Pasedena Art Beat: Addiction infliction: Science, smokescreens and Philip Morris

January 12, 2012 : By Jana J. Monji - in Movie reviews

During the early 1980s, Victor J. DeNoble was working for the devil. In this case, that was Philip Morris and he was an associate senior scientist performing rat studies. ”Addiction Incorporated” is about his journey from enthusiastic addiction encourager to crusading anti-tobacco whistleblower.

During this time, we see how he went from blue-collar kid with not college dreams, to a intellectual geek to a cool anti-tobacco lecturer. Yes, science geeks, too, can be cool, but it comes with a lot of bumps along the way.

DeNoble got his doctorate for experimental psychology from Adelphi University in New York in 1976. From there, he had postdoctoral fellowships, studying drug abuse. Yet at Philip Morris, it wasn’t about addiction prevention, but addiction invention. Using rats, he learned how to addict rats to nicotine.

The rats were the key to this research. No monkeys were taught how to smoke or starfish hooked on heroin. The rats were indeed part of a plan for world domination. Yet like the cartoon “Pinky and the Brain,” where the Brain was continually thwarted in his attempts at world domination, DeNoble’s successful research–enabling cigarettes to be less prone to causing heart attacks but uncovering a new addictive ingredient–was derailed. At a conference, his presentation was canceled. He stood in front of a blank board for a presentation that didn’t exist. Imagine the humiliation.

Fired from his job as the tobacco industry attempted to cover up his research, DeNoble decided to testify before Congress–breaching the confidentiality agreement, but damning the tobacco industry. Teamed up with a group of zealous lawyers, including the flamboyant Louisiana legal eagle Russ Herman, DeNoble helps change the legal strategy against the tobacco industry.

For those of you who aren’t true Law&Order fans or intrigued by legal battles, director Charles Evans Jr. knows how to tell a story, even when it involves rats and his animated rats are definitely not distance cousins of Mickey Mouse. Evans looks at how news mostly missed this story as it formulated; some journalists who realized this was a major story even when their editors or publishers did not or would not.

Evans leaves out what must have been some soul-searching, disheartening times. But he also lets that DeNoble wasn’t an arrogant egghead with a history of overachievement. DeNoble had already face discouraging times. We learn that his father could barely read menus, but that tidbit becomes a powerfully poignant echo in our brains when we learn that DeNoble was dyslexic, a condition not identified until he was a young adult. Evans introduces us to DeNoble’s parents including his sweet mother who instilled in DeNoble a desire to help others.

From a boy who was told he’d never graduate high school, to a man who toppled the tobacco industry, DeNoble was transformed into a hero of today. What geek doesn’t want to become a super hero and through courageous deeds bring down an evil empire? DeNoble did.

Currently, “Addiction Incorporated” is not currently schedule to play in Pasadena. It will be running at Landmark NuArt in West Los Angeles for one week only. I posted this here because of the concentration of scientists and scientists-in-training in Pasadena.