re taking the frustration of your failed marriage out on me? This California trip seems like a great opportunity and a chance for me to get to know my father, but if you think it’s more important to use me to channel your frustration against a man you no longer love, I’ll understand” . In this statement, Joey appeals to his mother’s character, almost making her feel guilty for keeping him from his father. He believes that his mother is a good person, and convinces her that a good person would allow him to travel to California with his dad. A second obvious example is shown later in the film when Nick Naylor apologizes to those mentioned in the slanderous article published about him. In an impromptu press conference, Naylor tells those mentioned in the article to “take comfort in knowing that [he] will not rest until their names are cleared” .
He knows that the people are upset with their names being mentioned in a negative light, but assures them that he will make it right, as he seeks their support for him in his continuing lobby for Big Tobacco. Both examples of ethos are clear appeals to character, and both are effective uses of the rhetorical device. In conclusion, Thank You for Smoking provides great examples of the three pillars of rhetoric: logos, pathos, and ethos. The idea of placing a skull and crossbones on all cigarette boxes provides an excellent platform for rhetorical analysis, as does the concept of the film as a whole. Jason Reitman successfully humanizes the tobacco lobby through the character Nick Naylor. Through its satirical yet informative nature, the film allows the viewer to consider the other side of anti-tobacco ads they see on television.
“Thank You For Smoking Quotes.” 2005. IMDb. 21 September 2013. .
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Rhetorical Analysis – Thank You For Smoking. (2016, Nov 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/rhetorical-analysis-thank-you-for-smoking/