On Pink Ribbons, Blue Light, and Being a Market
From Left Brain/ Right Brain, on a recent job posting from Autism Speaks:
Let me highlight the phrase that caught my eye: “...strengthening existing markets and identifying and developing new markets”.
Before people start talking about “big Autism” and all, that’s not really my point. More my own naivety. We’d like to think of Autism Speaks’ walk-a-thons and other fundraising as being organized by the communities. But this is a $50M a year charity. That’s just not going to happen with an all volunteer organization.
It seems clear to me that in many ways Autism Speaks has self-consciously adopted Komen for the Cure as a model, substituting blue for pink, April for October, etc. There are many reasons to wonder about the wisdom of this choice, both because autism is not very much like breast cancer and because Komen may be most effective at making money for itself and its corporate partners.
From a Salon review of Pink Ribbons, Inc., a new documentary:
As “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” author Samantha King tells Salon, “People now understand disease through the lens of consumption. I talk to people who can’t really think of doing good work outside of selling or buying stuff. That’s not their experience. They haven’t been exposed to alternatives.” She goes on to explain, “Thirty years ago, it would have been unfathomable that breast cancer could generate this much support and attention and corporate funding. There was a lot of feminist awareness in the ’80s around breast cancer and women’s health. And some very smart people caught on to that and appropriated it and turned it into a marketable product.”
...As King tells Salon, “Raising money doesn’t automatically equate change. In fact, the way that this particular fundraising phenomenon works is to reinforce the status quo. It funds the same kinds of research that ask the same kinds of questions instead of research that might look into prevention or reduce the incidence rate.” But she understands the insidious appeal of pink. “People are really busy,” she says, “and this stuff is fun and makes you feel nice. But that kind of solidarity and community is fleeting, and it doesn’t sustain a political movement. I hope this film changes the conversation around what it really means to do good.”