This is a new word I learned yesterday, courtesy of my cousin Drew’s Facebook page. For the non-Facebook users, a little background: on Facebook, with a click of the mouse you can “like” something. This can be anything from a comment to a TV show to a store (if I could find it, I would “like” Publix) to a cause.
Drew posted something to the effect that clicking “like” on some pink ribbon thing was somehow supposed to increase breast cancer awareness? One of the first responses said that it’s akin to creating or joining a group called People Against Rape. Is there a group People For Rape? One of the next comments called it slacktivism. While I’ve never heard the term before, I got it instantly. I had to laugh. Like clicking I “like” the fight against breast cancer on Facebook was a noble activity. There now. My work is done. I got the sarcasm of it, but I have a completely different take on it. My next thought was, My, isn’t the younger generation quite a bunch of cynics?
Then I had to laugh again. I remembered that sarcasm and cynicism and anomie were the hallmarks of my own generation. I can’t remember when or why, but I made a conscious decision at some point to stop worshipping the quick-witted retort. (There are those who may say I’ve never quite mastered that.) But in contrast to who I used to be, I take people more at face value.
So I’ll say, aren’t we all slacktivists? I’m for the fight against breast cancer. I’m for rebuilding New Orleans and Haiti, and protecting polar bears. I’m against homelessness and famine and animal abuse. But am I doing anything about it? Not really. I haven’t volunteered for Habitat for Humanity (although I would “like” them). I’m not giving money to any of the causes I support, because I don’t have any. (I will say this: I tried to give money to the Red Cross after Katrina, but their website had crashed, so I gave the money to the Humane Society of the U.S. instead.)
I can no longer find it, but I once read an essay written by a woman who was quite bitter about “pink stuff”. During October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month, you are inundated with opportunities to support breast cancer research, supposedly. Hershey’s sells Kisses wrapped in pink foil. M&M’s makes pink M&M’s. This woman made a number of valid points, including that there are in fact unscrupulous companies who simply capitalize on it. If you want to support breast cancer research, and want to buy these products, read the package. Find out how much of your money will be donated. If they don’t tell you, don’t buy it at all.
The other point she made was, what is the deal with breast cancer? What about people with other cancers? Why don’t they get the exposure, the dollars, the research, the rock stars? I have my theories, but basically I would say, don’t knock it. Breast cancer shines a light on cancer, period, a subject that even twenty years ago would not have been discussed in polite company.
So last week, I had lunch at On the Border, the chain Mexican restaurant. As they have done for at least three years, they’ve partnered with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Every hanging lamp in the ceiling was wrapped with a pink ribbon. At the entrance, you could donate $1, $5, or $7. For $7, you got a leather wristband with a pink ribbon charm sewn on. I bought a wristband. My waiter thanked me. He told me that his mother had had breast cancer and been treated at M.D. Anderson. He was so young and handsome, and already touched by cancer. I was sincerely moved by his willingness to share this.
So, I am not cynical. If all you can do is click “like” on Facebook, I appreciate it . As a person who had breast cancer, I still remember the days when people stopped speaking to me because apparently if they asked how I felt, they were afraid I would tell them. And/or, they were afraid I would die, and didn’t want to be close enough to me to be really sad.
Those people, I resent. That considered, clicking “like” on Facebook to indicate your support for breast cancer research is a step up. As my sister (who has a tendency to cut to the chase) said today, “It’s a solidarity thing”.
Yes, it is.