11.17.2010

On Today’s Episode, Tulane Chris Answers Recent Readers’ Questions, Then Goes on a Weird, Emotional Tirade about Breast Cancer in Advertising

“Will you make bad internet dates a regular feature on the blog?”
Not regular, although I might get drunk enough to do it occasionally. I don’t have a huge amount of free time, and I’m a little nervous of where the feature might lead. I’m afraid I’d develop a tolerance pretty quickly, and then it’s all “Is this guy posing with a power drill and a cow’s skull really weird enough? I don’t know. Maybe I should go with the leper.”

“What did Giant Camel say about the internet date post?”
He said, “That’s the funniest thing you’ve ever written. Are you going to marry him and triple-barrel your name? Blogger-Blog-VenomKitty? Wait, is this the fat guy who hangs out in front of the art supply store and hits on the road crew?”

“Doesn’t Tulane Chris live with Giant Camel?”
Not at the moment. Giant Camel allegedly went back to Texas to take a contract job, but I suspect something more sordid.

“Why don’t you make ‘sorr’ cards for special occasions?”
I have mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, part of the beauty of ‘sorr’ is its spontaneity: “Did you vomit in my purse?” “Sorr about the bag…” On the other hand, I would love to see nice ivory cardstock, deep-embossed with legends like “Sorr you’re such a bitch,” “Sorr your marriage has failed as disastrously as your business” and “Sorr your children were such bitter disappointments.” File this one under development. Someone did make a “sorr about the bag” e-card.

“Why don’t you create a nemesis for Kevin Yang called Kevin Yin?”
I don’t mind this idea. Kind of an eternal “Spy vs. Spy,” played out in every bakery, interracial gay bar and Vans outlet between Florida and Hong Kong. I’m hitting a wall imagining Kevin Yin, though. Would he just be barely skewed Kevin Yang? Different color sneakers, hair parted on the other side, goes on disastrous non-dates with Hispanics? Works in a diner instead of a bakery, smokes pot instead of drinks? If they ever meet, the universe will be instantly eradicated by the explosion into life of another, grander universe, full of powdered sugar, incoherent similes, and shitty makeouts on an air mattress? I bet we could sell this as a comic book if we worked on it.

“How about an ‘Around the World with Tulane Chris’ feature?”
I’d like to quote here a conversation I had the other night with a friend who’s teaching English in Vietnam (Vietnam. Imports: French, American, and Chinese soldiers. Exports: French, American, and Chinese soldiers with gonorrhea):

College Friend Nora “Apples” Podjeska: Oh, you should come visit me here.

TC: That’s not terribly realistic. I buy irregular underpants in bulk . I don’t think I could afford…

CFN“A”P: But you’d love it. There’s so much history, and there are all these beautiful gardens, and the food is so good and cheap. You like Asian guys, don’t you? I bet for five bucks you could go to town.

TC: As tempting as that sounds, I’m not entirely sure…

CFN“A”P: It would take a little getting used to. There are crowds everywhere – Chris, everywhere – and we live next door to a dump so there are minor odor and vermin problems. Just wear a lot of cologne and wash your hands a lot.

TC: I already do.

CFN“A”P: You might have a little problem… I mean, the thing about eating dogs is true. It’s fairly upsetting the first time you pass a butcher’s, and anyway, you’ve always been good in a crisis. You’d love it. Except for the crowds and the dog-eating. Oh, and leave your shirt on so they can’t see your “Better Dead than Red” backpiece. It’s not really funny here yet.

Did you catch that she described my theoretical vacation as a “crisis?” I would like to visit her and see Vietnam, but somehow setting it up as “spend a lot of money to interact with your three least favorite things: people who hurt dogs, large crowds, and totalitarian government” didn’t… sell it. I do love to travel and I do regret not having the money to do it. When I was younger (last week) I used to fantasize about becoming a travel writer. So, if you send me somewhere, within reason, I will write about it. However, until then, we’ll have to settle with tucking a little imports/exports behind every country I mention. (India. Imports: tech support calls. Exports: the phrase “Have you tried turning it off and then on again, sir” in perfectly grammatical, heavily accented English)

………………………………INTERMISSION………………………………

"If a tree falls in the woods and no ones around, does it raise awareness of breast cancer?"
I’ve waffled on writing about this because I was worried it would be misinterpreted, but after seeing someone else with similar opinions, I decided to wade in. I’m tired of breast cancer branding. It upsets me and I don’t think I’m alone.

