Today is July 4th, Independence Day here in the US. I told myself I wasn't going to spend the day online; my husband and I have a rare mid-week day off together, and plans to see fireworks this evening. But he's doing some volunteer work at the gallery where some of his photos are, and I'm hiding indoors from the 96-degree heat (plus humidity).
So I was looking at Facebook this afternoon when two different images came through my newsfeed and got me thinking.
In my professional life and my chosen hobbies, I'm a geek. An editor for a science fiction publisher. A gamer. A science fiction fan. A comics reader. An sf convention attendee, panelist and sometime organizer. For several years, I published a fanzine.
Geek culture: I'm soaking in it. See my post a couple of years ago about attending Dragon*Con, one of the biggest geek events on the East Cost, as a heart disease patient.
In 2009, I had something called a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, where the inner layer of the lining of my right coronary artery tore. The torn piece of arterial wall was sagging into the artery itself and blocking the flow of blood to my heart, which caused a heart attack.
Since 2009, most of my volunteer time and energy has gone toward raising awareness of heart disease, especially in women. I still attend several sf conventions every year, but especially in February--Heart Disease Awareness month--when I'm not at work, I'm usually doing something heart-related.
I've done a few things to bring heart disease awareness to geek culture. A friend of mine, Cherie Lambeth, and I have done a panel at some conventions on Being Fannish and Fit, on things like how to eat healthy on the road, how to put the game controller down and go play in the big blue room with the giant yellow light, working out while staying in a hotel, things like that. And I did a fanzine called A Change of Heart, which collected stories from my fellow fannish heart disease survivors.
Aside from those efforts, my heart disease activism and my geek life usually have very little overlap.
Today, though, they slammed together not once, but twice.
The first was this lolcat-esque macro:
When I first saw it, I had a moment of mental whiplash, thinking that heart disease awareness had somehow Vulcan mind-melded with Star Trek. In case you can't read it, the billboard says, "You deserve the redshirt treatment." In Star Trek, redshirts are expendable crewmen who get killed in large numbers, which is why it's funny that someone added Captain Kirk underneath saying "Do you want them all to die??"
Red is also the color of heart disease awareness, so when I see a health organization's billboard with red hearts on it, my first thought is that they're doing heart disease awareness, like so.
I've looked at the IH site and alas, their red shirts don't have anything to do with heart disease awareness, but it's a red heart on a health org's billboard, so my confusion is perhaps understandable.
The next example is less ambiguous:
Yes, a few months from now, some iconic Marvel characters will don pink for breast cancer awareness.
First, it should go without saying that I support everyone who's dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Cancer has taken its toll among my friends and family, and I think that breast cancer awareness in general is a good thing.
But really, when NFL players sport pink cleats, is there anyone on the planet who ISN'T aware of breast cancer?
Geeks are a very intelligent group; we don't need Thor or Captain America all pinked up to suddenly be more aware of breast cancer than we already are.
Given how dude-centric geek culture can be (examples here, here, and here), Marvel's probably going to take some grief for focusing on such a "girly" problem anyway, because clearly no women--or people who love them--ever read comics (which is a topic for another time and place).
My problem isn't with using geek cultural touchstones to get people's attention for breast cancer, though I wonder why Komen didn't try and get Lara Croft dressed in pink; I mean, everyone's looking at her boobs anyway--why not put something pink on 'em? Bonus for using Lara Croft--the other part of her anatomy that gets attention could be used to raise awareness for colon cancer...
My issue is that there's a huge disparity between what people perceive to be women's greatest health threat, versus what it actually is. Ask the average woman on the street what she thinks her biggest health threat is, and she'll most likely say "breast cancer."
And she'll be wrong. Over 435,000 women in the US die every year from heart disease. Around 40,000 die from breast cancer. Do the math; 10x as many women die from heart disease as from breast cancer.
We don't need Captain America to save the ta-tas. We need him to save our hearts.