The Tyranny of Cheerfulness

I have to admit that this delightful turn of phrase is not mine; it comes from Dr. Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc., Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. As many readers know by now, I watch a lot of documentaries and two remarkable things continue to surprise me: films that I never thought would be worth the bother happen to be the best films and little girls persistently make their presence known in history, art and the media.

I already wrote about the cynical use of children’s charm to promote products in my State of the Art Exploitation post, but what follows is one of the worst examples I have seen to date. When I first saw it, I knew it had to appear on this site. This clip is an excerpt from the film Pink Ribbons, Inc. directed by Léa Pool and produced by Ravida Din. There are many powerful points made in this documentary, but the one illustrated here is how the color pink is used to inappropriately soothe the impact of a truly horrible disease, namely breast cancer.

I included a short bit from Barbara Ehrenreich—well-known author and a woman coping with the disease herself—about how hurtful and condescending it is to promote these ubiquitous pink products and insist that women be cheerful through the ordeal. Ehrenreich became interested in this “cancer culture” when she was diagnosed and instead of doing personal research on treatment options, she became fascinated by this monstrous phenomenon. The second part of the clip is an advertisement from The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, Australia Campaign 2005. It is composed of a charming series of vignettes—as if patched together from home video footage—of girls padding their bras and playing with the idea of their bodies’ future development.

Ravida Din and Lea Pool Pink Ribbons Inc. (2012) excerpt

For those who are interested, I would like to share a couple of illuminating highlights from the film. The pink ribbons are everywhere and events all over the world are promoting breast cancer awareness and raising money, but the dark side of this is that it evolved to support the megacorporations’ balance sheets. To foster goodwill with their customers, they have engaged in token fund-raising efforts that do not focus the efforts in an effective or coordinated way. The apex of this hypocrisy occurs when the consumer products that promote cancer awareness actually contain known carcinogens!

Even the story of how the pink ribbon got started is an interesting one. It began with Charlotte Haley who after having lost a number of friends to the disease, sent cards with ribbons stapled on them to heighten awareness. In fact, the ribbons were more salmon-colored and when Estée Lauder and Self Magazine approached her and wanted to use her idea, she refused knowing it was only to promote their bottom line. They consulted their lawyers who simply advised them to change the color. Millions of dollars is thrown at the problem and there is no accountability on how it is spent and anyone knowledgeable about the history of cancer research knows there is a disgraceful lack of funds going toward prevention or studying the disease in minorities.

Women and men should be angry about these developments and it feels as though the pink (a deliberate marketing choice of color) is used to deflect militant protests that might stimulate real change into inane events that make people feel better, but does little or nothing to help people.

The following have nothing to do with the film but have worthwhile information most people know nothing about:

5 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Cheerfulness

  1. …meanwhile, more people die of prostate cancer than breast cancer; yet the former receives a miniscule fraction of the funds of the latter.

    I love your blog, but I think you’ve spent too long looking at little girls to have a balanced political opinion.

    • Hello Henry. I’m not Ron but I feel compelled to step in here anyway and come to his defense. You say “I love your blog, but I think you’ve spent too long looking at little girls to have a balanced political opinion.” I do hope you are joking. First off, the notion that having an interest in . . . well, anything really . . . inherently hinders one’s ability to be politically rational is fallacious. For one thing, shutting out his opinion based on a preconception is a form of poisoning the well. Secondly, judging someone’s opinion on something to be invalid because of some opinion they hold on another thing is Bulverism (a.k.a. psychogenetic fallacy).

      • I was being half-facetious with the little girl thing. I agree with your (his) central point that charity tokenism’s useless at best and counterproductive at worst. Obviously this is a girl-stuff blog, but I think some people will have read this post and thought that girls are uniquely hard done by. They’re not (in Western societies, anyway). Just clearing that up.

        I make all sorts of outrageous ad hominems and appeals to authority and other such prejudiced things. I’ll ask a geologist about a rock, or an economist about the economy; and not vice versa (unless they have some serious hobbies). Whenever you look at the nutritional information on your Wheaty Wheats you’re doing the same. Obviously the goal should be to minimise second-hand facts: but in a universe of infinite data most of it is brokered by middlemen, and if you’re honest with yourself you need to cut corners just to do the proverbial shopping. And meanwhile the words on the shopping list are just symbolic representations of phonemic explosions of subtly drifting sound and culturally consented meaning that trigger chemical hallucinations that we deem to be understanding. And thus I don’t think it’s unreasonable – fallacious though it may be – to assume that someone (most graciously) obsessed with little girls will probably (*probably*) not be a good source of information when it comes to prostates. Because real life.

