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"Think Before You Pink" warns new breast cancer doc

Does wearing a pink ribbon automatically help cure breast cancer? Well, a bold and moving new documentary argues that it might actually be detrimental to the cause.

Lea Pool’s PINK RIBBONS, INC. shows how the ribbon—which started decades ago as an activist gesture—became coopted by corporate America and was sold to the masses to instill them with hope and inspiration.

“Keep smiling!” attendees at a breast cancer event are shown being instructed as upbeat music is played and “angels of death”—i.e., women with Stage IV breast cancer—are few and far between. Instead, the “survivors” are paraded about to show the lighter, more marketable side of this disease. It’s what Samantha King, the author of the book Pink Ribbons, Inc.—Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, calls “the tyranny of cheerfulness.”

“We used to march in the streets,” says one of the film’s impassioned commentators, “but now you’re supposed to run for a cause.”

The ribbons, says the same lady, have drained a lot of the militancy from the breast cancer battle while clouding some important issues. For one thing, only 15% of the money raised at these ribbon-fueled events goes to actual research and prevention, which are critically important for the disease to become more controllable in the future.

Furthermore, various large companies have gotten involved in the crusade, presumably out of genuine concern, though the promotional benefits of such involvement is more than hinted at by Pool’s probing lens. What’s worse, some of the corporations that so publicly back the cure-finding actually use carcinogens in their products. Talk about a mixed message.

Even more fascinatingly, the film shows simplistic messages being sold to women, such as “Don’t smoke, stay lean, and exercise”—as if that’s all it takes to stave away the big C. Furthermore, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is trotted out every year as a comforting sop that Pool’s talking heads say puts a wet blanket on anger that could be fueled and directed to better results.

Pool’s most shocking discovery is that breast cancer mortality rates have not significantly changed in 60 years. And the treatment options—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—have stayed the same too. “Slash, burn, and poison” is how Dr. Susan Love puts it when summing up those three avenues.

So feel free to wear your pink ribbon. It’s a very good message and awareness is extremely important. But please see this movie too.