In mid-December, 2011, so almost exactly six months ago, Christopher Hitchens died. I didn’t know the man, so I couldn’t write much of a remembrance of him, but I did get to meet him once, so I typed up a little memoiristic essay about the time he smoked a cigarette in a Columbia journalism school classroom. Bittersweet, a little funny. Very Hitchens. I moved on with my life and my dissertation.
One of the nice features about using WordPress as a blogging platform is that it provides a fairly robust set of statistics telling me who visited the site and where they came from. The Hitchens post got me a little spike for the first few days, which didn’t surprise me. I knew some of my Twitter followers would see it, and so would my Facebook friends and even some people who searched for information on Hitchens. I even suspected I would get some traffic for people looking up the cigarette angle. After all, he died of esophageal cancer, and there could very well be a connection.
What I didn’t bank on though was the fact that six months later, hardly a day goes by that the search string “Christopher
Hitchens cigarette brand” or something of that sort brings people to my blog. It’s not huge, maybe 3–5 page views a day. But that’s a good 600 or so over six months, right? (I did the math in my head.) I mentioned this to my dissertation adviser a few weeks ago, and he suggested I rename the blog “What brand of cigarettes did Christopher Hitchens smoke?” and start selling ads based on the waves of traffic I’d get from that bit of SEO.
Why is it that people are so fascinated by his brand of cigarettes (by the way, the answer appears to be Rothmans (thanks to commenter Chad for the heads-up). When I was searching for my own post so that I could link to it above, I started typing “what brand of cigarettes…” into my Safari search box, and got the list of suggested searches that the image in this paragraph depicts (by the way, changing from “did” to “does” gives a completely different list—notice that only Obama is alive among the suggestions; do people really think Obama’s smoking is in the past tense?). My deduction about people’s curiosity, based on this list, is somewhat depressing. These people are all glamorous. Marilyn Monroe. James Dean. John Lennon. Kurt Cobain. And of course, all of these examples died too young. On the plus side for Hitchens, he’s as cool as John Wayne (or two notches less cool, going by rank order), and a notch cooler than the Beatles (Lennon excepted). On the downside, it means that cigarettes are still seen as being a symbol of cool, and people want to know what brand they should be smoking so that they too can be cool. Not surprising I guess, but still sad.
Anyway, I choose to take the happier conclusion: that ornery, erudite, iconoclastic journalist-essayists are as important to the world as the Beatles. And as cool as James Dean, though Hitchens was a rebel of many causes.
Postscript: I suspect, of course, that owing to the proliferation of Christopher Hitchens cigarette references in this post, it’s on its way to becoming my all-time more popular. Interested advertisers are welcome to contact me by email.