Oct 13, 2013

Where the Flavor Is: Gay Cigarette Ads of the 1960s

My father spent most of the 1960s trying to quit smoking, so I never started.  But there was something appealing about cigarette ads. Not a lot of nudity, but the hint of biceps and bulges, and some rather obvious gay symbolism.

The cigarette itself is a phallic symbol, and depending on its placement, draws the eye to the hand, mouth, or crotch.

The situations depicted in the commercials and ads were always purely masculine enclaves, guys with guys and no women in sight. This Camel ad seems to be set in an upscale gay bar.
Offering or asking for a cigarette, offering or asking for a light, was really an erotic invitation. You had to cup your hand around the other guy's to steady the lighter, creating a moment of evocative intimacy.

The most famous cigarette ads took place in a homoerotic cowboy world, with men roping cattle and then gazing longingly at each other at the end of the day.  The slogan added another layer of gay symbolism: "Come to where the flavor is: Come to Marlboro Country."

Several "real" cowboys were hired to play the Marlboro Man, including Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer.  Most died of lung cancer -- as did many of their customers, prey to the association of a carcinogenic substance with homoerotic freedom.