A Vice To Breathe At All.

Hieronymous Bosch, 'Garden of Earthly Delights' c. 1510, a warning on the perils of life's temptations?

Hieronymous Bosch, ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ c. 1510, a warning on the perils of life’s temptations?

I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions this year. Life is a resolution in itself. Anyway, once you’ve had your first (of many?) mortality checks, time is precious and I’m not wasting any time on vices that don’t give joy, like binge drinking for example. A minor session could set you back at least two days, including hangover, think of the writing you mightn’t do? As for smoking — health damaging, unattractive, smelly – actually the new NHS ad goes deeper than that. Not only is it well shot, but it features a harassed looking bloke, a person like you or I, enjoying a lovely solitary smoke in his backyard oblivious that his cig is growing tumors before his eyes!

Screen shot NHS AD smoking

NHS Ad: Man enjoying a peaceful smoke

The subtext gets you on so many levels, you never know what’s creeping up on you while you’re taking a breather, smoker or not. Not like the peculiarly Irish moral subtext in the ad where the girl gets humanly ‘welded’ to the boy she’s snogging by a crazy speeding car? They went a bit overboard here, (hence this ad is linked here, but not embedded…who needs such gore?). Isn’t the vice unclear here? Was it the snogging or the speeding that destroyed young love? Is the ad actually saying:  Isn’t that what you get for wrapping your legs around a bloke shamelessly on a wall outdoors for all to see? Reckless hussy. Vices, vices, vices! And so many start as normal things, innocent things. They get out of hand; love, sex, socializing and their counter-parts; hate, reclusiveness, remote intimacy. Where are the ads for them?

Maybe that’s why fiction is so compelling. It explores quirk territory in a way an ad can’t mutilate. I like to give my characters vices, and not ones that will be sorted by a nicotine patch or some weedy Jan 1st resolution. For example, here’s what my increasingly unstable protagonist says in Draft 2 as vice takes hold of her in the form of obsessive love:

‘Loving him was my secret worrying quirk. It was like being addicted to something. The need, indeed, the craving for him, for his substance, his touch and his company was endless. I lived in terror of never having access to him, so in the days following his fatal words you can’t ever come here again. Understand? No, I did not understand.’

Was it the snogging or the speeding?

Was it the snogging or the speeding?

Anyway, on a day where the wagging finger is on the move to make-you-a-better-person, I wonder if excessive resolution isn’t a vice too? Deprivation can be as potent as a hit of what you fancy yourself. Isn’t deprivation a bit of a cheat? Aren’t you better off keeping your vice tangible as reminder of what could be, like that old saying: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer? Fiction, however, is another matter. Had my protagonist seen an ad for obsessive love that ended with one (or both) fatally wounded, or indeed flesh-welded at the waist, she still probably would have remained blatently resolution free.  As for the the poor aul divil in his backyard taking a breather? We know he’ll be back on his doorstep smoking when February hits, we know the tumor on the cig isn’t real. We get the metaphor, he’s not stupid, he’s just human and some of us need a vice to breathe at all.

4 thoughts on “A Vice To Breathe At All.

  1. Great post. Yeah, I have to think some of those anti-reckless/drink driving ads are scripted by an eleven-year-old. (‘And then he, like, totally gets cut in half, right? And she’s in a wheelchair. And then this car flips over, like, a hundred times and lands in somebody’s backyard and totally squishes this kid playing football…’) As for resolutions, I love them. Big into denial. My top one is less internet, which I haven’t done too well with so far.

  2. Despite the best efforts of the various Public Health authorities many of our vices remain, and thankfully so. if they were to all disappear what the hell would anyone have to write about. If everyone made the sober and correct decisions at all stages of their lives the world of fiction would disappear overnight.

    Not to get all Gordon Gekko on it but vices are necessary, vices are good!!

    (by the way, blog is excellent, how about sticking up a sample of your work?)

    • Hah! I agree. Maybe a bit of vice (once you’re not hurting anyone else, naturally!) is the secret health vitamin? Know loads of people who drank and smoke all their life and lived till late 80s, oh, I suppose they were well preserved in that case. Anyway, virtue can get out of hand, as Elizabeth Taylor was reported to have said ‘The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.’
      I hear you about the sample, maybe a few blogs down the line!!!!!?

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