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i care more than you -- see?
wearing your heart on your sleeve, chest, wherever
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)
5.30.05
pop culture


Dana Reeve, widow of Christopher Reeve, recently announced that Superman-logo dog tags are available through the Christopher Reeve Foundation for a mere $10. She believes people wearing them will transmit the spirit of Christopher Reeve and the many causes for which he stood.

You know what happens next, right?

The Lemurs with Lisps Foundation will create dog tags stamped with the image of adorable fat-tailed lemurs reclining on a bed of scattered raisins. Women for Women Supporting Some Women but not Other Women will make available, only through their website, designer dog tags on gold chains. Podunk University will offer dog tags with the Hopping Toads mascot stamped on the front. Angelina Jolie will endorse dog tags that double as blood vials for first-time blood donors. Your Band Here will start selling logo dog tags at concerts emblazoned with a neon orange YBH.

It all started so innocently. A radio announcer suggested people donate one thin dime to help conquer polio, and the March of Dimes was born. Halloween meant popcorn balls, candy corn, sheet ghosts and UNICEF canisters. A green shamrock bought for a dollar at the grocery store helped Jerry's Kids with Muscular Dystrophy. Telethons were big for a while, and your pledge usually included entertainment.

Not that anyone except the French would say Jerry Lewis singing is “entertainment.”

Then walks started, and bike rides, and marathons in exotic locations. But now, in our desperate need to belong and demonstrate caring without really putting forth much effort, we have a plethora of merchandise to show that, indeed, we care more than, well, the other “we.” It's a status symbol, and you're absolutely nobody in support circles unless you can point to all your levels of caring: on your chest, wrist and backside...

…of your car. For now, anyway.

Remember the AIDS red ribbons? Pink breast cancer ribbons? Black ribbons, blue ribbons, teal ribbons, purple ribbons…ribbons for everything from the Leukemia Society to the Sierra Club. So many pretty ribbons, the Pantone color wheel has rolled off a cliff and the poor Autism Society had to resort to using multi-colored puzzle pieces on their ribbon.

Then came the bands.

Lance Armstrong's yellow Livestrong wristbands, designed to show support for cancer patients and survivors, projected by Nike to sell $5 million, have catapulted to $50 million in sales after the first year. (See, we have to say “sales” 'cause Nike is involved.) For the foundation and for those supporting cancer patients and survivors, that's just dandy.

But in the monkey-see, monkey-do world we live in, rubber bands are everywhere now, color-coordinated to the specifc cause. Did you know that May was National Asthma and Allergy Awareness month? No? That's okay! You can wear a #124 blue wristband that says, “Life without Limits” and tell everyone else! Or show support for your favorite sports team/rock band/school/ex-girlfriend's dog-walking service with this handy snap-to-the-vein reminder.

Because otherwise, how will anyone know you care?

Like cattle rustlers on an open plain, Nike is now producing shoes and clothing with “10/2” for the Livestrong brand. Why this date? Because that's when Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer. Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, was quoted in USA Today stating “Livestrong is fun, affordable, easily identified but hard to find and makes a positive statement about the wearer.”

Excuse me a minute.

gag

retch

A positive statement about the wearer? How does this work, exactly? I give money, participate in walks and nurse ailing family members with cancer, but I'm still lower than snail slime because I don't have a Livestrong shackle on my wrist? I don't -- and didn't -- buy it.

And, um, here's a pesky detail. Psychologically, wouldn't it be more appropriate to celebrate the date he conquered cancer?

Out of all the people I've encountered with the Livestrong bands around their wrists (and I've encountered many), only four can tell me why they're wearing them. They love someone with cancer right now and would prick a baby-faced voodoo doll covered in Thumper fur if it would make their loved one healthy and ease suffering.

And that's beautiful.

If you need to wear a talisman, go ahead. Native Americans have carried touchstones of their spirit guides for centuries. Carve a big, fat, white polar bear out of Crisco, put it on your forehead and support the Alaskan Wildlife/protest oil drilling. I don't care.

But be engaged. Know why. Know who. Have facts and figures ready when I ask you what the symbol means. Don't tell me “they were handing them out at the fair, so I'm wearing it," an actual comment I heard with my own two ears.

That's just stupid.

