The other day, I posted the color of my boxers in the attempt to raise awareness for testicular cancer. At least in my network, less than half a dozen people are more aware of testicular cancer advocacies. Maybe, definitely, I wouldn’t really know. I’m sure it wasn’t tittilating, either; but for a large group of women who did change their Facebook status messages to announce their bra colors to the world, it was a cause to raise awarness on breast cancer. Yet to some people – Mary Carmichael included – it is pointless and useless. What would announcing your bra color in public accomplish, other than pique the curiosity of men and, perhaps, get them aroused?
On the one hand, it’s great that people actually talk about and share with the issue from something as simple as bra colors. On the other hand, one can dismiss this as a classic case of slacktivism. Generating controversy, or perhaps starting a bandwagon or meme, is perhaps secondary to the real goals of the breast cancer awareness campaign. One can look at it this way: you posted your bra color on your Facebook status message for all the world to see, what does that accomplish?
Bra colors are no different from the other signs and symbols we use to indicate and affirm our support to particular causes: colors, tattoos, ribbons, animals, songs, stories, and so on and so forth. They may seem superficial and irrelevant at first, but they are never made “just because.” A meaning, and a relationship to that meaning, is constructed and strengthened when the symbol is used. No matter how arbitrary the relationship is, signifiers are not empty. Signifiers will always have a relationship with the many things that are intended for them to signify, and the signified concepts that are unintended for them but are related as a matter of interpretation, feeling, or belief.
Memes are precisely that: signifiers signifying beliefs, advocacies, and causes. Not that we all agree with them, not that they are all worth supporting, but they all come with caveat lector.
It’s a campaign to make people aware of breast cancer; it isn’t a cure, it didn’t raise funds, and it didn’t lower the incidences of breast cancer in the world. Yet people read links, studied the disease. Some people looked for places where they can donate, the meme made the headlines; not that everyone did it, but it did what it was intended to accomplish. It stirred conversation, it made sense for women who did follow the meme. It wasn’t completely pointless, come to think of it. Yet it wasn’t as perfect as we wanted it to be.
We definitely desire and demand concrete, tangible results for whatever we advocate, yet most of the time, we generate buzz. We get at least a few people talking if we take up a position. Millions of Facebook users took a position to help a cause of raising awareness by posting their bra colors, and it did generate a buzz. It certainly didn’t reduce incidences of breast cancer or found a cure, but people found an idea that they can bank on, said their piece, and more people are talking about breast cancer (or Internet memes and bandwagons) more than when the meme didn’t happen. I’m not saying that we should be dependent on memes, but it is a way for us to express ourselves. Not everyone is as articulate, rich, well-connected, educated, or erudite, and maybe announcing your bra color is the many ways you can help out. It accomplishes involvement, even at the barest minimum.
It only becomes slacktivism when you don’t follow through, and if even your marginal involvement is not sufficient to sustain the cause. It’s a slacker thing if you allow your breast cancer awareness to die a natural meme death, and become as aware of breast cancer as you were before you posted your bra color on your Facebook. Donate, educate, perform routine self-examinations, call for free or reduced fees on mammograms; heck, make cancer research a central issue in the 2010 campaign. Or at the very least, take care of yourself well enough to reduce the possibility of falling victim to breast cancer. If your breast cancer awareness advocacy will start and end with Facebook status messages, it becomes the homily from the pew. That’s when it becomes pointless.
It’s just a bra color, a bra type, or if you wear bras at all. Big deal. Yet for that moment that you took the time to make a view known outside of collecting animals in Farm Town or doing hits at Mafia Wars, you get yourself involved. Maybe not at the epicenter of the fight against breast cancer – marginal involvement, perhaps – but such a commitment puts you in a position to do more to raise awareness, funds, and advocacies. That’s more than just showing off your bra to cyberspace.