DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: RUN FOR THE CURE IS A SMOKESCREEN

I’m going to be honest. This will not be a popular opinion.

I’m opposed to a lot of aspects surrounding CIBC’s Run For The Cure. I think, in many ways, it’s a phony, hypocritical event that accomplishes very little of a substantive nature.

Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t support cancer. Cancer is one of the absolute worst afflictions any person can ever get, regardless of their gender or background. Breast cancer is a particularly heinous form of cancer that kills thousands of women (and a small minority of men, too) every year in Canada. So in no way, shape or form do I think cancer is a good thing or that people shouldn’t be actively trying to stop it. Especially with the rising tide of Baby Boomers entering their golden years, there’s more of a need now than ever to find ways to beat cancer.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s why Run For The Cure is a bad thing for women, bad for public health and a smokescreen for the real issues involving cancer research.

Samantha King, a professor at Queen’s, wrote a book in 2006 that got profiled in the Alumni Review, called Pink Ribbon Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy.

She made a very strong, fascinating, controversial argument that shows how corporations have effectively turned breast cancer into a public relations exercise that masks the event’s real goals with heartfelt, sometimes emotionally manipulative, stories of cancer survivorship.

What are those real goals? Well, as in so many cases like these, corporate “community outreach” is an effective means in which to push product, as well as promote an ideology of private enterprise actively taking a role in cause-related marketing. Don’t think for a minute you’re not susceptible to those realities: Becel Margarine recently had a campaign on television featuring how a portion of margarine sales would go to cancer research, complete with fresh-faced women of all ages in a harmonious circle of sisterhood. Funny how that involves buying something in the process, no?

In reality, the seemingly bullet-proof strategy of having pure-at-heart motives with breast cancer awareness raises very disturbing questions. How is the Run For the Cure actually helping people? What does the money people raise with good intentions accomplish? Do we know where the money actually goes? Why should corporations – food companies like Becel, banks, et al – be trusted with this sort of thing in the first place? And why aren’t people asking hard questions like these more often?

Bear in mind two things here: one, it’s not really fair to attack people in the non-profits or corporations who have laudable goals here. Two, it’s also unfair to attack people participating in the event, as they’re there for good reasons too.

However, it’s becoming more and more clear that CIBC’s Run For The Cure, as the most visible example, doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much in the way of cancer research or progress. It’s a feel-good way to make you think you’re doing positive. But does it really?

The real problem here, as King outlines, is how the private sphere is taking the good intentions of people and pushing a corporate agenda that divests public investment into substantive medical research. The private sector cannot and will not invest in causes that deflate their market share. That’s pretty common sense. But where things become particularly sinister is how many of the same companies that push breast cancer awareness days like Run For The Cure are actively involved, as King says, in opposing public health efforts.

Instead of treating the causes of breast cancer – which are rising at an alarming rate in our dirty, polluted, “developed” world of Canada – we’re resorting to superficial efforts like Run For The Cure that don’t really do anything when it comes to actually understanding and defeating cancer. Instead of pushing an ideology of public investment in unbiased, non-corporate medical research, we’re resorting to banks and food companies to help us? More to the point, when was the last time you ever heard, publiclly, where all that money raised by good people has gone to and what the results have been? Why hasn’t this been disclosed broadly?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Of course, the standard argument against this perspective is that people are busy and whatever one person can do to help, Run For The Cure allows. But in truth, people are not informed enough about where their fundraising efforts go. They’re also putting the cart before the horse: what sense does it make, as a society, to treat a symptom before a cause? Why not push an agenda of a cleaner environment, stronger investments into public health research? In other words, be informed about what you’re doing and don’t assume a corporation has angelic intentions. They’re pushing an image – not a cure.

Why am I even writing about this? Because after everything we’ve seen in the past month with the chaos on Wall Street, worldwide credit markets seizing up, et al, it’s about time people stopped letting unchecked private interests controlling our public interest. The neo-conservative revolution of the 1990s is dead. We need to put corporate interests back in balance with the public good.

And even charitable events like Run For The Cure need to be held to account.

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