The Myth of ‘Awareness’
Enough with the colored ribbons, please
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 12:10
Two weeks ago, I was imbibing in a greasy burger and fries at the bastion of fast food empires. I noticed a little placard decorating the otherwise sterile, white table. The placard read, “Team McDonald’s: Celebrating together. This week, during National People Week, we say “Thank you” to our employees.”
I started laughing, wondering if it was a joke. It seems downright humorous that ”people” need a week dedicated to them and need reminders of their existence complete with a placard, banners, a week and even the McDonald’s website promising employee appreciation. The website encourages patrons to thank employees, complete with a bad pun: “We call it Mission McPossible!”
I’m guessing that Mission McPossible was conceived by some well-intentioned corporate executive stroking his beard, thinking we must find a way to tame our masses before there is a revolt! After all, McDonald’s empire is right up there with Wal-Mart in complaints about poor treatment of their employees and low wages. “Aha!” corporate executive said, “Instead of raising wages or providing bonuses, we will christen a week “National People Week” and print oodles of placards, posters and feel better about ourselves!”
Sorry, Mr. McCorporate-- you did not have me fooled or get me to treat employees better by raising “awareness” during your invented “National People Week.” I try to be considerate of people all of the time and do not need a placard to tell me to do so. Nor do I think said placard would get a rude customer to change his ways and start treating customer service workers with respect and dignity.
This McDonalds “National People Week” is just as fake as their burgers. It might taste good going down, but there’s no substance. I think the same goes for all of the awareness-raising causes, events and products that we are inundated with on a daily basis. I think it is a myth that raising awareness actually creates sustainable change.
Yes, I realize this is not a popular opinion to disagree with awareness-raising. Spoiler alert: It seems like being on par with telling a three year old that Santa Clause does not exist. In writing this, I run the risk of sounding like a cynical curmudgeon. I might be.
But I prefer to believe that I am a critical thinker. In other words, I am Mr. McCorporate’s nightmare. I question and challenge most things, because there always seems to be layers of fluffy bologna (insert expletive here) to peel off in order to reveal the truth.
The fluff is that people freaking love awareness because it makes us feel good about ourselves and we are naïve enough to think that wearing a color or sharing a link on Facebook will instigate change. I am including myself in here because I have a fleece pink coat with a breast cancer ribbon in my closet. I have had pins on my purse for various causes, and magnets on my fridge. It did not change anything.
I wish changing social problems or curing diseases or stopping people from being big huge jerks to the cashier at McDonald’s were as simple as wearing a color or tying a ribbon to a tree trunk. It’s not. Complex problems require complex solutions. We are a society that demands quick fixes and solutions in 4G speed! Now! We demand answers now!
The diligence, patience, time, research, money and effort are the stuff that real solutions, real cures and changes are made of. But these things are not nearly as glamorous or profitable! These cannot be packaged and sold to mass markets. While these packaged products with a rainbow of ribbons for various causes can be beneficial to raise money for research and prevention, they often do so with the intent of selling the product itself. It’s a case of classic self-interest.
I’ve heard people say that change often begins small and every bit counts. I agree. What I disagree with is this distinctly American brand of what various media buffs have dubbed “slacktivism.” “Slacktivism” or “clicktivism” is passively supporting causes on the internet, through social media, or wearing colors for a cause.
Is slacktivism going to hurt anyone? No! It just takes a lancet right through common sense in the name of niceties and warm, fluffy bunnies. For example, in January 2011 a rumor was spread within Facebook that the FDA would donate a dollar to a homeless shelter every time someone changed their profile pictures. All of a sudden pictures of chocolate, pizza and bacon popped up on my newsfeed. The rumor was quickly debunked by “Snopes,” a thoroughly researched internet reference site that investigates urban legends, rumors, myths and misinformation.
Now each month features at least 20 causes to be “aware of:” everything from every disease imaginable, to ice cream awareness, to liver awareness, to cat awareness. Don’t forget about optimism month, but unfortunately this month is sarcasm month. Every time this article is read, twenty cans of spam will be donated to your nearest dumpster.
Tessa is a senior majoring in English.