Editor’s Note: On the first reading of this article in BackStage Magazine we were astounded only to realize that it was in the humor section of the magazine
Illustration by Eric Kohn
WASHINGTON — Regulators for the Food and Drug Administration announced this week that beginning in 2012 cigarette manufacturers will be required by federal law to display a nude photo of actor Marlon Brando on all packages of cigarettes sold in the United States.
The FDA was quick to clarify, however, that the graphic imagery would depict the decrepit and abhorrently obese actor in his last years instead of the lean, handsome form cut by Brando as a young man. This latest step in an aggressive anti-smoking movement aimed at reducing the 443,000 deaths attributed to cigarette smoking per year is already stirring controversy, with even some tobacco opponents decrying the new packaging as “horrifying.”
Yoga instructor, nutritionist, and non-smoker Katelin Howard sides with those who think the packaging goes too far. ”I think they could have gotten the point across with simple pictures of mouth cancer or dead bodies,” said Howard. ”I don’t understand why the FDA feels the need to take it to this extreme. It’s too much.”
The photo in question, a candid shot of the grossly corpulent actor walking nude along a beach, was snapped during a break in the production of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), one of Brando’s final film roles.
The actor, wearing only a weird straw hat, is shown mid-stride, his distended abdomen, flabby breasts, and sagging genitalia all seeming to quiver and ripple like so much gelatin, one hand behind him scratching the unnaturally pasty white flesh of his cauliflower-like buttocks, his other hand gripping a beach towel soiled by an unidentifiable yellow-brown stain. Also, he looks like he might be wearing lipstick?
“This is a major change in the way we are going to be able to fight this deadly habit,” said Rajayan Patel, president of the anti-tobacco organization “Breath Not Death.”
Patel’s group won a major battle in the war against underage smoking in 2009 when it successfully sued a major cigarette manufacturer over a marketing campaign that featured a mascot named Buttso: The Smoking Transforming Robot.
“Young people are very impressionable,” Patel said. “We want to convey the idea to these kids that smoking is every bit as uncool and disgusting as old fat nude Marlon Brando walking on a beach with his gross doughy pouches of blubber gleaming like cottage cheese in the sun and his horrible old genitals swinging like two golf balls in a white gym sock.” Patel paused, momentarily placing his hand over his mouth as if nauseous. “Sorry. It’s just… God that picture’s so nasty,” he remarked. Patel added with a shiver, “And what is on that towel?”
While nude photos do exist of the strikingly handsome and virile Brando as a young man, they were passed over in favor of the gag-inducing 1996 beach photograph. Ironically, the FDA’s announcement was originally met with approval by many smokers who mistakenly assumed that the image would show the late actor in his physical prime.
“At first I was actually excited about the idea of nude Brando,” said Travis Haughton, a two-pack-a-day smoker for 15 years. ”I mean, I’m not gay, but even I recognize that Brando in Streetcar is pretty much, like, the most gorgeous example of the human male form ever captured on film.
“Now if I got greeted by naked Stanley Kowalski [Brando’s character in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)] every time I reached for a smoke, I might even kick it up to three packs a day. I mean… I’m not gay or anything.”
Haughton went on to describe his disappointment and revulsion upon learning that it would actually be old, fat Brando on the packaging. ”Well, I guess this means I’ll be quitting. Old fat Brando is the worst. I mean just repellent in every way. Just a gross, gross, terrible thing.”
Haughton’s feelings are shared by unapologetic smoker and personal rights activist Mark Rodman. ”They finally won. I was thinking it was going to be The Wild One Brando or even Last Tango In Paris Brando. Hell, I think even if it was Apocalypse Now Brando I’d just shrug it off. But Dr. Moreau Brando? That’s just– wow, that’s grim. Is that the movie with the little deformed dwarf clone thing? That thing’s not in the photo, is it?”
FDA spokesperson Georgia Keener said on Monday, “Today we launch a new weapon in the war against smoking-related illness and death in this country. While the imagery depicting the tragic and horrific — dare I say hideous – physical decline of one of our most talented and respected film and stage actors is not meant to demonstrate the health risks associated with smoking, the message is clear. Smoke and you will have to look at nude Marlon Brando. No, not sexy young Greek statue nude Marlon Brando. Old fat gross nude Marlon Brando. Scratching his butt. And wearing makeup or something?”
It remains to be seen if this new scare tactic will reduce the number of new or existing smokers.
“I don’t think this is really going to stop people from smoking,” said 24-year-old Zak Rutland before pausing to light up. “Most people who smoke have been doing it for years and aren’t going to give it up because of some disturbing pictures. I mean, I work at Wal-Mart, man. My night manager looks worse than that Brando dude — WITH her clothes on