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Editor’s Note: We’re on the Road to…Somewhere

September 24, 2018
by Pat Joseph

When I was a kid, it seemed like all adults smoked. Cigarette butts littered the sidewalks, the stench of stale tobacco clung to the upholstery, and ashtrays were everywhere. We made ashtrays in art class as gifts for our parents.

Back then, people smoked in their offices, their cars, and on airplanes. On airplanes! In California these days you can’t even light up in a bar.

What happened?

It’s a serious question. After all, it wasn’t obvious or inevitable that we’d kick our collective smoking habit. Likewise, it wasn’t clear that we’d stop littering and start recycling. Or that Communism would come tumbling down, that marriage equality would happen, or that we’d elect a black president. These all marked momentous cultural shifts, and yet, once they had occurred, we took them more or less in stride.

For this issue of CALIFORNIA, we wondered about how our culture might be shifting right now. Will the emergence of the #MeToo movement, for example, prove to be a watershed moment? Will its momentum carry more women into high office? If so, will they finally drain the swamp or just become swamp creatures who happen to have two X chromosomes? Wendy Miller (our erstwhile editor in chief) examines these questions.

In another story of shifting politics, we talk to Washington Post columnist Max Boot. Once a conservative scribe at The Daily Californian and a longtime adviser to Republican presidential candidates, Boot has lately renounced both the GOP and President Trump. That doesn’t mean he’s become a Democrat, mind you. Says Boot, “I am on a political journey. Having left my old moorings, I am still not sure where I will end up.”

We can relate. After all, who doesn’t feel a bit unmoored in this age of technological disruption? We have a president who communicates policy via tweets, and hardly any of us know where we’re going anymore without our smartphones.

The cameras in those phones have lately morphed from selfie machines to weapons of a sort—a way to defend against criminal abuses of authority and to publicly shame bad actors. That sounds good until we’re the ones caught in the phone’s unblinking eye, something Glen Martin considers in his essay. In the future, Andy Warhol said, we’ll all be famous for 15 minutes. In our current cultural moment, Martin muses, interminable infamy seems more like it.

But then, who knows where the culture is ultimately headed? Maybe the drop-off in smoking is only a hiatus, and vape pens and e-cigarettes will usher in a resurgence of widespread nicotine addiction and lung cancer. On the other hand, maybe tobacco’s just the beginning and we’ll manage to kick meat, fossil fuels, and assault weapons in much the same way we kicked our smokes—that is, after a lot of concerted effort by researchers, educators, doctors, and ad execs.

And kids. Don’t forget kids. After all, it wasn’t the quitting adults who put an end to tobacco culture as we knew it. It was the kids who never started smoking in the first place.

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