Preface to a Series of Rants Called Symbols Are Not Solutions
Full disclosure: I have one of those stupid magnetic ribbons on my vehicle. It has been there since I got the car in 2004 and has been bleached white by time and sunshine. I can’t even remember the original color; I only remember it supports some animals/pets non-profit. I put it there before it ever occurred to me I’d one day get cancer, before I’d come to hate ribbons and ribbon culture. The thing is, I cannot peel it off now, the damn thing is seemingly welded onto the back of the car. Nine years is a long time.
I know as a breast cancer patient, my complaint against all ribbons is like having first world—or is it first ribbon?—problems, so I should not complain about ribbons and symbols, but I’m going to anyway. I know that I indirectly and directly benefited from Pink dollars and I’m grateful but I still want more and better. I recognize that since other ribbons/cancers do not get the same amount of attention, that some folks might think breast cancer patients who speak openly against Pink sound like whiny rock stars of the 90s, who complained about being rich and famous. But I hope that all the awful issues pointed out about pink ribbons can serve as an example of what can go wrong in any or all charity campaigns, since so many disease/ribbon campaigns seem determined to imitate Pink.
It’s just that I’m flat out tired of all ribbons, and even more tired of the need for them. And I mean all the damn ribbons, not just that Pink bully ribbon. I’m tired of the assembly-line, factory-like process: someone gets an idea that a certain cause needs attention, assign the cause a color, assign it a month (who cares if that month already has many other causes assigned to it, except don’t chose October because then the newly anointed cause won’t get any attention, because, you know, boobies), make a ribbon, hold a charity event, and then forget about it every other day or month of the year.
When September 1 arrived, I was confronted with a number of blog posts about cancers assigned to that month, in a plea for attention as Pinktober loomed ahead, and I became very discouraged. I was struck by how diseases have been reduced to symbols and the symbols are scrambling for attention in the shadow of the big Pink Machine. People are getting immune to seeing ribbons—it’s like, oh, here’s another one. Is there a conversation about that?
Sorry, I am not some professional investigative journalist who has the time to research and write about the history of ribbons; I’m a working woman with a physically tiring service industry job who blogs in down time, which is limited because I still find post-treatment life tiring. I think some collective societal memory can come into play here, however. I mean, remember “tie a ribbon around the old tree?” Remember the yellow ribbons for all the recent wars of the past few decades? Remember the red AIDS ribbons of the early 90s, which have somehow been forgotten as that disease got pushed aside, and now red has to do with February and heart disease? We all have some knowledge and ideas about ribbons and the surrounding culture, because we see and react to them every day, and have been doing so for a few decades.
I’ve been in a dark place lately. This will become apparent in subsequent posts. Proceed with caution. Unpleasant concepts loom ahead.
Yep, I’m complaining again without offering solutions, but then, I’m not so sure anyone will agree my complaints are even valid and in need of attention, but oh well, it’s my blog. I’m not writing some professional, sociological paper on this topic. I’m just a hick in a redneck town; I’m not equipped to make an informed, cultural critique like others. I’m just calling it like I see it. I hope some of my negative views expressed over the next few posts can be changed.
To be continued.
“Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right.” — Ricky Gervais