Point the first: ubiquity. I have seen breast cancer-branded: wine, eggs, yogurt, snuggies, football games, Waxahachie Fire and Rescue, water, meat, tennis balls, scrubs, soybeans… Overexposure makes anything stale. Notice how even Leno gave up Paris Hilton jokes? When something’s completely expected, it’s simply not a grabber anymore. The newspaper seldom reads “Sun Rises in East; Proceeds Westward Across Sky.” It’s just another bland truism: congress is bickering instead of running the country, today’s teenagers are shocking, and there are little pink ribbons on every available surface.

Point the second: What do they mean by “awareness?” These labels all seem to read that they’re trying to raise “awareness.” Well, of what? The overwhelming majority of people know that there’s a disease called breast cancer. Just saying “breast cancer breast cancer breast cancer” over and over doesn’t do anything. The snuggie isn’t embroidered with the phrase “Women over 50 should have regular mammograms.” One egg in every dozen doesn’t crack open to reveal a little folded sheet explaining how to do self-exams. At halftime, Garrett “Sugar Balls” Hartley didn’t show a PSA about how some high-risk women may need to be screened for the BRIC gene. Just because someone’s talking doesn’t mean they’re saying anything. Is it too idealistic to just want a poster that says, “Get a damn mammogram?” Ellen and Designing Women both did Very Special Episodes about breast cancer, in which characters went to the doctor and learned about it. It wasn’t just Jean Smart and Delta Burke sitting around saying:

“Did you know that breasts can develop cancerous tumors?”

“Yes.”

“Me too. Do you think I should tell Julia? JULIA! DID YOU KNOW….”

Point the third: How much money is actually going to breast cancer research? I can’t say for sure, but I’m inclined to agree with the author of the post I linked to above that changing the packaging probably costs more than the donation, at least in some cases. This makes it, essentially, an advertising expense, on par with adding the word “X-TREME.” A lot of products say “a portion” of the proceeds go to breast cancer research. That could mean any damn thing. 0.001% is technically a portion. Yes, it’s still better to have the money for research than not, and it’s naïve to expect businesses to do anything for the common good, but still. It’s slimy.

Point the fourth: It is ghoulish. When I was a child, my mother had a breast cancer scare. Everything turned out to be fine, but it was very tense for a while. It offends me that these companies are essentially profiteering off this. “Don’t you wish there was a cure? Buy these green beans. If you care about the women in your life, you’ll buy this battery!” I get enough nagging about whether or not I love my mother from my actual mother – I don’t need Piggly Damn Wiggly weighing in. And besides, don’t you think women who have breast cancer deserve a break? They can’t leave the house – hell, they can’t open the cupboard – without being reminded that they’re sick. But they’re not struggling in vain! Their illness helped sell some peas. If this blog folds, I’m going to start making candy and selling it under the name “Chris’s Costochondritis Snaps.”

This wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be, and I realize it’s because I’m genuinely angry. I’m willing to concede that a lot of individuals involved in these marketing decisions may have been very well-meaning, but I also don’t think that’s really the point. Good intentions are useless without common sense. A small check to a reputable charity does more than a cartful of pink-ribboned groceries, and it’s more civilized. If the breast cancer branding is as successful as it seems to be, we may be perilously close to seeing Uncle Ben’s colonoscopy.

Also about women: My school’s sororities recently did their community service push. One of them chose violence against women, so they covered the lamps on the main campus thoroughfare with sheets of awareness-purple acetate… which made the whole area much darker… and significantly more dangerous…

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Haha the violence prevention sorority had to be alpha chi omega...that's our national philanthropy...thing. Great post tc!

Stephanie said...

You probably will get a ton of flak, but I'm going on record early here to say that I could not agree with you more about the breast cancer crap. I practically foamed at the mouth during NFL's "pink month" -- seriously? How the FUCK much did pink shoes, pink sweat bands, pink brimmed hats, pink cheerleader crap, and special pink ribbon footballs cost?!?! FOR THE ENTIRE DAMN NFL?!?! As if anyone who isn't blind and has ever been in a grocery store wasn't already aware of breast cancer.

Which, like you said, oookay... so we're all aware. Now what?

So, yeah. Rest assured, you are NOT alone in this.

maria said...

for some reason I hadn't thought that much about the whole branding thing until I went home recently and discovered that my mother has been secretly fuming about this for years. now that I have thought about it for more than 2 seconds, I agree.

but the thing that really got my goat about the whole breast cancer awareness thing was the facebook status update craze. it's the same goddamn stupid idea; okay, so now we're all vaguely aware that this mysterious illness relating to lingerie and handbags (ergo, women, apparently) exists. which I already knew anyway. what the fuck did that achieve except to make women look like brainless douchebags? (which they did to themselves, so really everyone is at fault on that one.) and what's the point of excluding men? 'HAHA we have tits and they can get cancer SO SUCK IT ASSHOLES.'