        PS: Still love your blog
        PPS: I’d love to read what you guys think of some of the crazy dolls coming out of Japan (the cute ones of course, not the blow-up variety)

        • First of all, thank you Pip for chiming in. I had intended to respond to this comment when I had gotten other things out of the way.
          It is ironic that you mention the funding disparity vis-a-vis prostate cancer as the complaint by feminists is that women’s health issues get relatively short shrift. The exception of course is breast cancer which companies found to be a “good issue” (the main point of the film) to rally around. This has even been cynically used by organizations like the NFL with image issues regarding women (the tokenism). It is therefore logical that under the current political environment, prostate cancer would get less attention and funding. I do recommend that men watch this documentary, however, because if they do enough digging, the paradox of throwing gobs of money at a problem and getting nothing done applies just as well to almost all forms of cancer, not to mention diabetes, cadiovascular disease and auto-immune diseases.
          It is not our intent to be “balanced” on Pigtails, but to offer a compensatory perspective. That is the error mainstream liberals make in an effort to appear fair while the opposition does not reciprocate.
          I respect you very much for copping to your natural tendency to defer to authority, which is quite tempting and almost impossible to avoid completely in this complex society. Had you gotten to know me, you would learn that I am a thoughtful and learned amateur (sorry if that sounds boastful) who can offer important but neglected perspectives outside the box of conventional culture (or even mainstream alternative cultures). The amusing thing is that I am no more an expert on girls or art than I am on a multitude of other subjects. It is just that in this arena, I have more of a voice than I have elsewhere.
          I also commend you for not falling into the trap of precipitating a hate-fest which occurs on so many other blogs. Your comments are always welcome so long as they are well-considered.
          Regarding dolls, the simple fact is that Pip and I cannot be knowledgeable about everything, so I am gathering some information right now but I would much rather have someone come forward and do an intelligent post (or series of posts) on the various kinds of dolls subject-appropriate for this blog. Failing that, my research efforts will hopefully yield some fruit in the future. BTW, the same goes for anime/manga. -Ron

          • I’m apolitical and dislike agendas – ie “compensatory perspectives” – which was essentially my gripe. Men in the West do worse than women by pretty much *every* metric except income: and even then women control the majority of the household income, so they’re not really worse off than men in that regard.

            Yet agenda-pushers keep wanting more. They want women not to be objectified yet they want to monetise their bodies. They label men as child abusers, when the majority of child abuse is perpetrated by women: unless you don’t consider physical/emotional abuse and neglect as abuse. They subsequently isolate children from men and are surprised when, under matriarchy, society is becoming “Lord of the Flies: The Musical” and a prototypical warlike harem culture. They fought to elevate the education of girls, but now that boys are falling behind they shut up; or worse, use it as propaganda for gender fascism.
            “Oh look how violent these abused, demonised, peer-miseducated, unemployable young men are. Men are so evil.”
            A dearth of women’s issues funding sounds tragic until you realise that life in general is significantly more fatal to men.

            People are people and should be valued as such. Boys and girls are two wheels of the same bicycle. I think “modern feminism” is a pretty good example of how not taking a holistic approach turns everything to shit; and further, I think all these compensatory perspectives might have a paradoxical effect when the childless, balkanised, indebted West collapses… but then I’m pretty Taoist and tend to think such things as a rule.

            That said please don’t change to Pigtails and Prostates, I like it how it is 😀

            Dolls. Dolls are pretty interesting as symbols. Benchmarks of attitudes towards objectification, the power of the media, the sense of childhood versus adulthood, beauty ideals, and even cultural identity through which demographics they’re marketed to.

            Japanese luxury dolls I think are a product of the fact that Japanese are an introverted and autismal people; the fact their culture is obsessed with youth, and interested in the erotism of innocence more than any other in the industrialised world; and perhaps also because they have an animist/Buddhist tradition. Believing inanimate objects have spirits and that reality is a dream might explain why they’re so prone to falling in love with cartoon characters. Any specifics I can’t be of much help with, sorry: plenty of weeaboos out there who could chime in I’m sure.

            (Semi-unrelated: I wonder why Monster High is like catnip for little girls, beyond the standard “cynical marketing machine” spiel. If you figure it out, let me know: I know a factory boss in China…)

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