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Crabby Old Lady on Awareness Junk

You could say that Crabby Old Lady is on a tear this week, what might be called a bitch roll. First Komen, then White House communication and today, awareness junk – the ribbons, car magnets, wristbands and other trinkets that trivialize cultural, political, medical and personal issues that deserve better.

Crabby got herself wound up in this topic coming off the Komen/Planned Parenthood brouhaha. She was interested to learn, from the trailer for the new Canadian documentary, Pink Ribbons, Inc., the origin of the pink breast cancer ribbon; it was the idea of Charlotte Haley, then appropriated by corporate America.

(The full Pink Ribbons, Inc. trailer is here.)

Crabby will get back to ribbons in a moment but long before there were awareness ribbons, there were bracelets. Crabby's first – um, awareness of them was in 1970, when people began wearing copper and nickel bracelets engraved with the names of American servicemen captured or missing in the Vietnam War.

A lot of effort went into finding names and dates for these bracelets. Here are two of three that are on display at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.

POW Bracelets

Today, bracelets are usually made of stretchy silicon and are only slightly less ubiquitous than ribbons used, in addition to disease awareness, as giveaways at birthday parties, weddings and as corporate swag. Crabby has seen people whose wrists are covered in half a dozen or more rubbery bracelets, each in a different color.

Find a Cure Crabby assumes the this pink silicon bracelet has escaped a lawsuit by Susan B. Komen For the Cure because the wording - Find a Cure instead of For the Cure - does not match the Komen trademark.

Red_ribbonThe first symbolic ribbons in the signature foldover shape that Crabby recalls seeing were red ones in early 1991 for AIDS/HIV awareness. Where she lived then, in Greenwich Village, they were suddenly on everyone's lapel and for a good portion of that 90s decade, the red ribbon was a fashion accessory without which no actor dared show up at the Academy Awards ceremony.

Diamond ruby aids pinWhen Crabby began writing this post, she had a vague recollection of having been disgusted back then at seeing some well-known person wearing a bejeweled red ribbon. A quick check around the web shows that her memory is probably intact on that subject. This diamond and ruby red ribbon sold at Christie's in 2000 for $21,837.

Goldred926Or, if that's too rich for your pocketbook, how about this ruby and 14K gold red ribbon to hang on your charm bracelet. It's a bargain, just $926.10 marked down from $1029 at

PinkjeweledbellybuttonringamazonThe pink ribbon is trademarked in Canada by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation so there are probably not as many variations of it there as in the U.S. Crabby's current favorite piece of cash-in-on-cancer junk is for sale from BodySparkle at Amazon, a pink “jeweled breast cancer awareness ring” for your belly button at $16.99.

There is no mention on any of these websites that the disease organizations get a dime of the price - expensive or cheap.

It is no longer just pink and red ribbons. There are dozens of colors for every conceivable disease and condition. When they ran out of colors, they started combining them into stripes and checks and other designs. Here is a tiny representation of ribbon types a screen grab of part of a long page at Google. There are thousands more.

Many Ribbons

While multitudes of colors have confused awareness of everything, ribbons are further debased by no longer representing one disease or condition, but many including, now, political issues.

100px-Green_ribbonGreen is for aging research awareness (did you know that? Crabby didn't), cerebral palsy, kidney cancer, Lyme disease among seven others.

100px-Orange_ribbonOrange is for ADHD, animal cruelty, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, malnutrition and – wait for it, self-injury.

100px-Blue_ribbonBlue now represents at least 15 problems, among them addiction, chronic fatigue syndrome, colon cancer, the Electronic Freedom Foundation for online free speech, von Hippel-Lindau and sex slavery.

Red_ribbonEven red stands for more than AIDS/HIV. It represents heart and stroke, substance abuse (not to be confused, Crabby is guessing, with addiction which is blue's responsibility) and vasculitis.

Gray-ribbonGray is for asthma, brain cancer, diabetes and – get this! - zombie awareness. That must be a joke, right?

But how could it be and still take real disease seriously. And that is, of course, part of what is wrong with all this. It's time to put away all ribbons and bracelets. They have become meaningless.

Now you might think all this puts Crabby in a really bad mood but you would be wrong. It is possible to be angry and not unhappy plus, all this talk of awareness ribbons has reminded Crabby of one of the best practical jokes she ever heard of.

100px-Yellow_ribbonIt happened some years ago when Crabby Old Lady's friend, Neil Thompson, noticed at a mall two identical SVUs SUVs parked next to one another. In every way but the license plates, they were indistinguishable except for the big, yellow, magnetic ribbon on the back of one.

If you knew Neil as well Crabby Old Lady does, you would easily understand that this was an irresistible opportunity for him. He checked to be sure no one was watching and as he strolled toward the store, casually plucked the ribbon from its mooring, plunked it in a similar position on the second car and continued on his way.

Crabby Old Lady thinks everyone should continue on their way without the awareness junk. It has long outlived its usefulness.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: A Lifetime of Speeding Tickets


I agree with you, but more junk would follow all the same.

I agree with you and the yellow ribbon thing particularly irks me as most of the time the person driving that vehicle is against higher taxes to cover the cost of the wars or the benefits for veterans, but a cheap yellow ribbon, oh that means patriotism.

There is so much of that out there like the bumper sticker-- my child is on the honor roll at such and such school. Okay, it's nice to be proud of your child but I always wonder do you get a new one each term or what if they fall off the honor roll?

Glad to see that COL is on top of things this morning. :)


You forgot one of the ribbons.

I wear the Puce colored one for ISOTS disease.

ISOTS = (I'm sick of this sh*t.)

