Friday, April 4, 2008

The Orthodoxy of Awareness

Review of Sarah Moore's Ribbon Culture: Untying the 'ribbon culture'.

Now, I'm not generally one to promote a book I haven't even read, but I must admit I really, really want to read Ribbon Culture, having read the review. Seems to be from the other side of the pond, but I'm thinking that won't put a dent in my enjoyment of it (except to note that Amazon lists it at a hefty 75 bucks. Yikes! Think I'll wait on the library for this one). There's so much to think about, even in the review, that aside from brief thoughts on a couple of points in the review, I just don't know where else I could begin discussing the book without actually reading the book. Oh, the dilemma.

A few quotes:

from the reviewer: "In the Noughties, everybody wants to be counter-cultural – which presumably means that the counter-culture has become the mainstream."

from the book:

Properly speaking, we see the extension and transfiguration of the countercultural impulse in the contemporary culture, and the awareness campaigns of the 1990s more specifically. Whilst the counter-culture found expression through various consumerist items, for example, the awareness ribbon campaigns are wholly commercial enterprises, popularising dissent and compassion through slick marketing campaigns. In addition, we see the normalisation of self-awareness in the ribbon campaigns of the 1990s, its transformation, that is to say, into an unquestionably beneficial attribute.

Ha! Yes! This is a problem I think about frequently. The concept of being counter-cultural has become so ubiquitous as to almost eradicate the existence of a "normative" culture to counter. Now, I don't know enough about overarching historical trends (though I feel vaguely that I should) to say what that means, but I am pretty darned sure it's true. My problem, then, is that without a clearly stated object of derision for the counter-cultural types (read: everyone) to rally against, we are left only with the charicatures we create for the purpose of countering them.

Being counter-cultural is no longer simply a way to react against wrongs and see that they are righted, it is a means of identification, both self- and otherwise. I wonder if anyone else sees that the growing inertial force of the metanarrative (generally speaking) has shifted the larger sense of cultural identity from pro- to con-. Anyone?

Gawd, there's just so much more to unpack, I have to stop myself there.

Here's some more:
‘It is… unlikely that cultivating a sense of worry about the illness is particularly health promoting for those women who do not have breast cancer… These women’s fear has manifested itself in burdensome routines and gestures (compulsory self-examination or wearing a pink ribbon, for example) which speak of a nagging, everyday sense of worry which refuses to be resolved.’

To fear death is one thing. To advertise that fear, in the form of a kitsch fashion accessory bought in department stores that is greeted by others as less controversial than wearing socks with sandals, speaks to the thoroughly morbid undertones of our modern culture of narcissism. Moore does a great job of exposing the orthodoxy of ‘awareness’ for what it really is; challenging the sickness of our ribbon culture requires that we think beyond the pink to care about something less selfish instead.


Here's the thing, while The Secret is basically the serpent in the Garden of Eden ("you will be like God". Gee, I think I read that somewhere...), positive thinking is a good thing, overall. Excessively negative thinking is not. That's just common sense. I don't have quite as much to say about this at the moment, but it's still an important point.

As I said, I just really want to read this book.

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