What will happen to global consumerism if breast cancer is ever really cured? Luckily for SunChips, it seems unlikely that we’ll find out in the forseeable future.
Sun Chips bag with crass advertising slogan found, amid other Austin City Limits Music Festival garbage (you’d think they’d held the thing in my front yard) in the Twisty Driveway September 17, 2006. SunChips is a ‘proud supporter’ of the ignominious Komen Foundation. If you spend 39 cents to mail in the UPC code from this ‘specially marked pink ribbon bag’, SunChips will donate 25 cents to Komen. What a deal.
You guys think all I do is I lie around all day watching the Turner Classic Movie channel on cable. Well, I won’t lie to you. I do. Yesterday afternoon, for example, I soaked up a couple of noir exemplars (“Hud”and “Winchester 73″)* and was ready for more, but Stingray pried me up and toted me down to Polvo’s (where, claims S, in an unheard-of break with Tex-Mex culinary cliché, the veg tacos are seasoned with— holy shit—tamari). These old Hollywood flicks are in many ways a laff riot, and I absorb’em like a sponge. But even I draw the line when TCM is showing, as they did the other day, a feelgood “family comedy” like saccharine overdose “Angel In My Pocket”, starring Andy Griffith as a homespun Protestant minister in Whiteyland circa 1967; at such junctures, I whip out a book.
Recommended by a fellow blamer (you guys come in so handy sometimes) the book I whipped out to get me through the Andy Griffith interlude was Samantha King’s Pink Ribbons, Inc. What a page-turner. It concerns a subject I enjoy finding despicable, the “market-driven industry for [breast cancer] survivorship”. [It may or may not interest you to know, if you're just joining us, that my fascination for this topic is not merely academic; I was diagnosed exactly a year ago with stage 3 breast cancer.]
If you were to ask any space alien—who happened to be dropping by on its way to the Delta Quadrant—about breast cancer, it would undoubtedly tell you that, according to its personal observations, the primary symptom of the disease is a dramatically increased propensity to sprout pink teddy bears, pink visors, and pink rhinestone jewelry. Of course you and I know that infantilizing misogynist teddybear rhinestone pinkness, cancer-o-normative though it may seem, is actually just one of the most successful campaigns in the history of marketing gimmicks. Thanks to unprecedented support in terms of cash and selfless volunterrorism, breast cancer is currently the most popular disease in America.**
Under the noble auspices of charity, argues King in Pink Ribbons Inc, global corporations, politicians, and regressive white middle class American “family values” are all getting a big shot in the arm from the pink ribbon juggernaut. Corporations secure, with impunity, free publicity and a means to expand their market share via enlogoed “awareness” campaigns. Politicians support virtually unopposable “bipartisan” breast cancer funding initiatives as directed by behemoths like the massively influential and reactionary Komen Foundation and come out smelling like a rose. The rank and file, conditioned by now to believe that there’s no problem shopping can’t solve, are invited to feel virtuous and altruistic whenever they buy a Yoplait yogurt or a pink KitchenAid mixer.
But where’s the activism? The ostensible focus of all this pseudo-philanthropic pink jockeying is a kind of nebulous breast cancer “awareness,” rather than any serious effort at prevention or investigation into what actually causes breast cancer in the first place. Furthermore, once all this “awareness” has produced, via mammography outreach programs or self-exam propaganda (both masquerading as “prevention”), a positive diagnosis, there’s not any great push to secure treatment for underserved women.
In other words, when you think of a breast cancer “survivor” you don’t picture a poor black grandmother living in squalor without health insurance (and you certainly don’t imagine a woman who, because of sensible research efforts, never got cancer in the first place.) The Breast Cancer Brand woman is a pro-patriarchy white chick: middle-class, straight, virtuous, concerned with maintaining her femininity, and married with two above-average kids. Ordinarily she’d be content with her life as the unassuming, unpaid family caregiver, but she’s forced by circumstances to be plucky, brave, and heroic.
These circumstances, i.e. breast cancer, turn out to be, as King says, a lucky gift. In fact, breast cancer has given her such a marvelous opportunity for personal growth, she’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. We never hear about the dead women, of course, since their demise does nothing to reaffirm faith in the medical establishment, the government, patriarchy, the status quo, the Ford Motor Company, Avon cosmetics, or Hooters.
The new version of individual responsibility allows women to get sick but not to die, and in circulating the ideal model of survivorship, succeeds in selling an enormous range of goods to consumers, raising millions of dollars for large nonprofits, and garnering votes for politicians eager to find an issue that positions them as prowomen but not profeminist. This model also helps maintain support for high-stakes [research], early detection, and cure-oriented research to the virtual exclusion of other avenues of exploration.
Thanks to the cancer industrial complex, now everyone can participate in marketing cheap crap to consumers, maintaining a “tyranny of cheerfulness,” and preserving the blue-eyed American family fantasy with its sentimentalized white nurturing mother centerpiece. It’s as easy as buying a bag of junk food.
Yeah, tell that to the walnut-sized tumor that my mammogram failed to notice. I guess I just wasn’t plucky enough.
*In order to work up any enthusiasm for these, or any films made by and for proponents of patriarchy, the spinster aunt must confine her aesthet-o-meter to stuff like the quality of the cinematography; dwelling on feminist analyses of narrative or characterization merely fans the icy purgatorial flames of resentment. Not that I advocate blowing off critical readings of film, no no no. But let’s face it; in the context of broken-ankle-recuperational TV entertainment, there is no movie that does not turn on a paradigm of male dominance and contain a rape fantasy, or some version of virgin vs. whore, or both. In “Hud” Paul Newman tries to rape Patricia Neal, who tells him the next day on her way out of town that if he’d just waited a while longer, she’d have done him of her own volition because he looks so hot with his shirt off. In “Winchester” Shelley Winters plays an archetypal dance-hall gal with a heart-o-gold, who is of course kidnapped and abused by the villain before being rescued — and thereby claimed — by Jimmy Stewart, who refers to her always as “the girl.” Go patriarchy!
**Although, contrary to what the propaganda might suggest, and despite the enormous cute pink resources thrown at it, breast cancer treatment remains just as primitive and barbaric and unreliable as it was 30 years ago, and the incidence of the disease, far from declining, is actually increasing at an alarming rate. The figures almost seem to suggest that Komen et al, with their asinine walks “for the cure”, have devised an excellent means of encouraging breast cancer rather than curing it.