In the story I am reading set in 1938, the hero is twenty-two years old, rowed for Oxford so is the strong muscular type, is described as tall dark and handsome and is well off enough to drive a fantastic sports roadster. Two chapters in, he is in France on an extended touring holiday and has teamed up and fallen in love with a beautiful young grey-eyed woman whom he met on the boat from Dover, but she turns out to be a notorious jewel thief who he will obviously save from her sins and her deadly underworld colleagues who are out to kill her.
Although quite tame by today’s standards the book was reading well and I had fully identified myself with the main character, until in one romantic scene our hero lights up a pipe and covers both he and his lover with a cloud of smoke! ‘What a loser’ instantly came into my mind as I read this, and I now dislike the chap so much I am loathe to bother finishing the book.
Now, back in the 30’s and 40’s every young man would have smoked a pipe and have been seen to be cool for doing so, and I even tried a pipe when I was in my twenties. So as an ex-smoker how have I become so anti-smoking and especially anti-pipe that I can’t bear to associate myself with such a character to this extent? All I can think of is stinky breath, that awful tobacco staining on his hands and clothes, the putrid smell of the smoke and the coughing and wheezing that will no doubt ensue.
The same is beginning to happen where heroes and booze is concerned. Anything I read or watch where the hero picks up a drink instantly makes me consider him weak and dependent on ‘Dutch courage’ to cope with life. This is even true of characters like James Bond who probably most males would like to be identified with at some stage in their life, I know I did. But not anymore, all I think of is the hangover he is going to have, the fact he will be dying for more than one drink, the fact he will be planning his life around booze, and the fact his senses will be massively impaired the more he drinks which is useless for any sort of hero!
I am afraid to say that for me at least, all these ‘loser’ hero types have simply gone up in a puff of smoke!