Lest you think I'm some type of charity-hating, frizzy-haired troll, allow me to clarify.

-I donate two percent of my salary annually to various non-profit organizations and foundations.

-I'm a former communications director/WalkAmerica coordinator for the Eastern Carolina division of the March of Dimes, a current Big Brother Big Sister mentor and an active volunteer for the Des Moines Arts Festival.

-I've been a literacy tutor, and awarded recognition of participation from the Frankie Lemmon School for Developmental Children, the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

-Last week, I walked in honor of my friend Anda Liepa who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. In the past, I've walked in honor of a great many other individuals with various conditions, for the simple reason that some of them couldn't.

And I bloody well hate it when the only thing someone can say about an organization or foundation is “it's a good cause.”

I don't need a badge of honor for any of this involvement. Donating my time and money is something I feel spiritually called to do.

However, I also don't need a ribbon, wristband, shoes or set of dog tags to show what a "positive" person I am. Unfortunately, for the four people referenced above that truly make a statement with their knowledge and dedication to what/whom they support, there are 400 posers with collection of wristbands that mean next to nothing snaking up their arm as if part of a bad 80s-era Madonna costume.

This is exactly how a good idea innocently smokes one cigarette behind the school and two months later, starts robbing banks.

The extensive branding of non-profits is weakening the structure of awareness. Like any other label, this outward symbol is being raped, pillaged and sold off the black market dock for commercial gain. If you want to make a donation, just do it. Don't support a non-profit that spends more administrative dollars trying to get your attention than it does in program dollars to solve the problem. Don't follow the herd branded by the lastest novelty -- follow your heart and get involved.

And take that damned “Support Our Troops” sticker off your car. What a directive! Who doesn't support our troops?!


ABOUT TRACEY L. KELLEY

Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

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COMMENTS

juli mccarthy
5.30.05 @ 12:54a

Rubber bracelets, car magnets, ribbons... they all symbolize one thing about the wearer: that person has literally done "the least you can do."

I wear a red-and-white ribbon that shows I support the RESCU Foundation. It cost me $2. But if that was ALL the support I was giving, I'd be too embarrassed to wear it. Ask me about RESCU and I'll quote you chapter and verse, because it's a cause I believe in enough to devote my time, energy and cash to. And therefore, I wear my ribbon with something like pride.

lisa r
5.30.05 @ 2:09a

Did you know that May was National Asthma and Allergy Awareness month?

No, but I'm sure there's a day somewhere on our calendar that Congress has managed to designate as National Navel Lint Awareness Day. There are so many National This or That Days/Weeks/Months now that they're overlapping. Sooner or later someone will propose that we absolutely must make the year longer to get all these National Days/Weeks/Months in so that nothing even remotely less than obscure becomes obscured. Never mind that our calendar is dictated by the Earth's and Moon's orbit and actually makes sense just as it is.

robert melos
5.30.05 @ 2:28a

June is unofficially Pride Month. It was official under Clinton, but the current President doesn't see fit to acknowledge Pride because it has homosexual connotations.

Having said that I am tired of receiving the endless stream of mail from organizations I once dontated to begging for more donations. Oh they don't ask for the money in that way. They inform me my "membership" has expired and its time to renew my commitment. Whne I don't send them money, because I've torn the mail up unopened, I get the phone calls also telling me they depended on me in the past and hope to count on my continued support.

I give to charities in which I fully believe in. After discovering how many charities only get 75% of my donation because the rest goes to administrative costs, and weeding out the ones that don't support my lifestyle, I come down to maybe two or three to which I still donate. I don't do ribbons.

sandra thompson
5.30.05 @ 10:58a

Thanks, Tracey, for having the cajones to say what needed to be said.

tracey kelley
5.30.05 @ 12:43p

I festered over this, believe me, but then the Nike "10/2" product manufacturing sent me over the edge.

It's also hard for me to continue to consider Armstrong in a positive light when he allows this to be pushed to the limit. I know a lot of people who have survived cancer. They use the survival to accomplish great things, certainly, but when is enough enough?

juli mccarthy
5.30.05 @ 1:00p

You know, it's kind of important to remember that surviving some kind of illness is admirable, but we tend to look at these people as heroes for no other reason than they have survived an illness. Yes, you can use your survival to inspire others, you can use your fame to advance research or raise funds - all of which is commendable, but hardly heroic.

stacy smith
5.30.05 @ 5:24p

So what does it say about a person that bought a yellow wrist band after the death of a person that died after a very long, hard 9 year battle with lymphoma?

