In the past week or so, I’ve seen facebook statuses of some of my female friends that have confused me. “I like it in the closet.” “I like it on the back of my chair.” And so on. I knew there was some new meme creeping around, and when I did eventually discover what it was, I was even more disappointed than I had expected to be. I found out through this article, which I also discovered through a friend’s facebook link.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means there are going to be commercials and memes telling me that breast cancer exists, and that it is a problem. I, and the vast majority of people, have known this for some time. But in the “I like it” meme, women are asked to change their status to say where they like to ‘leave their purse’ when they come home. The use of pronouns lets them feel naughty, as if they were talking about sexual intercourse (but not really, because that would be weird, wouldn’t it?). They send a message to a few of their friends explaining it, and the meme spreads, making lots of people aware of breast cancer.
Just when I think Christine O’Donnell or Bill Maher are the most disappointing features of Western humanity, this happens. As Stephanie Fusco explains in the linked article above, the only person who knows that the “I like it” status is actually about breast cancer is the writer of the status update. They have fallen for an increasingly common delusion of affluent Westerners with high-speed internet: thinking they can bring genuine social and political change with a status update or a tweet. They are deluded about their own significance in the world.
Before I go off on my major rant, Fusco mentions another terrible aspect of this meme: reinforcing moronic sexual mores. She, and her friend Amanda quoted in the article, say it better than I can.
“The whole idea that putting something so ‘provocative’ in your Facebook status will gain attention relies on the notion that women speaking openly about sex is both slutty and shocking. This may come across as feminist drivel, and I may be accused of having too many feelings, but it’s true. As my super-star feminist friend Amanda Judd explained, ‘This whole thing was really an exercise in using the associated shame of sluttiness to supposedly draw attention to a good cause. It wouldn’t have been provocative if slut shaming weren’t so big. So it was slutty, it was totally meant to be. Women were supposed to sacrifice their reputation for a moment to grab the attention of others.’”
Congratulations ladies, for your trip back to 1953.
And now for my own major point. I have long had a suspicion, which has since become a conclusion, that the most contemptible kind of activist today is the affluent white person who thinks they can make a difference to those worse off than they are. Isn’t this the basic principle of charity? Yes. Yes it is. But I’m talking about a very specific version of the principle of charity, which I think is perfectly exemplified by this “I like it” meme. An affluent person with no real problems in her life wants to make a difference to people who actually do have problems. She feels affinity with breast cancer as a cause because she’s a woman, and breast cancer is the most stereotypically feminized cancer in the world. Its ribbon is even a stereotypically feminized colour, pink. She is told about this meme with a message explaining it to her, feels slightly giddy because it’s also a sex joke, and posts the status.
Now she feels like she’s done something to help those less fortunate. Of course, she hasn’t. She’s just put a cryptic sex joke in her facebook status. But she knows exactly what the status update means. So, as her reasoning goes, ‘If I understand it, then its meaning was obvious.’ Of course, the meaning is only obvious to her because she was told explicitly what it means. To anyone, like myself, who hasn’t heard this explanation, this is just another confusing meme travelling around the internet. But the people updating their status this way get to feel good about themselves. They’ve done a good thing! Now pat yourself on the back, affluent little white person, while actual cancer research and treatment continues unhelped and unhindered by your complete lack of a contribution.
So much time and effort is wasted in the affluent West on protest campaigns like this that achieve nothing. The only thing that’s accomplished is that someone who normally does nothing to improve the world feels slightly better about themselves. Some of the people I know who joined the “I like it” meme are genuinely politically involved people, and actually work to correct injustices in the world. But I’ve seen many protests like this that exist solely to assuage the guilt of the affluent.
Another post will follow in the next week or so where I discuss what I think are the larger political and social trends revolving around the guilty feelings of the affluent and the decline of Europe and North America relative to China, India, and Brazil.