Smiles to Smirks

Couple of weeks ago there was that little stupid news tidbit that some guy created a mirror that only shows your reflection if you smile while looking at it. There were a few “forcing cancer patients to smile” type of clickbait headlines, and I admit, I fell right into it. Now that I’ve taken a step back from the heat of the moment—I wish to ponder, as I so often do.

My smiles turn to smirks or something. Oh and yeah, flipping people off too!!

Yeah, “forcing” was a bit over the top. While making a mirror that only works if you smile at it is kind of “forcing”—it ain’t like there aren’t other mirrors to use. This was pointed out in the furor of comments on the mainly derisive think pieces written about it.

Oh no, I’m not giving the guy who created the mirror a free pass—Hell no! I still think he was wrong-headed even though he had indeed taken inspiration from an ACTUAL CANCER patient. (Just one as far as I can tell.)

I’ve used the “if you don’t like it don’t use it” argument myself. Don’t like a TV show, think it shows the degradation of our culture—change the channel! Ain’t nobody forcing you to watch racy things you disapprove of! I admit I had a harder time a few years ago when Needless Markup, whoops, I mean Neiman Marcus, was selling collard greens at a ridiculous high price for the holidays. Sure, it didn’t matter really—I can make my own Hoppin’ John and collard greens, I’m good at it if you must know. But there was something, I don’t know, “icky” about some fancy Big City company charging a high price for poor people food. (Anyone asks for my recipes, I kill ‘em, just so we clear, OK? #RedneckLife4ever.)

But hey, no one FORCING me to look into that mirror, I get it. The “you can change the channel/turn off TV/not buy overpriced White Trash food” argument can be used against me. So why does this mirror—that I don’t have to buy, and will likely never see, bother me?

Hahaha, anyone reading my blogs for a few years knows, I ain’t got an answer or solution or anything!

So why bother, why get into a lather?

I don’t know. I don’t want to invoke the slippery slope clause here. But it does make me wonder, why on earth did the developer think this was a good idea? Given the number of derisive articles and snarky tweets I saw, I think if he’d done a little research, maybe he would not have moved forward with his idea. But I don’t know. I mean, it IS true, if one smiles, it releases endorphins that make one happy. But I don’t wanna smile, I don’t wanna “fake it ‘til I make it in CancerLand”. Bottom line, why should I?

I think I got annoyed because for me, it reinforced the idea that just won’t die: “cancer patients need a push to be cheerful and all will be well.” It’s like it just never occurs to people to just ask us what we think, and to listen to us. Just listen. Not judge. Not comment. Not “do something” to cheer us up—because I still think that only benefits the people around us—not us, actually.

In other words, I’m not sure this was to benefit cancer patients, so much as it was a ploy to make everyone comfortable about cancer. And we all know I hate that!

So what about those that questioned why this mirror encountered such a backlash? What about those who thought, just don’t use the mirror?

I can never make them understand. People who only understand things once they actually experience them—ugh, that is a subject for a future post, I don’t wanna go there today. I can only comment this:

A culture that we occupy, in which an art/architect student thinks a mirror like this is a “good idea”, we have miles ago in our quest to make others understand so very much about cancer.

So in short, this mirror made me tired, like everything else that happens in CancerLand. Why do we have so far to go?

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Not Full Circle Yet

Maybe there is a backlash to the backlash in cancer culture. I’ve mentioned it a few times in assorted posts on this blog, how those of us criticizing all things Pink and rah rah are finally being “heard”, at least in CancerLand, and I think there is a push back or defensiveness resulting from this. (See here)

I am not a breast cancer historian; if I were not so busy/lazy, I’d re-read the sections in Gayle Sulik’s “Pink Ribbon Blues” chronicling the rise of the Ribbon and the adoption of warrior, I’m-a-survivor-kicking-cancer-ass slogans, to understand when they began to permeate our culture. Was it the early 90s, maybe? I have no idea when the criticism of this culture began—I only became aware of it when I moved to CancerLand. One of the first things I managed to read was Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Welcome to Cancerland” essay as it appeared in “Harper’s Magazine”. Re-reading it today as I write this, I’m reminded the roots of the women’s health/breast cancer awareness campaigns had a gritty, less pretty start. There were demands about the environment, demands to be included in medical decision-making. Somehow and somewhere along the way it go co-opted. Yes, by Komen primarily, but other groups, and more importantly, millions of patients, went along with it. And then our society became all about fight/win/be positive when it came to illnesses and many other issues.

So when did the backlash begin? Well, Ehrenreich’s essay appeared in the November 2001 issue, so at least as early as 2001 breast cancer patients were uneasy with the “tyranny of positivity”. I’m sure there are earlier examples—but the fact that I don’t know about them, that I only learned about others expressing how I felt when I went looking for them, is kind of my point! The pink/rah rah/think positive to beat cancer was, during my time in treatment, and is still today, THE dominant cancer experience narrative. Continue reading “Not Full Circle Yet”