Short-Term Memory

TV Re-Runs: Part I – “SNL’s Mr. Short-Term Memory”

I’ve got cancer controversy fatigue.

It is only the beginning of March and already 2014 has had too many breast cancer controversies. The bizarre Keller attacks provided an interesting silver lining in that so many people defended the right of cancer patients to tell whatever blunt truth each deems appropriate to their experience, not just the media approved story, without getting hassled for it. I’d hoped the infuriating Pancreatic Cancer Action PSA controversy would provide another silver lining in the form of a general realization that 1) Pink has deceptively sold breast cancer as a desirable disease 2) patients with other cancers are so tired of the attention given to breast cancer that push back has begun. I still think push back will continue, see here and here, but the jury is still out on that one.

Are the voices challenging Pink Rule getting louder? Maybe, but it is business as usual according to the dominant voices in the breast cancer conversation. The most recent two controversies (is it just 2, did I miss something? I’ve been a little otherwise engaged lately)—the here-we-go-again-arguing-about-the-usefulness-of-mammography fuss, and is-it-October-again-already return of Pink commercialization—are just old and tiresome. They seem like TV re-runs. Or, more accurately, remind me I watch too many TV re-runs.

I’ll get to that mammography thing later, some other post maybe. Right now I just want to rant about the latest Pink hi-jinks.

Remember the iconic recurring sketch on Tom Hanks-hosted Saturday Night Live episodes, back in the late 80s-early 90s, “Mr. Short-Term Memory”? The little song at the start of the sketch said something like: he got hit on the head by a fruit, he shouldn’t have sat under that tree, he’s Mr. Short-Term Memory, he’ll drive you crazy when you talk to him but he’ll never know it, because he cannot remember anything. Hanks as the titular character would repeatedly forget why he was on the game show or why he was in the hospital, right in the middle of a conversation. The other characters had to repeatedly explain the situation to him, resulting in everyone having the same conversation about 5 times, to the exasperation and irritation of the other characters. Meanwhile, Hanks cluelessly acted like each time he heard the repeated story, it was brand new information! I loved that sketch, I still do. The sketch is funny, which is good since SNL is a comedy show.

Komen, Kohl’s, and any other Pink sellers acting like breast cancer is some kind of undiscussed elephant in the room reminds me of Hanks in those old Mr. Short-Term Memory sketches, but it ain’t funny. I picture all the marketing flunkies at both Komen and Kohl’s as Hanks/ Mr. Short-Term Memory, shouting “all these women are getting breast cancer?! Oh my gosh, we need to let people know about this!” It’s as if Komen is inexplicably ignorant of its own history and efforts. This is mind-boggling , until I consider the alternative. Maybe the flunkies think we, the shopping public, are plagued with short-term memory, and we forgot that barrage that just happened a few months ago. Impossible! Pink ribboned items hang around in my local stores up until at least the holidays, or after!

color pink

What the hell is talked about so much that folks with other cancers applaud that recent pancreatic cancer PSA, because they are so sick of pink ribbons being waved in faces (yes, that is an actual comment, scroll down to Martin, here)? As recently as a few months ago I was complaining about how so many folks—in real life, in comments sections, on social media—like to point out that 30 years ago breast cancer was only whispered about, and now…isn’t it great? Komen and other Pinked out groups have made it so we can talk openly about it! As if this is some kind of triumph! As if being able to talk openly about it was the end goal all along. Sometimes when people claim that all the talk of breast cancer shows how effective Pink has been, I have to shove my hands in my jeans pockets so I don’t grab their shoulders and shake them and scream: “don’t you get it?! I don’t want to TALK about breast cancer—I want to makes sure it doesn’t come back in me—I want to have never had it at all!”

But I did get breast cancer, and I’m stuck repeating myself (I’ve noticed I keep re-posting old posts lately, geez, I guess I’m not just watching re-runs on TV, I’m putting out my own re-runs!). I feel stuck listening to the same conversation over and over, because the biggest Pink gorillas cannot seem to move forward. Komen & Kohl’s awful Pink website page filled with conversations starters are just the same old warmed over topics that’ve been discussed to death. No mention of Stage IV, the misguided idea that cancer is beatable with no mention that it is so likely to recur (as Stage IV, again ignoring that reality, duh), and of course, other pretty pink-i-tudes, like the notion cancer is a gift, something desirable (gee, no wonder those silly pancreatic cancer patients got confused—YES I’M BEING SARCASTIC). There is even the chance to win $50 from Kohl’s by sharing a personal breast cancer story. Even this idea is old news—it is just another version of the “only the positive stories get to the podium” phenomena so ever present in cancer tales. (Because a Cancer Curmudgeon-y story is unlikely to get a podium or prize.)This really burns me up, but I have to submerge that anger for some other day.

Using these proffered conversation starters that have already been discussed into the ground will just make the conversation about breast cancer look as silly as Mr. Short-Term Memory’s rants. Coming so soon after the pancreatic cancer PSA fuss, a marketing campaign that encourages folks to talk about breast cancer like such a conversation has never happened before is beyond tone deaf. I realize that this campaign is the result of too much time and money to simply cancel it after the pancreatic cancer PSA, but if Komen and Pink pushers had been paying attention to the growing grumbles in social media and even the mainstream (I guess that Orenstein article was just TL;DR for those involved with this campaign), maybe they’d have thought twice before developing this travesty.

