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I was so busy remembering that November is the month to remember stuff, I forgot all the stuff I was supposed to be remembering

November 9, 2013

Hey, guess what – November rhymes with “remember”! What a funny coincidence. It’s the month of Movember (no shave November), World AIDS Day, Remembrance Day (then Trans Remembrance Day) and the 5th of November here in the UK, the day when we inexplicably fuse firework displays with the burning of an effigy of a man who once expressed distaste for the government, by way of a failed terrorist plot. These days turrr’ism (US pronunciation) is a much bigger deal, so perhaps we should be burning effigies of other more recent figures. I guess that would be barbaric, or something. But Guy Fawkes is old, so it doesn’t matter.

Disregarding quaint and curious customs of questionable morality, we all get a bit caught up in this remembering mumbo-jumbo. I read a letter on a newspaper letters page the other day which involved someone banging on about MPs wearing their poppies too early, a rebuttal claiming we should wear them all year round – the earlier, the better – and another bitching about all the people who were wearing their poppy wrongly. The leaf is supposed to be in the 11’o’clock position, dammit! It’s not a coincidence! I advise all poppy manufacturers to put a stop to this heinous etiquette breakage by making all poppies with a This Way Up sign, plus a pin on the leaf that stops the flimsy pieces of paper slipping down into a naughty 7’o’clock position. 7’o’clock! Men didn’t lose their lives so you could wear leaves in the 7’o’clock position! They lost their lives so you could wear them in the 11’o’clock position, which is right and proper and comes in time with tea and biscuits. It was a worthy cause.

Do people who pay for poppies know where the money goes to? After all, the people we’re buying them for are dead. It’s getting to the point now where even the people who knew them before they died are also dead. UK soldier death currently quite uncommon, enough to make news when 2+ die in a conflict. Injury has got to be covered by health care and taxes. Poppies are more than the price of their parts, an expensive trinket to be all self-congratulatory about the fact that you “remember” all the people who have died – never mind that we never knew them and this is one more unjustified outpouring of grief for people that have nothing to do with us. We live to revel in death and then judge other people for not doing the same.

As for “appreciating their sacrifice”, well, your average child living now has no concept of their sacrifice. It’s a difficult thing to teach and adults may learn to understand it with the use of historical knowledge and empathy, or they may not. Two minute silences in schools are an excuse to daydream and shuffle around rather than work, not a period of remembrance. Like thanking God during prayer, children may follow the lead of adults without engaging with the meaning behind it or the reason for it, only to become apathetic about it because it was something forced upon them when they were too young to care. You don’t have to worry about forcing these complex notions onto kids to aid their learning. There’s a reason why we still tell fairy tales.

We have this idea in our head about these “heroes” who died for us, like Jesus. What’s the betting your average soldier sprawled in the mud wasn’t thinking about future generations of kids sitting about in schools picking their noses for two minutes? More likely the were fearing for their lives, regretting their decision to sign up, and feeling pissed off that they were lied to about the horrors of war. If we’re being realistic, it’s pity we should feel and not pride; if someone was thrown blind-folded into a china shop and came out with sliced-up hands, we wouldn’t call them a hero just because they lived.

But we don’t value pity, we think of it as being a condescending attitude for someone who stood their ground and fought for survival. The problem with that is that it puts the emphasis on the wrong place; instead of engaging in the horrors of war and growing to view it as a necessary evil and a last resort, still lurks in the back of our mind the image of the brave a heroic soldier Fighting for His Country. “Her Country”, now, too – the fight for gender equality now allows women the privilege of fearing for their lives in a muddy ditch or baking desert.

Not that we need much help fostering our own hero culture, but it’s worth remembering that state powers have a vested interest in letting us think that soldiers are heroes, as if it wasn’t for that, considerably fewer people would join. The army does other work in peace-keeping and negotiation, but judging by the current adrenaline-pumped Join the Army adverts, the promoters are counting on people who are excited by the prospect of all those dynamic, war-ry things that soldiers do. Moreover, all the “make a difference” stuff preys on those with low self esteem and no life direction – those who think becoming a soldier will make them a better person in general.

