I am bored with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I was minding my own business browsing Facebook — and it wasn’t even October yet — when up popped an ad for a black cotton unisex t-shirt reading “Save the Pumpkins” below two orange squashes (and a small pink ribbon) placed where breasts would be. Some creative genius thought to combine Halloween and Breast Cancer Awareness Month and sell this piece of junk on-line for $17.
I can understand that anyone in America may want to make a buck selling something crass. Breast Cancer Awareness month seems to bring out the least common denominator when it comes to trivializing a serious public health dilemma with slogans like “save the ta-tas” and “save second base.” Do they even talk like that in junior high school these days?
I was going to write a piece pondering why money-makers seem to love breast cancer more than just about any other cause, and I had some obvious ideas. Anything related to breasts makes good ad copy. They’re fun, even funny. They’re on the outside, as opposed to lungs and ovaries and pancreases, which are also attacked by cancers that kill many thousands of people each year. But it’s not nice to think of those icky, squishy internal organs, so they don’t get a big “awareness” month or a lot of charitable attention.
Then I was going to write about how breast cancer “awareness” is popular because it has something to do with worthy victims. Breasts are worthy. They need to be “saved.” Even though cancer is really a cellular disease that may start in breast ducts and lobes before it heads for lymph nodes and other organs.
Women are worthy victims, too, especially white women, and especially youngish women whose breasts look worthy of saving. I don’t study the media on this intensively but I’ve seen a lot of pictures of white women in front of mammography machines with the false message that getting a mammogram is the solution. (Don’t get me wrong: I do believe mammograms are important.)
Women-as-victims has been a common theme in our culture. Whipped up concern about protecting the virtue and safety of women has been used to justify various wars, for example.
With breast cancer, now, it’s more complicated because, post-feminism, women are supposed to be warriors and survivors and not just damsels in distress. But themes around saving boobies or ta-tas, or “pumpkins” are stand-ins for saving worthy victims.
We don’t see national ad campaigns around a host of other social health problems. There’s something about breasts, especially Caucasian perky ones, that seems to garner public sympathy like almost no other cause.
I was going to think about why this is so.
And then I stopped and realized that I really don’t want to devote much of my mental energy to figuring out why someone would sloganeer about saving pumpkins. It’s crazy nonsense! Do I need to give myself a headache analyzing it?
This month, and every month, there is so much good material being published in the blogosphere about breast cancer and especially about stage 4 metastatic breast cancer which women (and men) die from.
Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer is a web site and a blog on which Anne Marie Ennnis-O’Connor gathers together the writing, sharing and activism going on around breast cancer, including metastatic breast cancer. Breast Cancer Action, with its web site and blog, is chronicling this year’s corporate exploitation of the pink cause, focusing, for example, on how the National Football League pink washes over its members’ misogyny and violence.
I am starting to conclude that all the pink fuss with breast cancer awareness month is like some kind of gigantic collective denial system. Everyone’s “aware” of cancer by now, and everyone seems to be aware of breasts. Pink celebrations and pink consumer junk draw attention from the fact that breast cancer is not something one just “gets over,” like a bad case of the flu or a hip replacement. There’s no cure. Many “early detection” cancers come back deadly, sooner or later. And breast cancer is hardly the only cancer linked to our continuing to poison our own environment.
All that really matters to me on these subjects are what to do to prevent cancer, what to do to keep it from coming back, and what to do to treat it and stop it from killing people. That’s what I want to stay aware of.