Meredith said...

And thus we come to my issue with the breast cancer campaign. Everyone feels like they're doing something if they buy pretzels with a pink ribbon on the bag. Making a donation or volunteering your time for a major fund-raising event would be significantly more helpful to fighting breast cancer than "being aware."

I also agree that "awareness" is such a vague term because, like you said, a lot of people take that to mean awareness of the existence of the disease. But breast cancer is treatable, can be detected very early, and can often be removed before it spreads. Awareness of mammograms, self-exams, and healthy habits proven to affect breast health are how we continue to make breast cancer treatable and reduce the number of deaths every year.

I know you just said all that, but I agree whole-heartedly and it bothers me that EVERYTHING has a pink ribbon on it. Though I will admit that when faced with buying a white Ped Egg or a pink one, I bought the pink one, but only because they were the same price.

Anonymous said...

umm it may make me seem insensitive but I 100% agree on the overselling of breast cancer rant. I support finding a cure for cancer as much as the next guy, but I think the thing that really gets me is how just breast cancer gets this special month-long treatment. I understand it's a horrific disease that afflicts many people, but what about the thousands of other types of cancers? Those cancer patients don't get shit. If they're lucky they get a special colored wristband or something like that, but GOD FORBID any other cancer except breast get the month of October.
...I swear I'm not as bitter as this comment would imply.

Ellen said...

Great post!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/magazine/14FOB-wwln-t.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=breast+cancer&st=cse

Courtney said...

I love Tulane Chris ...

"Good intentions are useless without common sense."

Amen.

Nicki said...

I JUST CAME HERE to proclaim my love of the new Sorr ecard...and it's already been discussed. Sigh. But seriously, it's amazing.

Bridget said...

I'm a cancer survivor, so I'm totally allowed to hate on whatever sensitive cancer thing I want. And in the same way that Lance Armstrong is actually a total fucking dickhead disguised as a martyr, breast cancer awareness branding is a sham designed to profit off of people who aren't thinking it through and don't donate to causes otherwise.

WHEW. Glad that's off my chest.

Anonymous said...

BRCA1. Not BRIC.

And you're really not funny. Ask Meg to get a new writing partner.

Jennifer said...

LOL what did the Waxahachie Fire Dept. have? I haven't driven through there in a while from Austin to Dallas, and now you got me all curious as to what can be seen from the highway!

Great post! HILARIOUS!

Totes agree...I ran for breast cancer this month....my $30 entry fee was not part of the donation. I still had to raise money. It is a recession. I only raised $30.

The scary part is, statistically only 20% of runners even raise money after their entry fee....sounds like these race providers are making a hell of a alot.....

Jennifer said...

anon 11:37:
trip and die.
thanks.

Anonymous said...

AGREED on the breast cancer branding issue. My friend did some research on this once for a formal presentation to our university, and your guess is right, Chris: for most products, you're lucky to get whole pennies on the dollar going toward breast cancer research, while the product is marked up by 20-50% or more. In nearly all cases, you're much better off buying the cheaper, non-breast cancer branded product and donating the difference to breast cancer research yourself. (Or, because breast cancer is extremely well-funded research-wise, donating to research another less well-funded disease like MS.)

Mollie said...

Chris - I think this is one of your best posts! The breast cancer stuff is SO TRUE, and I'm glad I'm not the only person who feels like kind of a jerk but kind of justified in asking "What's the point?" when everyone walks for breast cancer.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with Maria's post about the Facebook status updates. Just ridiculous! First of all, those private messages that came around telling you what to put up specifically always said not to tell guys what they really meant, so ok, not raising awareness there since half the population didn't know it had anything to do with any type of cancer. Secondly, even though they really were innocent enough (Q:where do you leave you purse when you come in the house? Answer: I like it on my bed or on the table! lol!) they really just made females look slutty. Also, maybe I missed the memo, but was this somehow supposed to trigger funding? Because as far as I know, no one who actually put up a lame status had to donate money to the cause to do it.

Sara said...

