I recently saw an advertisement that featured two lungs, one healthy and another almost unrecognizable as a human organ. This reminded me of a similar comparison at a summer camp I once attended where they showed us a cow’s lung that had supposedly been exposed to a great deal of smoke. While both demonstrations had different end goals, the former to combat second hand smoke and the latter to scare young children into never considering a smoke, they required similar ontological assumptions from their audiences. Chiefly, the assumption that seeing how our actions outside our corpus have effects on inner organs, but also the subsequent assumption that seeing these consequences will galvanize us into healthier habits or, at the very least, aversion to particular substances.
As a child I remember being absolutely horrified by the cow’s lung, which bore a blackish-grey color. Yet, upon seeing the recent advertisement, I had a very different, almost amused, reaction. For, it seems to me, both demonstrations fail to realize that prior to being exposed to tobacco smoke, human (or cow) lungs do not exist in a vacuum. That is to say, lungs will not remain in pristine health no matter if the individual inhales smoke through a second hand source or their own vice at any point during their lifetime. Bracketing the regular wear and tear that essential biological processes have on our organs, we can literally never be fully aware of what assortment of invisible toxins enter our respiratory system at any given time. So, to me, it seems ridiculous that a company (or summer camp) would invest in a demonstration such as this without seeing how their audience could just as easily become fiercely critical of any variety of air pollutants from any variety of sources. Yet, the efficacy of such demonstrations proves how easily we take representations of reality by certain social actors to be faithful attempts at presenting reality as it truly exists.
So, next time someone dangles a rotting lung before you or your child under the guise of public health, just remember: they’re promoting an agenda that may expose certain dangers while concealing others.