Privatized philanthropy and the tyranny of cheerfulness

Léa Pool’s most recent film dispels the benevolence of ‘cause marketing’

A scene from Pink Ribbons, Inc. Supplied

Breast cancer is a horrific disease that claims the lives of close to 60,000 people in North America each year, and a condition that affects practically one in eight women.

Why then, asks Swiss-Canadian director Léa Pool, has big business intervened to “pinkify” the issue as one of survivorship and optimism, while pushing corporate sales pitches meant to increase profits without any concern for the prevention of the disease?

This dilemma is central to Pink Ribbons, Inc., a National Film Board documentary by Pool, and based largely upon a book of the same name by Samantha King.

The film’s objective is to expose and dispel the benevolence of “cause marketing” in the context of the pink ribbon campaign against breast cancer, and to illuminate how the deterioration of militant grassroots activism created the political opening for multinational corporations and pharmaceutical enterprises to exploit what is actually a growing crisis in Western society.

Indeed, since the choosing of the pink ribbon - not salmon-coloured as its creator Charlotte Haley would have desired - as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States, the “fight” against the disease has increasingly become an exercise in privatized philanthropy.

From pink-tinted buckets of deep fried KFC chicken, to ribbon-adorned, yet toxic, Revlon lipstick, Pool shows how profiteering has detracted from the human urgency to find a cure, resulting in mismanaged funds and a frustrating medical standstill.

Of course, the film is not an attack upon the millions of participants in charitable activities, such as those hosted by the prolific Susan G. Koman for the Cure, but instead an inquest that seeks to show the true face of breast cancer, and who is really benefiting.

The tyranny of cheerfulness is that breast cancer is not a delightful, pink or hopeful experience. It is a deadly affliction that the likes of Estée Lauder and AstraZeneca are disinterested with ending, for corporate profits speak louder than the cries of thousands of women for change.

The passion and strength of solidarity, however, is a potent force that Pink Ribbons, Inc. never fails to emphasize.

In the end, confirms a wise activist, the re-politicization and unity of women against the same forces that claim to be helping is a simple solution to a far greater and more threatening problem.

Published in Volume 66, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 1, 2012)

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