I love Nancy's ribbon; but, even it will not make it to my car. Of all of the cars that I have owned, not one has ever sported an awareness logo or a bumper sticker - mostly because I don't wish for someone who disagrees with me to key my car. If I were going to sport a bumper sticker it would either be, "Abortion - keep it legal, safe, and rare" or "Show your support of physicists - repeal the law of gravity."

We are a junk gathering society. Some people's is just more expensive that others.

Oh, I didn't know there was a ribbon for asthma! Oh, wow, as an asthmatic I'd better run right out and get one!

But wait, it's gray. Who wants to wear a gray ribbon?

Wait some more, the gray ribbon is also for zombie awareness?

But I don't believe in zombies! How can I wear a ribbon for asthma if I don't believe in zombies? Are asthma and zombies somehow related?

I'm going to have to skip the gray ribbon, sad to say.

Actually, I've never worn any of those bracelets or ribbons. You're right, they long ago lost their usefulness.

Oh dear. Tucson adopted the ribbon logo and I have proudly displayed it at the top of the sidebar on my blog. It is black and white stripe. It is supposed to commemorate the terrible tragedy that occurred in our city due to gun violence. Maybe I should delete it.

It's always amazing how something good like a cure for cancer can quickly be commercialized.

Transferring that yellow ribbon is a hoot.

I always liked the bumper sticker that my late husband had and the only thing he would ever display on his truck. It said My Beagle Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student.

And by which ribbon shall we support common sense? Well put, COL, well put! ;)

Wheee -- glad to find others who think the very same way I do! I've always thought this was stuff and nonsense.

I do have one favorite bumpersticker, though -- "You call me a bitch like it's a bad thing"! And now there's a great blog called that. What fun!

Didn't you ever see the "Seinfeld" episode when Kramer refuses to wear the AIDS-walk ribbon? Hilarious!

While attending one of many mental health informational support gatherings decades ago, we were given "ghost" pins meant to symbolize the mystery of the disease.

It was a mystery then and continues to be today.

I never wore or thought much about it, but now, since reading this, will look to find it someplace tucked away in my jewelry box for all these years.

I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I get a major chuckle at my local car wash where they have a huge display of magnets on the side of the building that have fallen off of vehicles as they're cleaned.

And the bracelets are nothing less than ugly. Lance Armstrong started that trend, right?

I'll write a check to a cause that I really believe in before I'll spend the money on silly jewelry and bumper stickers.

Great post!

I have to agree with the comment on the commercialization of causes, and with the thought that if all these ribbons, bracelets, etc. were to disappear today, there would be plenty more to replace them tomorrow. Crummy little factories in China are probably cranking millions of these every day. One thing that this indicates that hasn't been mentioned, is the vast number of "fund raisers" who send stuff in the mail, or peddle it on the street or elsewhere, but aren't necessarily giving much or, in some cases, any, of the proceeds to any cause other than themselves.

Agree with you heartily, Ronni et al. The only sticker I have on my car is a blue circle with "Wag More, Bark Less." ;)

Awesome article. I began to wonder a long time ago as there are so many pink ribbons on products these days how much of it actually goes to the research of Breast Cancer. I'm fine with any cause - whether it's research or support or something else - so long as it is actually being attributed to a cause. It's almost a trend anymore to put pink on anything and say it's for a good cause ... but is it always?

This is America--we can commercialize ANYTHING! In general, I don't accept, buy or wear promotional "stuff" because what it tells me is that a lot of donors' money is being used for fundraising instead of the organization's cause.

The only items on my car are one low-key "Obama '08" (now '12) bumper sticker and a metallic cat applique. Yeah, my 10 year old Suzuki may get keyed by a tea party crazy but it hasn't happened yet. In this election year more than ever, Progressives need to show which side we're on in whatever way(s) we're comfortable with. There's strength in numbers. Doesn't the idea of "President Santorum" absolutely terrify you? It does me!

I agree and had a strange thought as I read Crabby Old Lady's comments. Are these ribbons our version of 'indulgences.' Pay a bit and get this visible symbol of your virtue and salvation.

And another thought: remember flag pins without which no politician dares appear in pubic? I have often thought it a cheap way for our political hypocrites to show off their patriotism without defining what they are actually patriotic about. I have a couple I got in the frenzy after 9/11 and gave up wearing in disgust soon after.

Only in America!! If we could bottle our "extreme" madness and sell it, we could probably pay off the country's debt and every other country's debt.

This is a little off-topic, but since you mentioned Neil Thompson's practical joke, I am reminded of an ex-girlfriend of mine who was a surfer.

As surfers are well known to be quite territorial and averse to all tourists she decided she was getting tired of seeing so many cars with "I heart NY" decals on them and would surreptitiously apply a little custom-made decal upon the decal of the heart -- it was a decal of a screw.

You are in a crabby mood, this week. COL. I can't get exercised about all the ribbon paraphernalia, but now that you mention it, it has been carried a little far,perhaps.

I always associated the origin of the ribbons for remembrance in recent times with the song "Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree", which was a gesture used during the Vietnam war.

I'm with you all the way. Get rid of all the stupid ribbons and bracelets! And LOVE the SUV story!

My favorite bumper sticker has always been one I saw years ago: "Nuke all unborn baby whales"

I work at a foundry where we get request for this kind of stuff all the time. Mostly belt buckles, pins, charms, etc. To be honest the people that order this sort of thing are some of my nicest customers. We've had everything from support hunting to awareness of neurological disorders. In the end It's about promoting a personal belief. This stuff can get annoying, but not as annoying as a Crabby Old Lady. ;)

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