Hubby bought one not to support Nike, rather as a way to remember his dad. He doesn't wear it. It's sits in his dresser drawer where it has been collecting dust for 2 years.

No people that overcome an illness are not heroes, but some of them go through f-ing hell in order to keep themselves alive.

My FIL was treated like a friggin' human guinea pig for 8 years, only to have this asshole doctors keep feeding him more toxic medication and lies.

Perhaps they should make a wrist band for that? Preferably black with little skulls and crossbones on it.

Beyond that, I agree.

juli mccarthy
5.30.05 @ 7:55p

No people that overcome an illness are not heroes, but some of them go through f-ing hell in order to keep themselves alive.

Don't think for one minute that I am dismissing anyone's pain and suffering. My FIL is a current guinea pig for the medical community. I just think the manufacture and sale of trinkets for causes is not much more than lip service, and (for example) Christopher Reeve's tragedy is not different or better or more noble than anyone else's.

tracey kelley
5.31.05 @ 10:24a

I've had 3 close family members die from cancer, I have 2 very close friends supporting loved ones with cancer, and I've known other people who have died from cancer.

I still don't feel the need to wear a band around my wrist. Somehow, that just doesn't do enough for me. I don't need anything to remind me of them in that phase of their lives - I remember them anyway. and would rather remember them alive and well.

When the AIDS ribbons first came out, you couldn't watch an award show with seeing a sea of red ribbons. When this simple symbol first came to be, it was necessary to educate people about AIDS, because there were many, many misconceptions, and build awareness for the problem.

Now, it's not so easy just to spot a ribbon and say, "Oh, yeah, right. That's for X." You have no idea what the ribbon is for - which is fine, if it prompts you to ask questions and learn something, but often the wearer doesn't have a clue. Therein lies the problem.

The ribbons haven't been as bastardized as the wristbands, tho.

I guess I'm more of supporter of "activity." Let's face it: one of the best ways to celebrate the life of someone you love is to celebrate life itself. When I went out with a group of friends to walk in the cold and rain for Anda a couple of weeks ago, Anda came with us, in her wheelchair, baggies around her slippers so they wouldn't get wet. She smiled the whole time and told us all to walk ahead of her so she could see us. We laughed and talked about goofy things...

...and Anda said it was the best day she had had in quite a while.

The Iowa chapter for ALS was selling red wristbands there, too, but I don't need a wristband to help me remember her face.

heather millen
5.31.05 @ 12:35p

Omigod, the Livestrong bracelets. It started innocently enough but when they popped up on MTV, I knew it had gone too far. Just last week, at a breast cancer luncheon, I received a pink one in my goodie bag. At this point, isn't it almost PASSE to hand these out? I'm pretty sure the Boston Red Sox even have one... not quite sure what admirable cause that lauds, "I believed! The curse is gone!"

Little rubber armbands... curing cancer and lifting curses. Who knew what power they held?!

Igh.

matt kelley
5.31.05 @ 12:58p

I found a yellow "Support Our Troops!" magnet in the street a few months ago & stuck it on the trunk. It prompted such mockery from my wife, perhaps the start of this column, that I tossed it out.

Last week, I tried to actually show my support for the troops, well, troop, by sending a buddy stationed in Afghanistan a care package full of cookies, chips, popcorn and other tasty treats, books, toothbrushes and, okay, a little semi-porn.

Forget the magnet. Send munchies and Maxim.

katie morris
5.31.05 @ 1:36p

I work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and they JUST decided to hop on the bracelet bandwagon and create blue ones that say, "Share the Power of a Wish." This was a decision made by our national office, so we had no control over it. But everyone here in the SF chapter was thinking, "Isn't it a little late to be joining in on that craze?"

