Marc Welc is a graduate of Hiawatha High School. He enjoys basketball and playing the guitar. “Power in the Palm of Your Hand” was significant to Marc because it made him take a closer look at cigar smoking, a hobby he said he and his friends are “obsessed with,” so that he could understand why cigar-smoking is so appealing to them.
It’s a cold night in October. We should all be inside. We should have postponed our ritual due to the weather, but we are men, and the temperature is of little consequence to us. We pull out our cigars and lighters in unison. The unceasing clicks of lighters failing to sustain a flame are all that is heard over the wind, for no one speaks. Eventually, we all succeed in lighting our cigars and form a circle. I trap the smoke in my mouth and wait until every individual taste bud on my tongue burns before releasing it back into the air. We all feel the pain, but no one cares. Slowly, the conversation starts up. We use our cigars in every gesture, and as the night goes on, more and more of our vocabulary is replaced by curse words. Nights like this are celebrations. It is not the act of smoking cigars that my friends and I are so passionate about; it is the feeling. When we all smoke together, we feel empowered. Our confidence soars to heights never before reached. We know smoking is bad for our health, and we love the feeling of indifference we have towards this danger. We feel like strong, sophisticated men who have conquered the world. I have smoked with friends, fathers of friends, strangers, store owners, and even valedictorians, and all of them have reported the same feelings. Men seem to idolize cigars as a symbol of manliness and power, but where do these feelings come from? What could cause men to regard cigars with such high esteem? To answer these questions, one only needs to look at the media. Cigar smoking is promoted in movies, advertisements, and the music industry, and it always gives the same message: be a man; smoke a cigar.
Movies provide audiences with strong, lead characters that people can look up to, and in some cases, these strong protagonists are apt to lighting up a fine cigar from time to time. It is not uncommon in an action movie to see the hero pull out a cigar after defeating a villain. One such example is the movie Hellboy. The hero is half man, half devil and saves humanity on a nightly basis. After beating the life out of hellish creatures with his bare fist, Hellboy always pulls a cigar out of his pocket. He caps off his display of strength with the act of cigar smoking, telling the male audience that well-built, strong men always smoke cigars. Cigar smoking is not limited to lead roles alone, however. All sorts of supporting characters and villains in positions of power and wealth can be seen puffing away at cigars throughout films. In Daredevil, the antagonist, Kingpin, boss of the most powerful mob in the city, is shown with a cigar in various scenes, all of which portray him as a man in complete control, intimidating all who oppose him. These depictions show the audience the apparent ability of cigars to intimidate those who do not possess them.
Cigar smoking is at its best in the film Scarface starring Al Pacino. The film centers on the story of a Cuban immigrant who rises to power as a drug lord in the 1980s. The protagonist, Tony Montana, is about as masculine as any man can get. He never shows fear, he picks fights with people much more powerful than he is, he smokes, he drinks, he does drugs, and he rarely finishes a statement without using the F-word. Every scene depicting Tony smoking a cigar sets a standard for cigar smoking. When he first meets the wealthy Frank Lopez, Tony offers him a cigar, sending the message that smoking cigars is something powerful men do to get to know each other. When he sees his mother for the first time in five years in a later scene, Tony says he has made it and hit the big time before pulling out a cigar, giving the impression that cigars symbolize success. The rest of the cigar scenes show Tony enjoying the money and control he has, expressing the cigar’s ultimate appearance of power and wealth.
Movies are not the only places cigars are revered. Advertisements often exhibit well dressed men with cigars in their hands. One such example is “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercial for the beer company Dos Equis. The commercials describe this bearded, aged man as a master of the English language, a possessor of unmatched athletic and fighting abilities, and the quintessence of class and wisdom. In a scene of one of the commercials, the most interesting man in the world is riding on a motorboat making what appears to be a narrow escape with four beauty queens. He is wearing a tuxedo and the only thing in his hands is a lit cigar. This four-second scene captures everything admired about cigar smoking. His making a narrow escape expresses the indifference to the danger of cigar smoking that men feel so good about. His company of four beauty queens gives the impression that as a sign of manliness, cigar smoking will impress the ladies. In addition, the most interesting man is wearing a tuxedo, emphasizing that cigar smoking is a symbol of style and prosperity.
Prosperity has always been the center of the music industry. Musical artists are always showing off their wealth, and one of those forms of wealth is, of course, cigars. Many songs can be found with cigars mentioned in the lyrics, and some are even dedicated completely to lighting up. Brad Paisley, a well accomplished country songwriter, recorded a song simply entitled “The Cigar Song.” This song expresses that Paisley is willing to go to jail for his love of fine cigars, telling the world that there is nothing better than smoking an expensive cigar. Country is not the only genre releasing cigar songs. Rick Ross, a rapper known for his hit “The Boss” featuring T-Pain, wrote a song named “Cigar Music (I Do It)” which mentions cigar smoking in each verse. This song, like “The Boss,” reiterates the rapper’s self-image as a “boss.” It gives the message to young men that cigar smoking is just another part of being “hard” and “getting paid.”
Some musicians are so adamant about cigar smoking that they choose to photograph themselves doing it and use that image for posters and album covers. Jay-Z is one of these musicians. One of his album covers has a black and white picture of him dressed in a suit, wearing a black hat angled so you cannot see his eyes, and his hand is holding both his hat and a large, lit cigar. Just like in “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercial, Jay Z’s fine clothes suggest cigars to be a symbol of money and success. Having his hat tipped, Jay Z pulls off the gangster look, again showing the dangerous side of cigar smoking that men strive to achieve.
The way the media presents cigar smoking causes men to see it as an expression of power and masculinity. Films make heroes and villains out of tough guys who smoke a cigar every chance they get. Commercials show wealthy men smoking in celebration. Songs and posters are even dedicated to the manly habit. My friends and I are not drug lords or gangsters. We are not rich or classy, and we are definitely not surrounded by beauty queens. We are just normal college students studying for tests and writing papers on cigars, but for one night a week, we are powerful. For just one night, we do know everything. For one night, we are truly men, and that beats sitting inside and being warm any day.
Dos Equis. “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Advertisement. YouTube. 02 Oct. 2009. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2SSZA0CjdQ&feature=related >. Web.
Daredevil. Dir. Mark Johnson. Perf. Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, and Michael Clarke Duncan. 20th Century Fox, 2003. DVD.
Hellboy. Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. Perf. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and Jeffrey Tambor. Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, 2004. DVD.
Jay-Z. Reasonable Doubt. Roc-A-Fella, 1996. CD.
Paisley, Brad. “The Cigar Song.” Mud on the Tires. Artista Nashville, 2003. CD.
Ross, Rick. “Cigar Music (I Do It).” Deeper Than Rap. Maybach Music Group, 2009. CD.
Ross, Rick. “The Boss.” Trilla. Def Jam, 2008. CD.
Scarface. Dir. Brian De Palma. Perf. Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer. Universal City Studios, Inc., 1983. DVD.