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The Undeniably Schlong-Shaped Nose of Joe Camel

He was created by R.J. Reynolds to grow its market share of young smokers, but there was something else going on: that giant dick and balls on his face

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re grabbing it right by the balls. Every day for the entire month, we will be publishing a new story aimed at getting men to better consider — and cherish — their family jewels in hopes of helping prevent a diagnosis that, if caught early enough, shouldn’t prove fatal. Read everything here.

In 1988, on the cusp of Camel’s 75th anniversary, executives at R.J. Reynolds sought to win new, younger smokers over to the brand. And so, they introduced the world to Joe Camel. Within five years, he was so famous that he was as recognizable to children as Mickey Mouse and Barbie. There was just one problem with his increasingly recognizable visage: His nose looked an awful lot like a penis and his lips were rather scrotum-shaped

Not surprisingly, controversy soon followed. For starters, the Surgeon General and the American Medical Association condemned the cigarette company for targeting young people. But they weren’t happy about Joe Camel’s dick face either, considering it “too seductive for children.” 

In 1992, the New York Times noted that the dick-nosed, ball-faced Joe Camel controversy boiled down to what Freud had called “displacement upward,” motivating a complex response to an otherwise simple phenomenon. “Consider Medusa, whose head of snaky hair was, Freud suggested, a displacement upward of the young boy’s fear of castration, engendered when he glimpsed ‘the female genitals, surrounded by hair, and essentially those of his mother,’” the Times wrote. “The multiplicity of snakes was both terrifying and reassuring, since they resembled and replaced the penis, ‘the absence of which is the cause of the horror.’” 

In other words, Medusa is a dream-like image that helps a child make sense of psycho-sexual awakenings via a powerful mix of phallic and maternal imagery. The Times went on to describe the similar psycho-sexual appeal of Joe Camel’s face among young people: “His long straight snout bulges above two pouchy folds as he stares insouciantly out at the viewer, a lighted cigarette hanging from his lips. Look again. Any schoolchild can recognize this ribald caricature; only adults need to have it pointed out.”

In the April 1995 issue of the William & Mary Law Review, the journal examined the call for governmental action to ban Joe Camel from American marketplaces. And once again, the schlong nose was, in part, credited for appealing to young smokers: “Cigarette advertisements featuring a ‘sunglass-sporting, phallic-nosed,’ camel named Joe, surrounded by his ‘cool, jazz-playing, pool-hustling, poker-playing, cigarette-smoking’ crowd of camel-friends, have been accused of enticing children to smoke.”

It was a controversy that, ultimately, Joe Camel couldn’t outrun — someone (read: the government) had to put an end to such sinister subliminal trickery. In its quasi-obituary for him in 1995, the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Perhaps the biggest symbol in this controversy is smokin’ Joe, a party-hardy dromedary with an oversized schnoz, an ever-present smirk and a cigarette that is always lighted but never seems to burn. His foes think he’s sinister — an exercise in subliminal seduction, they allege, his face fashioned after a set of male genitals.” 

Strangely, this wasn’t the only dick-related controversy Camel had found itself in. There’s also an old rumor that if you look carefully enough at their cigarette packs, you can see a man standing, presenting his dick and scrote to the world: 

Snopes investigated this rumor, explaining, “Many who claim to see the little fellow say he faces left, with his erection drawn as the light streak where the camel’s leg meets the body. Others see him facing the right, with his elbow behind him.” After their consideration of the history of the image and Camel’s brand marketing, Snopes came to the conclusion that “some will see him, some won’t. Just as clouds in a summer sky take on meaningful shapes to the one studying them, so can the odd lines and shadings within almost any drawing assume meanings the artist never intended.”

The same, of course, can’t be said of Joe Camel. No matter how you look at him, that’s very clearly a dick for a nose and a pair of balls for a mouth.