Everyone has seen them, and you probably own one. I’m talking about the magnetic ribbons you see on every other car nowadays and the rubber wristbands that nearly everyone wears.
The armbands remain one of the most popular fads around, the most ubiquitous being the yellow band by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong campaign to promote cancer awareness. So far, the Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised $85 million. Others exist, such as the white wristbands for One.org, which raises money and awareness for poverty in Africa, and the red bands for AIDS awareness. Approximately 55 million people around the world own a Livestrong band – just think of how many other bands people have bought.
The magnetic ribbons have been around since the ’90s when pink ribbons were produced to raise support for breast cancer research and yellow ribbons were created for supporting American troops in the first Gulf War.
The recent surge in the ribbons’ popularity began after Sept. 11, 2001, when the organization Americas & Americas, Inc. created the American flag ribbons as support for the victims of the terrorist attacks. With the success of those products, it expanded its Web site, www.flagsoncars.com, to include other awareness groups, hoping that it could offer them the same success.
Both the ribbons and armbands began as public awareness campaigns, but evolved into pop culture symbols and fell victim to fad status. Seeing this monetary success, other organizations and causes have tried to do the same thing, but most of their products have been overlooked because they are not the originals. Have you seen the rainbow-colored ribbons with teddy bears for child abuse awareness, the red band with paw prints for pet adoption, or the band colored with puzzle pieces for autism? Probably not.
The problem is that these causes are getting lost in the rubber shuffle because there are too many charitable causes embossed on wristbands floating about. There are people walking around with rainbows of colors on their arms and cars driving with five or six different ribbons.
As far as ribbons go, smaller causes have been able to raise some awareness and funds, while armbands have become more of a fashion statement than anything else. Some stores, like Spencer’s, are selling mock ribbons that say things like, “Support Pimpin’,” “Sex” and “Potheads.” You get the idea.
This is one of the consequences that can result when a charitable idea becomes engulfed by pop culture. Remember Vote or Die? Thousands of young people went to the concerts, bought the T-shirts and put the posters on their walls. But how many actually voted? How many of the people that went to Live 8 actually gave money to help eradicate poverty in Africa?
In reality, we all would (hopefully) want to help these charitable organizations in their causes and not let them become fads. The next inevitable support campaign will be for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Let’s actually give to this cause without expecting some cool wristband in return. Let’s do it for the intended reason: because we care.
Royce Shockley can be reached at Royce.Shockley@temple.edu.