It's only fair to share…


My late mother was a lifelong non-smoker. She was also an opera fan. Hard as she tried to get me enthused about opera, it never quite happened. Carmen was my mother’s favourite. This week she would have turned in her grave.

For all the wrong reasons Western Australia made world news last week when the WA Opera Company cancelled a season of Carmen so as not to contravene its sponsorship deal with Healthway. This is a taxpayer-funded body charged with promoting health.

The opera from the 1800’s has the main character working in a tobacco factory and in the opening scene is smoking. It is worth adding that on stage she would be using a prop and NOT actually smoking. And the plot is set in the 19th century.

As is usually the case there has been much ducking and diving. The Opera Company claimed it had made the decision based on its understanding of the sponsorship, which is worth AU$200,000 per year. This is but a small percentage of the over AU$2 million per year from the federal and state governments.

Healthway denied it had pressured the opera company. Investigations by respected journalist Paul Murray, who got access to board papers, found that they had. But in some respects it is almost a moot point.

In health you do not need to pressure people when they know what you want. In his book “Unhinged”, American Psychiatrist Daniel Carlat describes how he used to do talks for pharmaceutical companies. He was never told what to say. But as soon as he deviated from a particular line he found that he was no longer invited to do the talks.

Lets remember for a moment that apart from smoking, the opera depicts betrayal, desertion of post and murder. It was not the cigarettes that killed Carmen; her jealous lover stabbed her to death. But that is all OK.

Those who have sought to defend the decision hail it as stopping the “glamourising of smoking”. But murder is apparently fine to “glamourise”.

There is a key issue here. And that is that, health zealots have lots the ability to differentiate between people actually smoking and people seeing smoking take place. This is compounded by the fact that they can’t even tell the difference between real and pretend smoking. Let alone tell the difference between advertising and art.

I know the rationale. They believe that everyone is an idiot. On seeing an opera all members of the audience will immediately go to the nearest shop and purchase cigarettes. They will all become lifelong smokers and die (not from stabbing) but from a tobacco related illness.

Hence these self appointed nannies have to protect we plebs from such influence. 

And do it at our expense.

In the book “The new class conflict” Joel Katlin dissects how a new secular patronizing priesthood has replaced the religious one for many people. He notes that the new “Clerisy” seeks to present its ideas as orthodoxy and seek to enforce conformity. In this their moralizing is no different to preachers.

So ultimately this has nothing to do with people smoking and everything to do with censorship and a moral high ground approach which patronisingly treats the populace as idiots.

And as the icing on the cake, it turns out that Healthway has form in this area. The Weekend Australian reports that The Blue Room Theatre Company in Perth was also subject to censorship. At the opening night of a British play about addiction called The Country a bureaucrat from Healthway told the executive director that a scene showing smoking would have to be removed. Scenes showing IV drug use were not a problem.

The company cancelled the sponsorship rather than have its artistic freedom compromised. Good for them.

In the movie Naked Gun 33 and 1/3 there is a scene where Inspector Drebben (Leslie Nielsen) holding a packet says to Tonya Peters (Anna-Nicole Smith); “Cigarette?” to which the reply is “Yes I know”.

We all know.

Art depicts all aspects of life and should challenge us. The nanny state has gone way too far this time. It is my hope that it gets its wings firmly clipped.