Chris, I am with you on Breast Cancer advertising. Breast cancer is a terrible disease, but in the last 10-15 yrs the survival rate has improved drastically and a lot of that is due to the excellent awareness campaign which brings money to research. Unfortunately there are a lot of other cancers which are much more deadly yet don't get the face-time because they don't affect as many people. Ovarian Cancer for instance, is very deadly because it has no proper screening test. If the Ovarian cancer folks had the PR team of the Breast cancer folks maybe they could raise some money too.

Anyway, great post, great point. Maybe it will bring some awareness!

Amy said...

Okay, I admit I was hoping the question "why doesn't Tulane Chris blog in green as so indicated on the homepage" would come up.

...because I'm 93% sure I'm not color-blind...but then again, I do not have any cans of peas or batteries that have raised my awareness on that topic, so maybe I am?!?! Ha.

"Awareness."

Great point about awareness, TC. "Just because you talk a lot doesn't mean you're saying anything." Love that.

Anonymous said...

about the nfl post earlier, they do the pink stuff for october every year. and the nfl actually does donate to breast cancer research. i generally agree with the over use of branding and all this, but i also king of think that "raising awareness" about breast cancer kind of encompasses raising awareness that women should get mamograms?

Anonymous said...

also, that facebook crap is BS too because men actually can get breast cancer too...just sayin.

Anonymous said...

AGREED!!!!!!!
Remeber RED for AIDS awareness? Ever heard of LIVESTRONG?? What about the Ethos water at Starbucks?? Is it so you can walk around with something that screams, "i care about things" when you would have bought the same thing regardless?? This has bothered me for years...Thank you Tulane Chris!!

"Good intentions are useless without common sense."

Anonymous said...

I very much agree with you and know at least one other person that has very strong opinions that are similar to yours. One of the biggest things is Breast Cancer is not nearly the most fatal of cancers. So much has been done over the years that it is often caught early and treated and goes away. So many other cancers that people no nothing about (because breast cancer hogs the cancer spotlight) are so much worse.

Anonymous said...

Chris, you always make me laugh. I'm in Alpha Chi Omega too and last month we had a philanthropic wiffle ball tournament... we had tshirts that said "always a hit, never a miss". Unfortunately our tshirt designer couldnt see how that might be offensive. I thought it was highlarious!

Elizabeth said...

Chiming in, agreeing with Jennifer. Ran in the NYC Breast Cancer walk this year and read the small print that my $40 entry fee "goes toward race fees." So, any money I wanted to actually HELP people, I had to raise/pay above and beyond that. Anyways, god points all around TC -- you've really made me think about this subject.

Elizabeth said...

Good* points. Yeah.

Stephanie said...

"about the nfl post earlier, they do the pink stuff for october every year. and the nfl actually does donate to breast cancer research."

I'm not saying they don't support breast cancer research, and I know it's not a new thing. I'm just saying, how much did all of that merchandise cost? Wouldn't just the pink sweatbands have sufficed?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying what I always think about breast cancer awareness pink ribbons, only so much better than I could have said it! The worst thing is at the grocery store when the clerk says "do you want to donate a dollar to breast cancer?" and doesn't smile when I say "of course not, I hate that shizz." Meaning cancer. Yeah. Well. This is why YOU'RE the writer, not I.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh, Tulane Chris, I was so with you there, all the way to the end, but that very last paragraph seems to go a little something like: "Also about women"...they do really stupid things, lolz! ...? I hope that's not what you meant to say, but it sounds like it. And if THAT'S the case, don't get me started on all the dumb shit men do on a daily basis, cause that could be a blog in and of itself.

Admin said...

oh man, even if you weren't specifically addressing *my* Kevin "Yin" comment from your halloween post, I am going to pretend that you were anyway and thank you for acknowledging it! I feel like a local celebrity today. Thanks, TC!

Abbie said...

I hadn't really thought about the ribbon thing before. I think I decided it was another consumerist trap people were falling into, but if any money went to research I didn't care.
This article has a lot of relevant information, and makes some additional points TC and the commenters didn't (because this woman is an oncologist who sees breast cancer patients). http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/732635

In case you don't both clicking strange links in comments, some interesting things:
Some breast cancer patients feel isolated by all the pink crap and the survivability and the hope that's stuffed in their (and our) faces because they have a serious disease that may will take their life. Counterintuitively this awareness campaign is isolating the people it set out to help.

Perhaps the most disturbing point, there are human studies for breast cancer drugs or treatments that get turned down because *other scientists think breast cancer already has useful treatments and an okay prognosis*. Wow. Now the ribbon thing has not only isolated real people with the disease, but is actually acting to prevent scientific studies from happening. Super.

