Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Hey baby, wanna do it?

We’ve spent some time talking about Mark Edwards’ Sylvia Browne stunt and that bra color Facebook thing. Seems most people agree that these are ridiculous stunts and pretty useless at best, and annoying and offensive at worst.

But supporters of these things (performances? campaigns? stunts? hoaxes?), like Mark Edwards himself, say that at least he/they did something… even if they left the rest of us baffled as to what that something was and what it was supposed to do. If nothing else, they created a buzz and heated some tempers.

Is doing something, anything at all, always better than doing nothing? Was doing something better than doing nothing in these cases?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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60 Comments

  1. Is doing something, anything at all, always better than doing nothing?

    Yes. I think people use fear of looking ridiculous or not achieving a defined goal as a rationalization for doing nothing. I’ll almost always side with the person who is trying something over the armchair critics.

    Was doing something better than doing nothing in these cases?

    I don’t believe that breast cancer needs more awareness or that increased awareness will help anyone, but this just means I’m not inclined to pitch in and help. Kudos to the Bra-color folks for trying something positive for a cause they believe in.

  2. These “somethings” don’t exist in a vacuum.

    In Mark’s case, he essentially just made himself look like a childish fool, and even though it was kind of funny, he didn’t really do anything — he basically did a whole lot of nothin’.

    When it comes to the bra color b.s., I personally think it really didn’t do much of anything, and what good it may have done is still colored by the fact that the “campaign” is objectifying women to further it’s cause.

    Doing “something” that involves, say, objectifying women, is worse than doing nothing at all, because it gives the impression that objectifying women is a-ok as long as it’s for a “good cause.” Objectifying women doesn’t suddenly become okay when it’s attached to a cause that’s seen as noble.

    Like PETA. They do far more harm than good. Their campaigns are perhaps some of the most blatantly sexist I’ve ever seen, and many of them are racist to boot. Again, sexism and racism aren’t suddenly okay just because it’s for a “good cause”. It’s still sexist, and it’s still racist.

    There are other ways to get a point across that don’t involve objectifying women. Just because it’s a “good cause” does not mean suddenly sexism is okay. A “good cause” does not somehow neutralize the negatives of objectifying women and using sexism, or, like PETA, being racist.

  3. No. Doing something isn’t always better. Sometimes bad things happen. People are hurt, funding is cut off, lives are lost.

    Something isn’t always better. I did something is an excuse to not do the right thing.

  4. @davew: So when, say, PETA uses blatant racism, it’s totally okay, because, hey, at least they are doing something?

    http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/02/peta-and-racism.html

    That kind of shit is never okay.

    Just because you are trying to promote a cause that’s seen as noble doesn’t justify using sexism or racism, or anything else offensive. These things have a negative impact on our society, and using them to promote a cause that actually might do some good just makes it worse.

    Kudos to the Bra-color folks for trying something positive for a cause they believe in.

    Objectifying women is not positive.

    Concentrating on saving the tatas instead of saving women and people is not positive.

    Using women and their breasts as nothing more than sexual objects is not positive.

  5. Just doing something is a poor excuse for not doing something useful. We all have a desire to be a part of the solution but so few actually get off their buts and help.

    Have you raised money?
    Have you helped out in a soup kitchen?
    Have you volunteered to work with the less fortunate?

    Or did you just type something clever into your FB account and feel good about your self?

    Sorry but that doesn’t cut it. You’re not obligated to help out, but you should show those that do help the courtesy of not pretending to be equal to them in that department.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and masturbate for world peace. Almost there, so close.

  6. @PrimevilKneivel: & @Elyse: “”

    Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing nothing, especially if that something is harmful to your cause or the point is lost on the public.

    As believers in science, we want keep the discovery institute from spread inaccurate information, right? Blowing up their building is doing something, but not something good. That’s where religious people go. I can’t stop people from having abortions, so I’ll kill an abortion doctor.

    And then, there’s the completely uselss, such as the bra thing. Really-how is that going to raise awareness? By thinking of your breasts? Men are thinking of your breasts all the time, and what good has that done? Well, I want the STD rates do go down, so, what am I going to do? Give free meals of sausage and chicken. It would be lost on the people I’m trying to help.

  7. When Mark said “..and they’re pissed!” he managed to get across the loathing that these people would feel if they knew their deaths were being used to exploit their loved ones. I was so with him for that moment.

    Sure it could have been handled better but given the amount of time (and security present), it is hard to say what that might have been.

    It was bra color? For breast cancer? Cute idea. But does “raising awareness” work? Who isn’t aware of breast cancer and pro-active preventative measures? I have always wondered what percentage of the funds raised by these campaigns go to actual research or treatment.

