There are so many different colors and stripes of awareness ribbons that in order to support awareness of every affliction one would need to be covered head-to-toe in ribbons. Marketers love them; plop a ribbon on a product and watch the sales go up, while oblivious consumers are convinced that they’re making a difference. Why is there no corporate brainwashing awareness ribbon?
What is “raising awareness”? It’s the idea that others are made to become more aware of some condition or cause. But it could be argued that all uses of language raise awareness; you might be raising awareness of your need for a glass of water, or raising awareness of your belief that you are the Second Coming. But let’s set aside semantics and reductionist nonsense for now.
Today, the now ubiquitous term “raising awareness” generally refers to when a person does nothing but still wants to feel good about something, possibly by way of some kind of phony “more aware than thou” posturing.
We all know that breasts, testicles and other body parts can get cancer. What does it mean to become more aware of this? How do we achieve a sufficient level of awareness? Perhaps by constant reflection of testicular cancer at all hours of the day and night we can achieve a transcendental, eternal awareness.
Donating money to support good causes is good, of course. But other acts of raising awareness are rather arbitrary, such as the wearing of colored ribbons and wristbands. Every year we have an entire month dedicated to breast cancer awareness–whatever is meant by this–when we could just as well spend the entire year researching and treating the disease. Keep the mammograms running all year round!
Corporations want to make us think they’re the altruistic benefactors of awareness and champions of the underdog. As just another way of doing this, they’ve started putting pink ribbons on almost anything. If a bag of pork rinds has a pink ribbon, the consumer may be more inclined to buy it under the pretense that some infinitesimal amount of the money from the purchase will go towards breast cancer research.
As many point out, the pink ribbon system is unregulated. Anyone can put any colored ribbon on anything for any or no reason–it’s not like kosher and halal labeling. We hope the pork rind manufacturer isn’t so deceptive as to put a pink ribbon on their product’s package and not give any money to the cause–but this is exactly what happens. Due to some careful tuning of the fine print or lack of transparency, very little or even none of the money will go to a charity. The companies respond that by making the pink ribbon visible they are doing their part by helping to “raise awareness”–whatever that is. This ploy to deceptively increase brand loyalty at no cost has been dubbed “pinkwashing.”
When KFC wanted in on the pink, things started to stink. Also, race cars and consumer automobiles have been emblazoned with pink ribbons, but exhaust from cars increases the risk of cancer. So do foods loaded with hormones and a variety of cosmetics. Cigarettes have not yet worn the pink ribbon. Maybe they should.
Corporations always seek to whitewash, greenwash, pinkwash, and otherwise scrub the rainbow of blood and filth off their own dastardly public images. When you enter a Walmart store you may be asked to donate money to survivors of Hurricane Haiyan. With 2013 revenue of almost half a trillion dollars, Walmart is the most profitable company in the world, owned by the richest family in the world. Despite this, they treat their workforce poorly and devastate local economies. When over a thousand people were killed in the Bangladeshi factory collapse where their products were being made, Walmart did not give a single cent to the victims’ families or anyone.
Donating money to global causes in the name of Walmart is like donating money for type II diabetes in the name of McDonald’s. It’s as insulting as those commercials that inform us how much BP loves nature. (BP caused the biggest oil spill of all time in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.)
Corporations want us to think that they’re the solution to the crises the world faces–the crises they cause or exacerbate. Maybe it’s better to raise awareness against corporate brainwashing and authoritarian capitalism. By wearing ribbons of some kind we can speak out against companies that cause cancer, destroy the environment, suppress the distribution of new medicines, and wreak havoc upon the lives of the world’s poor, then have the audacity to manipulate us into thinking they’re our best friends.
This could be a good idea–if not for the fact that wearing ribbons doesn’t do anything.
Op-Ed by K. Elsner