She also mentions that the National Cancer Foundation's annual budget is $5 billion, whereas the agricultural subsidies for corn, wheat and soybeans which produce high fructose corn syrup and fuel our obesity problem totals $19 billion.

So I guess after my years of apathy I am with TC and everyone else who's been pissed about this the whole time.

Santa Chiara said...

TC, you are spot-on. My mom passed away two years ago from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), which is expensive and incurable and, most importantly, not a sexy hip celebrity fundraising cause. It's frustrating to be going through something like that and to look around and see all the pink-branded everything, like the universe is conspiring to tell you that help would be available if your mother had a more socially acceptable disease, but as it is, the stars of "Grey's Anatomy" don't actually care that much. I think awareness campaigns with a message ("get tested," "get annual mammograms," "donate," "volunteer") are great. But buying the breast-cancer-pink nail polish instead of the slightly different and non-branded shade of pink is not activism.

I had no idea I felt this strongly about this, but I TOTALLY DO.

whit said...

First off - I totally agree with all of this. I actually shy away from buying the "breast cancer pretzels" and whatnot, not to mention all the other issues discussed involving focusing solely on breast cancer...

I don't know what the NFL's deal is, but I do know some corporations actually do a decent job of contributing while making the world look like easter. Delta does a pink promotion for the whole month of October, and in addition to all the pink martinis and stuff you can buy on board (proceeds to research), the employees mostly wear pink ties/shirts/pins/etc. They have to buy the clothes though (again, proceeds to research). And they can buy buttons that let them wear jeans and such on weekend flights (again, all proceeds to research). They raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year through their employees, in addition to the millions they donate. (still a drop in the bucket, but better than nothing)

Now, I'm sure Randy Moss isn't buying his own pink equipment... I have my doubts that the NFL is doing anything other than sell themselves...

TonicSOS said...

Great post, TC. The Q&A was super fun, but I really liked the breast cancer rant. I feel the same way. In addition, I really resent that now anything pink is automatically indicative of breast cancer awareness. Q: "Ohhh, nice pink lunch bag. Is it a 3-day walk thing?" A: "NO! It is just an f-ing pink lunch bag." I never loved pink, but as soon I started liking it, it was ruined by the mass entrance of breast cancer awareness swag.

Anonymous said...

So, on the NFL thing, I don't dig pink month, but they really don't spend that much more money on pink equipment vs. regular. those guys (from trainers to coaches to players) get a brand new team provided/league approved uniform or whatever for every game, so it's just garish, not actually decadent

...except that having a new uni for every game is kind of decadent if you ask me...

it's really just a ploy to increase rankings by expanding viewership among the wimminz

Anonymous said...

I think I like you angry better than I like you funny. Best TC post to date. Rant away my friend!

Chl said...

@Stephanie: I had the very same thought about all of the shoes, jackets, sweatbands, etc. that the NFL (?) bought for the players, coaches, cheerleaders and staff to wear. And now that they've got all of that crap? What are they going to do with it now that they're done being "aware?"

Really, I think this trivializes the whole thing. Seems like I read somewhere (NY Times?) that even people involved with the actual research were commenting on the overexposure.

Ali said...

Thank you so much for the breast cancer branding rant, I have been fuming about that since October.

Cancer isn't trendy, and while I'm all for spreading awareness (for all types of cancer, not just breast cancer) most of the campaigns are not effective at all. It's easy to say you care, but all your caring means shit when you don't actually do something to help, like donate money or maybe volunteer at cancer treatment centers.

I found the Facebook "I like it on the..." status trend to be just that: a trend. And as someone else pointed out, how was its vagueness spreading awareness? And the fact the it was supposed to be a joke for women only (how nauseating that is alone) negated the whole awareness thing among men, who can ALSO GET BREAST CANCER.

My grandmother died of it, and I wouldn't insult her suffering with a status update such as "I like it on the stairs." It's not prudish, it's having respect.

And why DOES breast cancer have preferential treatment? Because it involves boobs? I guess it's hard to spread awarness for and sexualize ovarian cancer (which someone wisely pointed out earlier in this thread).

I could rant about this for days.

Janee said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for having the guts to say what I've been thinking ever since the Susan G Komen foundation claimed all rights to the color pink. Is breast cancer sexier than other cancers? I had ass cancer. Where are all the brown ribbons?

Emily said...

This is sort of random- but add horse food to the list of branded things.
It's the same price for the same grain, but now my horses support breast cancer. Or something. I'm not really clear on what the goal is here.
Plus, I reuse grainbags, and it's more fun to work with pink bags than gray ones.

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