A sidenote -- Lance Armstrong is a selfish, egotistical man. Don't let any of his bracelets or books convince you otherwise.

heather millen
5.31.05 @ 3:06p

Katie- I didn't know that you worked for Make-A-Wish. How cool! I've worked with them through companies I've worked for (theatre tickets, shopping sprees, etc) and think they're a wonderful organization. Not too quick on the bracelet fad though!

joe procopio
5.31.05 @ 3:50p

This was really good and really bold. There comes a point at which so much time and effort goes into awareness that it becomes its own cottage industry and at that point it becomes starkly sad.

To hammer home, Bob Geldof is at it again, now pushing "Live 8" - having something to do with the G8 Summit - and announcing yesterday that Sting is on board.

This would be fantastic if Geldof acutally produced some worthy work between charity stints or appointed someone else - someone more famous and recognizable... Sting perhaps - to do the promotion while he worked behind the scenes.

tim lockwood
6.1.05 @ 2:36a

I recall back in the days of the original Live Aid that the same question went around amongst me and my friends - who the hell is Bob Geldof besides the organizer of Live Aid? And you'd watch the making-of documentary and the interviews, and you'd get the impression that Geldof was someone you ought to know if you were truly hip, but when it was over you still didn't know.

Back on topic - thanks for saying that about the Support Our Troops sticker. Like I'm actually going to go around with a sticker on my car that said, "Boo Hiss! Down With American Troops!" right next to the bumper sticker that says, "Mom and Apple Pie Suck Ass!" Puh-leez. The only thing more jingoistic are those red white & blue "The Power of Pride" stickers. Now, I consider myself pretty patriotic, but WTF does "The Power of Pride" mean, exactly, besides NOTHING?

Another charity trend that is just starting to catch on is the whole "donate your car to our cause" deal. Basically, you sign over the title to any rolling rat-trap you may have lying about and they either sell your car at a charity auction or to the nearest Pull-A-Part franchise, depending on the amount of cash they feel they are likely to generate from it.

The plus side for the more cynical giver is obvious - you can usually deduct the Blue Book value (or a likely resale value) on your taxes. Also, I'm sure there's probably a way to advertise your boundless generosity; maybe a bumper sticker that says, "My other car now belongs to the American Cancer Society."

dave lentell
6.1.05 @ 9:47a

Maybe it's just the bitter cynic in me, but I often wonder as I see the myriad of magnets and buttons and ribbons for sale just about everywhere you turn (you can't get gas anywhere these days without seeing the damned things staring back at you from the cash register) EXACTLY HOW MUCH of the money spent by the lemmings that buy these things ACTUALLY goes towards curing the disease in question? Or in the case of "Support Our Troops" - where DOES the money for those things go?

I have to think that somebody, somewhere is making money off these things. They HAVE to be, or they wouldn't be so prevalent. That's just the way America works these days it seems. And I doubt the charities/organizations, etc. are getting as much as the purchasers of these items THINK they're getting. But then again, I could be wrong.

I'm with Matt... you want to support our troops? Do more than drive around with a frigging magnet on your car. Though I was tempted to buy the "Supply Our Troops" magnet I saw awhile back. But I don't need hassled by some Billy-Bob in a camo-painted 4x4 who thinks I'm some sort of "Commie Pinko."

tracey kelley
6.1.05 @ 9:58a

I'd like Katie's input here, but I remember at MofD, we set a walk raise level of $50 to receive a t-shirt, $75 for a sweatshirt. The goal was to always make sure we never spent more than 17% of total budget for salaries, advertising (of which there was some) and merchandise, with a breakout usually of 10-5-2.

So out of that $75, that meant that we had to get the sweatshirt at cost of $1.50 in order to stay within the percentage.

Which hardly -ever- happened, even at the quantities we pressed.

Promoting the Walks, however, was different, as we took in more than $200K each major walk, on average. So if 4K was spent on sweatshirts and t-shirts, the merchandise budget was well maintained.

But if you didn't hit the 200K mark...

So you figure those bands and stickers, which probably cost .05 - .10 to make, sell for a dollar. Ideally, more than .75 should go to the charity. But does it?



katie morris
6.1.05 @ 12:41p

Our chapter doesn't do walks or other events where you need sponsors, but 80 cents of every dollar we raise is used for wish granting. As for those lame-o silicone bands, I think our national office is selling them through Longs Drugs (at least, out here on the west coast) but I don't know how much they're charging.

