Public health? Over it!

You can lead them to the ashtray but you can't make them snuff it out

Dear Hipster:

I read the story in the U-T about the government targeting hipsters with an anti-smoking campaign called “Commune.” I’ve actually heard of it before, but I didn’t know it had such specific objectives. I thought it was just an arts program. Knowing what we know, I have to wonder, can it possibly work? Would any self-respecting hipster knowingly be swayed by a program that identifies him as a hipster? Doesn’t that violate Hipster Rule #1?

Perhaps the more pressing issue is, if “hipster” is all of a sudden something the feds recognize, isn’t that the end of hipsterism as we know it? You can’t be a counterculture and a census group at the same time, can you?

— Mark, O.B.

Let us stop and savor, for just a moment, the glorious nuggets of cliché hipsterism dotting the story. On the surface, a tale of reckless government spending. Consider the misleading, if not strictly untrue lede, “The federal government is paying hipsters to quit smoking.”

Damn those hipsters, soaking up federal funds! What’s next, government subsidies for mustache care? The nerve!

All right, fact check 1,2... and let me play Technicality Terry for a moment. The federal government remains, for the meantime, uninterested in hipsters. “Commune” may be an anti-smoking campaign in disguise, but it’s promoted by a for-profit LLC as part of a partnership with smoking research programs at the University of California, San Francisco. Major funding for the project comes from a $5 million National Institutes of Health grant, but it’s not like Congress enacted sweeping legislation to create a Hipster Observation and Intervention Administration whose agents wear creepy blue gloves and wield wholly unqualified authority over hipsters during some of their most vulnerable and difficult moments.

Back to the matter at hand, how about this juicy line from the U-T article, which includes a great quotation from Dr. Pamela Ling, UC San Francisco scientific expert on all things hipster: “Hipsters seem to ignore traditional public health messaging, [Ling] said. They know smoking is bad for them; they just don’t care.”

In Ling’s opinion, hipsters are over it in terms of public health, which, now that I think about it, does sound like something we hipsters would say….

But, hold on a second, if the article’s to be believed, the people behind Commune hope to engage hipsters in anti-tobacco dialogues by appealing to “somewhat counter-cultural” 21st-century hipster “values,” such as “self-expression, social justice and standing apart from the masses.” At least, that’s what Jeff Jordan thinks. He’s the president and executive creative director for Rescue Social Change Group, the branding and PR company that “provides comprehensive behavior change marketing programs to clients,” according to its website.

Because, you know, that’s not the least bit creepy.

Seriously, though, do hipsters just not care, or are we so motivated by our sense of social justice that the best way to get us to quit smoking isn’t to convince us it’ll kill us (because we don’t care about that), it’s demonstrating that tobacco isn’t a fair-trade crop, which Rescue Social Change attempts to do via cleverly designed poster in the style of something Shepard Banksy-ish.

I seriously can’t tell if these people think hipsters are idiots or visionaries. Maybe it’s a little of both.

Whether it will work depends on only one thing: is it possible to ironically quit smoking to prove how unpressured you are by social pressure to quit smoking?

My gut says, “nope.”

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