Saturday, March 27, 2010

What I Did For Earth Hour

I don't get it.

Everywhere I look I'm bombarded by symbols.

Pink ribbons for breast cancer. Red ribbons for AIDS. White, for ending violence against women.

Bracelets of every hue for any number of causes.

Last week I received multiple Facebook messages encouraging me to wear purple for epilepsy. I also vaguely remember being urged to wear denim for some reason. That one was easy, I always wear denim.

And now, even as I type, Earth Hour is upon us.

I am starting to feel like the small child in the story of The Emperor's New Clothes.

I am not disputing the worthiness of any of these causes, and for the purposes of this argument, let's assume global warming is real.

My question is, how does any of this help?

I know that ribbon campaigns are part of fund raising. That's fair enough. But once I've given the donation, how does my wearing the ribbon or the bracelet or the colour scheme help any further? By "raising awareness"? By providing a positive example encouraging others to follow my lead and make a donation? Maybe.. but is that enough to justify the hype surrounding these symbols?

By now I suppose everyone knows what the pink ribbon means. A yellow ribbon means I have a family member serving in the armed forces. But beyond that, colour association becomes confusing. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of colours and an unlimited number of causes.

If I wear a purple ribbon I could be fighting any number of things including lupus, fibromyalgia, homelessness, pancreatic cancer and cruelty to animals.

A blue ribbon could mean that my calf won first prize at the county fair, or else that I am against prostate cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and/or child abuse.

Clearly the method is being overused, with likely diminishing returns.

I am even more confused by the "wear this colour!" campaigns. Who is to know if I'm wearing purple because I'm in the mood for it, or because I support epilepsy research? And tell me someone please, exactly HOW does my wearing purple help anybody?

In many cases I don't even have to make an actual donation in order to use the symbols. I can put pink ribbons all over my website and Facebook page for free. I can dye my twitter avatar green in support of the Iranian revolution. Then again, the greenery might end up confusing people who might think I'm an environmentalist. Or really not feeling well.

Which brings us back to Earth Hour.

Last year I spent Earth Hour sitting alone in the dark. I felt ridiculous and promptly forgot about the whole ordeal to the extent that I had to re-learn what the whole thing was about this time around.

So much for "awareness".

I do believe that global warming, climate change or whatever they call it now is real, because any arguments to the contrary seem to come from those with vested economic interests in keeping things running full steam ahead. (If only we still ran on steam.)

But making a festival over turning lights off for an hour? On a Saturday night? Even the promoters acknowledge that the effect is symbolic.

Symbolic, and certainly nothing new. Turning off unnecessary lights, turning down the heat and air conditioning, and avoiding unnecessary driving are lifestyle changes I made decades ago. Besides, my personal carbon footprint is nothing compared to that of industry so why place the guilt on me, for leaving my lights (actually, only one light) and computer on during Earth Hour?

Let's have earth hour at 2 PM on a weekday and close all the mines and factories. Let's have public education about the consequences of our culture of acquisition not just in financial terms but with regard to the environmental impact it creates. Let's have people insist that governments enact appropriate legislation to protect both the environment and the economy, so that these vital imperatives are not working at cross purposes. Let's not have people think that turning off their lights for an hour once a year absolves them of any further responsibility towards the environment.

Oh and if you're lighting a candle to replace your electric lamp, do make sure it's made of soy or beeswax. Normal candles are made of paraffin, which is made from...

wait for it...

crude oil.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Cold as Ice

Recently, some members of the Canadian women's ice hockey team drew criticism for their manner of celebrating their gold medal win at the Olympics.

The ladies (and I use that term on purpose) ventured from the privacy of their locker room to the slightly less private ice rink (after the event had ended and spectators had departed) and engaged in some "eyebrow-raising activity".

The first eyebrow raised was that of an Associated Press reporter, who, smelling a story, went running to the IOC for their reaction.
This was the first the IOC had heard of the issue, and after making the required noises about "investigating", realized that what the girls did was actually milder than what the boys routinely do, (out in the streets IN PUBLIC), and quickly backed off.

Probably a smart move considering that barely a year after Michael Phelps was photographed smoking a "bong", the IOC quietly appointed him Youth Olympic Games Ambassador.

What then is the significance of this story? Is it about overly prudish sensibilities, the proverbial  double standard, or even more?

A look at the photos of the celebration reveals that the champions were still in their hockey gear, thoroughly enjoying the moment with the help of beer, cigars, their cell phone cameras and even a wayward Zamboni machine.

Not the stereotypical vision of female loveliness that western society generally entertains.

However, it's clear that these women were having fun - indeed, the time of their lives, and why not, on the heels of such a major accomplishment as winning an Olympic gold medal.

Having fun, dressed in bulky athletic uniforms, unshowered, with no makeup, and nary a man in sight.

Even worse, they were having fun doing guy things. Lying on their backs on the ice with their feet in the air. Drinking! Smoking cigars forheavensake.

The image of one female hockey player pouring champagne into the mouth of another was probably too much of a mixed metaphor for polite society to bear. Graphically sensual in deed but decidedly un-sexy in context.

Head. Must. Explode.

Had the players been sitting with their ankles crossed, demurely sipping white wine from crystal stemware, would there have been an outcry?

Clearly the issue isn't alcohol per se, since it's perfectly all right for the leader of the free world to enter into a bet on the outcome of the men's championship, in which the stake is A CASE OF BEER.

Gambling. Alcohol. All you need now is strike 3.

Interestingly, there has been no outcry that I have heard concerning the female figure skaters' skimpy outfits and the suggestive moves performed by the ice dance teams.
No outcry either for the skin-tight outfit worn at the closing ceremony by singer Nikki Yanofsky, who is only 16 years old.

A minor, one month short of the local legal drinking age? Scandalous.
A minor exuding sex appeal? That's cool, no problem with that.

And in too-perfect juxtaposition, the images at the top and bottom of this newspaper page. (I am referring to the "Sunshine Girl" who apparently changes every day, and whose photo, if you click on it, gets bigger. Or something.)

It's not just a double standard, male vs female at work here. It's a more insidious set of values where context is key, and what matters is not so much what is done but by whom, to what purpose and in what manner.

I don't mean to take the use of alcohol lightly. I do mean to highlight inconsistencies in values held by some segments of society and as always to shine some light on what I see as hypocrisy.