The pink peril

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I don’t know how anyone in this country could possibly escape being aware of this fact. Sure, the hospitals are on board with it, but also the Realtors, the carpet cleaners, and even the local newspaper in my town which printed an entire recent edition on pink paper (including the sports section).

pink ribbons everywhere

Who wouldn’t plunk down a dime or a dollar to support such a worthy cause?

A Canadian documentary released last year called “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” talks about how the simple, elegant symbol of the pink ribbon has become such a compelling marketing gimmick that it is virtually ubiquitous all year around. Watch the trailer:

In his review of the movie for Variety magazine, John Anderson says:

Indignant and subversive, “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” resoundingly pops the shiny pink balloon of the breast cancer movement/industry, debunking the “comfortable lies” and corporate double-talk that permeate the massive and thus-far-ineffectual campaign against a disease that claims nearly 60,000 lives each year in North America alone. Veteran helmer Léa Pool, working from Samantha King’s book, won’t be making any friends with her full-frontal attack on the corporate co-option of the breast cancer cause, which could limit Stateside circulation of this Canadian production. But there are plenty of women who’ll want to see it. And they’ll be seeing red, not pink.

The thrust of King’s thesis is that all the pink-themed walk-a-thons, parades, singing children and rose-lit monuments (the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls), actually do more harm than good. By putting a warm and fuzzy spin on the state of breast cancer, the public is distracted from some very ugly numbers: In 1940, a woman had a one-in-22 chance of developing breast cancer; today, the number is one in eight. Only 20%-30% of women with breast cancer have high-risk factors, which means no one really knows what causes the disease. The leading foundations involved in funding cancer research are peopled by representatives of the pharmaceutical, chemical and energy industries, so their ethics are inherently compromised.

Well-intentioned consumers are being sold every sort of pig in a pink poke “for the cause,” as shown in this clip about the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s specially commissioned perfume called “Promise Me”:

That’s some pretty steep hypocrisy, no matter how you color it.

Cancer in this country is a very serious matter, nothing we should be taking lightly.

Image source: Newsweek

In my own family, both of my mother’s sisters have survived breast cancer, and I hope that some of the money raised by the pink ribbon campaign went toward developing treatments that helped them do so. I would also like to think that eventually we’ll spend enough money that we actually figure out how not only to cure this awful disease, but also to prevent it in future generations. But considering what a massive cash cow “cancer research” is for so many different companies and organizations, thanks in large part to all the colored ribbon campaigns, I have to wonder whether the stakeholders in those campaigns would really rather that people keep on getting sick and dying because that’s what keeps “the cause” alive and the profits rolling in.

With the blizzard of pink blowing around you this month, I would encourage you to think carefully about how you’re spending your money and what, exactly, it is you want to support. Then buy, or don’t buy, accordingly.

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