I want to talk a little bit about something; let's call it inactivism. An activist is so-called because he or she "actively" supports a cause: goes to demonstrations, organizes petitions, donates money, anything really as long as they get up and get out of the house. I've noticed a trend lately, though, of half-assed lip-service purporting to be activism.
Remember when we were supposed to wear purple to support anti-gay bullying? And then we were all supposed to buy pink M&Ms to stop breast cancer. Then, for a while there, everyone's profile picture on Facebook was a cartoon character, to raise awareness of child abuse. And you know what this all accomplished? Precisely bullshit. It's this kind of armchair "support" of causes that I, and at least one other person on Urban Dictionary, have termed "inactivism."
The term, or at least the idea, seems not to be in common usage, and it ought to be. We might agree to call it non-activism, or sedentaryism, it doesn't really matter what we name it, but I'm certain that you've all witnessed the phenomenon and rolled your eyes a little bit. I think it's something we need to be aware of because what it really does is distracts us from actually doing anything to support the causes we give a shit about.
This Friday, February 4th, is apparently "Wear Red Day" which is what prompted this blog post. It's not "Let's Cure Heart Disease Day" or "Support Your Local Cardiothoracic Surgeon Day." Even, god forbid, "Heart Disease Awareness Day" would have been better. We have finally made it shorthand in our society that getting up in the morning and making a determined wardrobe choice is just as good as going down to the Red Cross and giving a pint of blood.
And let me tell you: it's not. It's horseshit. Any "support" that takes the form of not doing anything is not really support, it's just not doing anything. So why do we as a society accept that wearing a shirt or a ribbon or putting up a new Facebook status is a form of support?
BECAUSE IT'S EASY.
We, as a society, have come to agree that it's better to not do anything and pretend like all of our problems are massive and insoluble. And as long as everyone nods and pats one another on the back, that's the way we're going to keep going.
So, go ahead. Weare a red shirt on Friday. Raise "awareness." You know what "awareness" is? It's nothing. Everyone is aware of heart disease and child abuse and saving the whales and supporting the troops and every other god-damned thing. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is aware of all that stuff. I shiver every time I hear that an event is to raise "awareness." How about we agree that everyone's aware and do a fundraiser instead?
You know when Katy Perry wore purple in her video for "Firework" to support, you know, obscure as it seems, not gay-bashing? You know what that accomplished? Nothing. Did they donate any of the profit from the video to a charity? Hmmm. Or, god forbid, from the song? Did 10% of the profits from iTunes go to thus-and-such? Hmmm.
Or, you know how everything becomes pink in October? You know why? Becase you'll buy it, and consider your duty towards curing breast cancer cured. Do you know how much a corporation has to donate in profits towards curing breast cancer in order to be allowed to color their products pink? Nothing. Precisely nothing. They can quite literally take a Swiffer, put it in a pink box, and profit off of the deaths of millions of women, and donate not a cent to any charity or hospital. Quite a lot of corporations do. And how do they get away with it? Because we, as a people, would rather buy a pink Swiffer than a non-pink one, with the same net result, and act like we made a difference.
Now, to be fair, there are a few corporations that donate SOMETHING to their pet causes, to be fair. But there's no rhyme or reason to it. It doesn't have to be 50% of profits. It can be $10,000, flat rate, regardless of how many pink shirts and bullshit they sell. Or it can be half of a percent of all profits. The important thing is: you don't know. Just seeing that it's pink is enough for us to buy it.
Imagine if every cause célèbre-themed item had to say on it exactly what buying this item would do for the presumed-to-be cause. Some would say "WE DONATE NOTHING FOR BREAST CANCER." Some $2.99 bags of M&Ms would say "$0.13 OF EVERY PURCHASE GOES TOWARDS BREAST CANCER RESEARCH." And here's another killer. Some of the ones that do nothing, literally nothing, claim that simply selling the items supports...you guessed it...AWARENESS.
I guess part of what aggravates me about this whole thing is that these symbols, not so long ago, in our own lifetimes even, were MEANINGFUL. As a veteran, I remember when a yellow ribbon was a deep, emotional attachment to a loved one overseas who may never return, and a link to the history of all veterans stretching back to the Civil War when the practice started. Then some asshole realized that he could SELL yellow ribbon magnets for $10 a pop, and everyone who didn't want to do any more for veterans would buy them and pop them on the back of their cars.
So, with a sigh, I watched as a once-sacred symbol of the sacrifices of those driven by the very best angels of our nature was turned into a crass marketing ploy. But that was hardly the end of it, was it? There were other causes out there that wanted to co-opt the yellow ribbon. Suddenly, if you didn't have a veteran in the family, but you did have an autistic kid, you had a puzzle-piece sticker on your car. Then there were red ribbons for AIDS, and pink ribbons for breast cancer, and a hundred more. There were so many ribbons, that they had to start doubling up. Red was for AIDS and heart disease all of a sudden, so suddenly the whole symbology of it became so obscure that no one even knew what the hell anyone was supporting anymore. "Supporting" in the sense of doing nothing.
I wouldn't mind if a person who had volunteered at a hospital wore a red ribbon. I wouldn't even mind if someone who had donated $10 to a charity wore a green ribbon. What I object to is the ribbon in and of itself seeming to be enough. "Look," the wearer says, "Showing solidarity is good enough." Solidarity is a start, but we need to go back to looking at it as just a start. We rob all these symbols of all their meaning with overuse.
Remember the little American flag pins that everyone wore after 9/11? You couldn't even be a politician anymore without wearing one. Which meant it meant nothing anymore. Everyone wore it and changed their attitudes and actions not in the slightest, and we entered the most fiercely partisan age in modern American history.
Now we've reached a sad new low in "fixing" all of our problems by buying a ribbon and ignoring them. In a brief throwback to the days of "everybody-had-to-wear-an-American-flag-or-they-weren't-patriotic" last week at the State of the Union address...EVERY...SINGLE...politician in America wore a black and white ribbon. I haven't mentioned that one yet. That's one that honors a single individual. Admittedly, I admire Congresswoman Giffords and I wish her the best of luck in her speedy recovery. But if I really wanted to honor her, wouldn't it do more for me to contribute to the cause of traumatic brain injury, or toning down political rhetoric? Couldn't I do...something? But instead we are now wearing ribbons to raise awareness about individuals.
I guess what I'm saying is, I support causes, and I want people to support causes, but I want them to ACTUALLY support them. Please, don't just say, "I support the troops" or put a yellow magnet on the back of your car. Volunteer at the VA. Donate money to an injured veteran's group. Hell, petition your congressperson for more rights for veterans. Do something. Do ANYTHING. Just be active about it.