Piping down

Tangentially related to Harry’s post below is Peter Carlson’s Father’s Day tribute to the disappearing mystique of pipe-smoking.

It was a world of wise, contemplative men who sat and smoked and read serious, leather-bound literature, as well as a world of rugged outdoorsmen, canoeists and fly fishermen and clipper ship captains who puffed their pipes as they pored over nautical charts before sailing ’round the Horn.

… Fifty years ago, nearly every male movie star who wanted to be taken seriously posed for PR photos smoking a pipe and looking contemplative. These days, about the only pipe smokers found in the movies are the hobbits in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Pipe smoking is going the way of the shaving brush, the straight razor, the fedora, the Freemasons, the liberal Republican.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the pipe became a pop symbol of contemplation and relaxation. Detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret were towering intellects who smoked pipes and solved crimes through rational deduction. Bing Crosby exhibited his ease, his cool, by holding a pipe while he crooned.

And in the early days of television, sitcom dads like Robert Young in “Father Knows Best” and Fred MacMurray in “My Three Sons” were wise paternal figures who effortlessly solved all family problems while puffing calmly.

Now, however, contemplation and relaxation are pretty much passe in a pop culture that has come to prefer the quick and the dumb to the slow and the wise.

True enough, I suppose. But before we thorougly romanticize those golden aromatic days, it’s worth recalling a pipe-smoker who puffed contemplatively while overseeing the deaths of millions.