Capitalizing on hope.
Indignant and subversive, Pink Ribbons, Inc. (based on the book by Samantha King) resoundingly pops the shiny pink balloon of the breast cancer movement/industry, debunking the ‘comfortable lies’ and corporate double-talk that permeate the massive and thus-far-ineffectual campaign against a disease that claims nearly 60,000 lives each year in North America alone.
The thrust of King’s thesis is that all the pink-themed walk-a-thons, parades, singing children and rose-lit monuments (the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls), actually do more harm than good. By putting a warm and fuzzy spin on the state of breast cancer, the public is distracted from some very ugly numbers: In 1940, a woman had a one-in-22 chance of developing breast cancer; today, the number is one in eight. Only 20%-30% of women with breast cancer have high-risk factors, which means no one really knows what causes the disease. The leading foundations involved in funding cancer research are peopled by representatives of the pharmaceutical, chemical and energy industries, so their ethics are inherently compromised.
The supposed beneficence of corporate-funded breast cancer campaigns often masks corporate guilt – Yoplait, for instance, of the ‘Save Lids To Save Lives’ campaign, had growth hormones in its yogurt until the company was embarrassed into taking them out; Estée Lauder has carcinogens in its cosmetics; the Ford Motor Co. virtually fills the atmosphere with suspicious chemicals. The single case that seems to outrage everyone in the film the most, perhaps because it’s just so clueless, was a pink-bucket promotion by Kentucky Fried Chicken, in which – as Breast Cancer Action chief Barbara Brenner puts it – ‘the disconnect was shocking.’
Along with such commentators as author and cancer survivor Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel And Dimed), Dr. Susan Love, Nancy Brinker of Susan G. Komen For The Cure (which has funneled $1.9 billion into fighting breast cancer and, as several people ask, for what?), the film also turns the spotlight over to ordinary cancer victims, one of whom puts the public-relations spin into very clear perspective. ‘The message,’ she says, ‘is that if you just try really hard, you can beat it. Just try really hard.’ Those who die, she adds, ‘weren’t trying very hard.’
All of this, the interviewees agree, is a distraction from what are probably the environmental causes of breast cancer, including industrial pollution, estrogen-imitating pharmaceuticals, plastics and recombinant bovine growth hormones, which are commonly found in dairy and meat products. And, director Léa Pool emphasizes, even as corporations continue to contribute to the problem, they make PR hay with pink products and pink promotions.
Pool structures her film conventionally, balancing scenes of pink-hued protests, T-shirts and products rallies with scathing comments by knowledgeable experts on the subject, as well as people who know how to spin their company line. Pool lets the offenders dig their own rhetorical graves; the only time she goes overboard is in juxtaposing her revelatory information with scenes of pink-clad women at anti-cancer events, which only serves to mock some very well-intentioned activism. Those activists may well be rechanneling their energies once Pool’s message gets to them.
– John Anderson, Variety