Tim, the car donation program has been around for awhile, and we used to raise huge amounts of money from our program. But then W and Congress decided to change the law in January, so you can no longer deduct the Kelley Blue Book value on your taxes -- just what the car sells for at auction, which is usually only a few hundred dollars. Our revenue from this program has dropped by about half this year. Thanks, George.

juli mccarthy
6.1.05 @ 3:56p

Took my FIL to the doctor today. In the waiting room, there was a little cardboard placard advertising a blue rubber bracelet for prostate cancer awareness. What struck me as odd was that at the bottom of the placard, there was a note saying that the funding for the advertising was made possible through a grant from a pharmaceutical company. Now why not just use that grant money for research for treatment??

nancy brookshire
6.1.05 @ 7:06p

Hey Tracey, I heard a great editorial on the radio (yes NPR, of course) about the "Support the Troops" magnets and such. The guy talking about it had a son in Iraq and said he really felt that those things were "I support the president" statements. He really resented them and wished people would stop displaying them. Thought you would appreciate his position. Like you said "who does not support the troops?" No matter what you think of the war (oh sorry the war is over, so I don't know what to call it.) Nana

[edited]

tracey kelley
6.3.05 @ 1:18p

That's an interesting p.o.v. - I've not heard that before.



michelle von euw
6.3.05 @ 2:24p

As a graduate student, I was heartbroken that we had to give up most of our annual donations to charities with our reduced income. After my uncle died of cancer, I felt really good about the fact that even I could put $10 toward a few braclets, and every time I look at that yellow band, I remember what a great guy my uncle Johnny was. After class one day, one of my students commented on my bracelet, and then showed me her AIDS band, which she wears in support of an orphanage in Africa. Her parents are doctors, and have been volunteering there for years, and she spends her summer and winter breaks working at the orphanage, and the only way I got to hear about this amazing side to her was because of the stupid yellow band.

So, yeah, for some people it's a fashion thing or a follower thing or a "minimum" thing, but I don't care -- I'm still wearing mine. And, um, the silly Red Sox Nation one I got for my birthday. For that one, I have no excuse.

tracey kelley
6.6.05 @ 9:31a

I like the fact that you and the student can connect over your interests -

- but that's rare.

matt kelley
6.9.05 @ 7:24a

Katie – It’s too bad your charity saw a drop in car donations, but the law is justified, like it or not. Don’t be so quick to blame the President for what you apparently see as another right-wing cause. It was “we the people” who were ultimately paying for those fraudulent donations.

The legislation was enacted because far too many people were donating cars, claiming they were worth say, $3000, and taking the tax deduction for that amount, when the car in reality might’ve only been worth $500 and the charity got $250 at auction. Who gets ripped off in that scenario? The American taxpayers. Now, instead of a loophole, it’s a legitimate deduction.

And the door swings both ways. If your car sells at auction for more than book value, you get that higher figure as a deduction.


robert melos
6.9.05 @ 8:33p

At one time when I was making good money I would make a lot of donations usually at the end of the year sending money to different charities that had sent me letters soliciting donations. Since that time I don't make as much money, and lately I've been getting more and more solicitations in the mail and now by phone as well.

I've pretty much stopped giving for the time being. I'll give a few bucks when I can, but they are getting very pushy just because I gave to them once or twice. It really is annoying.

juli mccarthy
6.12.05 @ 11:48p

To hammer home, Bob Geldof is at it again, now pushing "Live 8" - having something to do with the G8 Summit - and announcing yesterday that Sting is on board.

This just in, also: Pink Floyd is reuniting after 24 years apart for this concert.

I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.

tim lockwood
6.13.05 @ 12:15a

Matt said: Don’t be so quick to blame the President for what you apparently see as another right-wing cause.

Okay, then blame Congress, because they're at it again, trying to attack charities.

I saw it at the Goodwill store today (when you have a baby, it is nothing short of madness to pay more than $1.49 for baby clothes when you don't have to) that Congress is currently considering a revision of the tax law, whereby you could no longer deduct more than $500 in non-cash donations on your taxes.

Goodwill (and more than a few other organizations) would be devastated financially if this passed, I'm sure. I mean, let's face it - it's great to donate to charitable organizations just because it's a good thing to do, but it is a HUGE incentive to have the tax break.

Goodwill, to their credit, isn't taking this lying down.



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