Then we come to the last and weirdest – Movember. I don’t know about you, but nothings reminds me of a gland in a man’s butthole like a patch of fur on the upper lip. Don’t get me wrong; sponsoring or getting sponsored for charity is one thing. It’s very laudable. I question the effectiveness of it; I usually sponsor people to do something quite hard, like running a marathon in a hotdog suit. Simply not shaving seems a bit too easy. Or maybe I’m just jealous because, although I can grown fine and hearty stubble on my chin, my upper lip thrusts away hairs like an extra powerful leaf-blower. But I genuinely wonder how many people do sponsor someone to grow a ‘tache. I do know a transwoman who is planning to do it – since that’s a pretty courageous thing to do considering her gender journey, I’d say that was well worth sponsoring

Most people don’t bother looking for sponsors, though. They just take it as an excuse to grow a ‘tache for larks. Which is fine, but let’s not pretend it has anything to do with awareness. Anyone who knows about prostate cancer, like me, is either too busy growing a moustache or watching the overload of facial hair with weary eyes to engage with the reasoning behind it. Those who don’t know about Movember are unlikely to notice a moustache, thinking it’s just a new fashion. The ones who do know about it but don’t know what it’s in aid of yet probably don’t care and won’t bother to find out more, since they are probably people with only a glancing interest in world issues. People who do know about prostate cancer but think that it’s a cancer you get from laying on your front for too long aren’t really having their awareness raised by someone who’s picked up an unnerving collection of fluff on their face.

I suppose what irritates me is not so much the thing itself, but the pretence of it, or worse, the judgement. I don’t have a moustache, so I must not care about prostate cancer, or cancer in any of its forms (since one terminal illness is like to the next). You do have one, so you do. It’s just too simplistic. Charity fund-raising in this way is essentially just cultish marketing. And it has its place for raising money; look at Comic Relief, one of the most successful.

It’s not successful because it’s funny (largely because it isn’t), it’s successful because we spend hours and hours fostering a false sense of community spirit about The Suffering Of The World and how Much We Care, complete with all the emphatic yelling that makes you think that the same dimwits that sit in the X Factor audience have just shuffled their way over from the other studio. It works because people that you know from the box, who have about twenty times as much money as you, look deep into your soul and beg. The ironic thing is, when the people who actually need this money for themselves take up a fraction of the amount of time to do the exact same thing for a fraction of the amount of money, we walk on by with our noses in the air and call them free-loading drug addicts. So much for this culture of compassion we all share.

Awareness and fund-raising shouldn’t be confused because they are not the same thing. Awareness is for teaching people about what happens; where is a prostate, what is it, who is most at risk, how can you prevent it. A moustache doesn’t tell you this, any more than a red ribbon teaches you about AIDS and HIV. You need education and flyers and all that stuff. When you mix fund-raising and awareness, you cheapen the awareness into something hysterical and useless, where people weep and shriek and exaggerate all the facts in order to squeeze more money.

Then you cloud the fund-raising attempt by talking about things people are not equipped to care about a) because they have not been properly educated b) because it isn’t affecting them right now, because they are happy and c) because all they want is to dress up as something silly and run around for a bit. Who knows where the money for RAG week goes – people don’t really care. They are paying for the entertainment value of seeing students fuck about. Whether or not the proceeds go to charity is pretty much an added bonus (to some) and by no means the driving force of any RAG week donation.

And all you people who get your charity on once a month and jump out at people from behind bins rattling a bucket, I hope you’re having fun and heightening your self esteem, but please don’t be having a go at people who can’t quite see the point or value. We all care, to some extent, about some world issues but if we all cared about the same things to the same extent, some charities would simply fail – there would startling array of stray cats and dogs wandering the streets, and a lot of cold old folks. You have to let people come round to your way of thinking without looking down on them, nagging them and making a fuss that alienates them from your cause.

Did I know about AIDS when I was 15? Did I care about the stigma forced on people who contracted it? Not really. I came round to that myself by learning. And it certainly wasn’t a bucket or a ribbon that taught me.


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