Posts Tagged ‘Cigarettes’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

One of my favorite scenes in the film Anchorman (and there are so many good ones) is when Ron Burgandy (Will Ferrill) and his group of goofy compatriots are walking through a park, eating fast food, dropping their garbage as they go.  I think it is one of the funniest scenes of the movie, though it is peripheral to the story. Coincidentally, one of my favorite moments from the critically acclaimed series Mad Men is similar. During the first season of the Emmy-winning drama, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his family are having a picnic at a park, enjoying a beautiful summer day.  As they get ready to leave, Don chucks his half-empty beer can off screen.  Below is the scene.

Anchorman and Mad Men are not usually mentioned in the same breath, but I think these two scenes point to a central correlating theme of both shows. One of the reasons Anchorman is funny, and Mad Men is dramatic, is because both exploit the absurdity of outdated social mores.  These two littering scenes have the same message: Times were different back then, and things that are unacceptable now were completely acceptable at one point.  Ron Burgundy and Don Draper were sexist, which was acceptable; if they wanted to throw their trash on the ground, that was fine too.

anchorman-jump There is no doubt that Ron Burgundy’s and Don Draper’s actions today would cost them harsh social, and legal ramifications.   Both characters would be fired for their sexism, and both would be fined for their littering.  And yet, both would find that one type of littering is still oddly acceptable in our contemporary world. The chain-smoking Don Draper would find that he could drop his  cigarette butts anywhere he liked, with nary a passerby’s glance.

Isn’t this acceptance of specific littering odd?  I would wager that smokers walking the street, hanging outside of bars and restaurants, standing by the doors of businesses believe that they are not litterers, and yet, they so often unthinkingly dump their butts. A mysterious double standard exists for cigarette litter:  If I was walking down the street, eating an apple, next to someone smoking a cigarette and at the same time that I dropped my apple core, he dropped his butt, who would get more nasty looks?  Who would be littering in the minds of people?  Most would not give a second glance to a smoker who did this, whereas raised eyebrows, glares, and disgusting muttering would most likely meet the apple dropper. But, how counter-intuitive is this?   Can there be any litter more dangerous than cigarette butts? Apple cores biodegrade; cigarette butts are sticks of fire. It really makes no sense.

So, why the different responses and understandings?  Why is dropping a cigarette butt on the ground not considered littering?  Honestly, I don’t have an answer.  What do you think?