So many have already eloquently spoken about the Komen & Kohl’s theft of elephant concept from METAvivor there is nothing to add. I was outraged at first, but now I step back and find I’m not even all that surprised. Pink pushers are so unable to move forward in the conversation regarding breast cancer, of course they are out of new ideas. Realizing this, I think to myself, is it any wonder they had to steal? Last I checked, METAvivor is still disappointed that K&K are Unwilling to Do the Right Thing. Too many resources stand to be wasted pursing legal action, but given Komen’s litigious history, perhaps “lawsuit” is the only language they speak?

I’m not suggesting that all the #talkpink turn into #STFU. It’s just that breast cancer is still such a huge problem that has not decreased in proportion with nearly 30 years of “talk”. Nothing has improved in terms of death, of mets patients. Doesn’t that seem like a conversational shift is needed? I’m not as specifically anti-Komen as some folks. Rather, I tend to get so incensed by nearly all Pink/rah-rah entities, or hell, ribbon and disease-of-the-month culture as a whole, that I sometimes cannot discern the individual pieces of the puzzle. Then my knee-jerk reaction is: “it all sucks!” But Komen really is The Worst this time round.

I think Kohl’s reached their goal—sorry, I cannot linger on that site enough to even understand how the shopping/donation process works, I was just too grossed out. I have not shopped there in years—as a pet/house sitter, I simply do not require their goods. So it was easy for me to boycott, and because it was so easy, I feel strange or hypocritical suggesting others boycott. I’d like to NEVER buy anything with a ribbon on it but it is damn near impossible in the case of some foods I like. I wonder if the backlash directed at K&K is enough to alter the next big Pink selling bonanza surely in the works? How many serious missteps like this will it take to end Komen? Part of me wishes someone would take them aside and clue them in, and that they’ll listen—simply because it is so hard to watch Komen embarrass themselves even though I cannot stand them. But the imp in me says, “hey, give ‘em enough rope….”

I wish I knew a solution to the over-abundance of Pink and all that comes with it. I only know I can no longer watch all these Pink re-enactments of the “Mr. Short-Term Memory” sketch.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

8 thoughts on “Short-Term Memory”

  1. dear CC,

    you have given a voice to the frustration and outrage of the stagnant, yet so incessant barrage of pink
    washing’s non-conversation, especially with regard to MBC. good. I align my hope along with your’s – give ’em enough rope…(komen).

    however, even with them out of the equation, where is there a public forum, other than twitter, to tell the story, the history of the struggles our community has dealt with for decades to enlighten and tell the truth about BC and MBC? we can rail and complain and be disgusted and write the most enlightening facts, the stories we share, but until we can find a public outlet that reaches massive numbers of people from all walks of life, to put indelicately – we are screwed. and that is what the real frustration is – for advocates like you and others, for our BC and MBC sisters and brothers, and for their loved ones.

    thanks for keeping the pot boiling and for never giving up; keep writing and provoking new angles of thought to keep us focused on the big picture.

    much love and light,

    Karen xoxo

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  2. Oh Karen, as usual you read my mind, and know the things I thought but have yet to write.
    Like I said, while I’m aware that Komen is the worst, and most other BC patients fed up with Pink direct most frustration toward them, I tend to spread my anger around—cannot stand Save the Ta-Tas group and others. So yes, if they were pulled out of the equation, well, what would happen?
    And you are right, we can rail and so forth, but how do we get people to “hear”? I think it is even more complex that having the right outlet, it has to do with message and presentation, and most of all, giving the public what they want. I’ll write more about that someday, maybe.
    As always, good to hear from you, hope you are doing well—will talk more soon!
    Love, CC

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  3. First of all, you had me laughing when referring to the “Mr. Short-term Memory” sketch, which I have never seen but your description reminded me of recent conversations with an elderly Aunt that makes me crazy as she misunderstands and puts words in my mouth when we talk about breast cancer! She drives me NUTS!

    Everything that you write on this topic is so worthwhile and thought-provoking I wish your articles could be published in a mainstream publication. We, the breast cancer patients and families already know about these problems, we need to put you on a national soapbox to reach the people who think they are “helping” cure cancer by going pink!!

    No kidding, your articles need to be submitted to mainstream publications like Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest…. Those places will reach many more people than here in blog-world. And your writing talent is impeccable!

    So, there’s my 2 cents. 😀

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    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words! In some of my older posts—about a year ago—I discussed that in my previous job I allowed criticism to destroy my self-confidence, particularly in the area of writing. So when people tell me they like how I write, it helps me stand up a little straighter.
      To your larger point, yes I’ve often thought, and maybe put in one post, that this is just preaching to the choir. Corporations do Pink marketing because it works and the buyers that make it work likely are not reading less-than-Pink blogs. And if they did, this isn’t the happy message of victory over cancer. Lisa Adams, the blogger who was hassled by the Kellers, once said something like feather boas and booty dances get the attention (in reference to the dancing mastectomy woman). Ha ha, maybe that is what someone with talent should do, make a YouTube video imitating the SNL skit as I pictured it with these K&K people and their let’s not ignore it, just to show how foolish this whole mess has been. Know any actors and A/V people? And a lawyer to make sure Lorne Michaels won’t sue for the parody (which should be legal I think…)? Because no one will want to see a Cancer Curmudgeon booty dance…..

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  4. I’ll have to find the post about your previous job and the morons who destroyed your self-confidence.

    Yes, someone with talent and a nice booty needs to make that paradoxical YouTube video! It would surely go viral! I know I would love it! 😀

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  5. The one thing you can count on, CC, is that the rest of us out here also have brains of Swiss cheese so we’ll never know if it’s a re-run! 🙂

    I agree with every single thing you said. Wait, what were you saying again?

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