  8. When my girlfriend Delores was all seized up on the sidewalk outside Epcot Center, sure, I could have done nothing. I could have just waited there like an idiot until someone with medical credentials arrived to not only figure out what was wrong with her, but to try and fix it. But I chose instead to jump up and down on her abdomen. Did I take off my Docs? No, that would have wasted valuable time. Plus, thieves. But at least I did SOMETHING! All those other people just stood there screaming, “Stop! Stop!” But that barely qualifies as an activity. I was in there, elbow deep in life. Well, knee deep in Delores’ stomach. But still. I did a thing! And can you blame me for throwing all my business cards into the crowd? I’m a freelancer, and I have to take advantage of whatever attention I can get. Those do-nothings might need a nice looking WordPress site one of these days. That’s just the economic reality, people. Carpe diem, I always say.

  9. Sure, it’s a blog post by a women who recently had a double masectomy due to breast cancer who felt that women in her situation were left out of the whole thing because they don’t wear bras. She also called for “less awareness, more action”.

    Did it reach anyone? Was there anybody on facebook who was not aware of breast cancer that became so because of people sharing their bra colours?

  10. I don’t know. I can see where stunts and publicity campaigns can be useful in reminding others to participate in fundraising. On the other hand, if everyone is just doing facebook memes and no one is, y’know, actually funding cancer research, then the balance might be tipped a bit too much to one side.

  11. I’d like to say that I was talking with a coworker about this today, and she said she heard it was something about gay marriage. To me, it kinda seems like the “breast cancer awareness” thing and the “gay marriage” thing are just ad hoc rationale.

  12. Wait, wait, wait. Masturbation can bring about world peace? Why isn’t this getting more play in the media? Okay, we need to set up a movement. Who has video cameras and wants to join me in a cyber circle jerk for world peace?

  13. @marilove:Like PETA. They do far more harm than good. Their campaigns are perhaps some of the most blatantly sexist I’ve ever seen, and many of them are racist to boot. Again, sexism and racism aren’t suddenly okay just because it’s for a “good cause”. It’s still sexist, and it’s still racist.

    This has nothing to do with the original post but THIS. You don’t know how frustrating it is in the animal rights community to be taken seriously when you have those idiots running around.

  14. Raising awareness…and then what?

    Ok so people are aware of boobs and cancer. Is there any evidence that this actually impacted the number or amount of donations to breast cancer research?

    Sometimes I feel like people come up with these things with no end point.

  15. This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone trying to argue that the means justify the means.

    It also might be the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Throw all morality overboard. You could literally justify any action with this kind of cloudy thinking. If you feel like doing it, do it! Why not? It’s better than doing nothing.

    “At least Sylvia Browne is doing something for the grieving.”

    “At least homeopaths are doing something for terminal cancer patients.”

    “At least Hitler did something about Germany’s economy.”

    Sorry, Mark. You’ve followed an awful publicity stunt with an even worse explanation.

  16. @Bookitty:

    “When Mark said “..and they’re pissed!” he managed to get across the loathing that these people would feel if they knew their deaths were being used to exploit their loved ones. I was so with him for that moment.”

    No. You can’t possibly speak for these dead victims. You can’t possibly know or assume that they’d have been angry about Sylvia Browne. I could just as easily say they’d have been pissed about a skeptic using their names for a publicity stunt.

    Sylvia Browne doesn’t speak for the dead.

    Neither does Mark Edward.

    Neither do you.

    Neither do I.

    You can say how you’d feel if it was your dead relative, but you can’t say how anyone else feels unless they told you so themselves. Any one of these victims could have been the biggest Sylvia fan in the world, the biggest anti-skeptic in the world. Unless you have inside knowledge that we don’t, then please don’t be a cheerleader for what dead victims would feel or how their families feel.

  17. Wow . . .I think maybe ya’ll are over thinking the bra thing. It was a meme. A chance to be provocative. LOL

    My mom just died of breast cancer a few months ago and while I did post my bra color, I never gave it any thought as anything but one of the many memes that play themselves out over my Facebook Live Feed every day.

  18. I think I ran into this particular sort of reasoning in an episode of Yes, Minister. You can justify anything with an argument that goes:

    prop 1. Something must be done.
    prop 2. This is something.
    Therefore, we must do this.

    Politician’s syllogism, I think it’s called.

    We are well past the point where we need to raise awareness on some issues. We are, in fact, at the threshold of the much more difficult ‘get of ass and accomplish something’ stage.

    It is beyond human imagination that there exist people that lack awareness of breast cancer and have both the capacity and desire to be made aware. It would have been better, I think, to channel the energy expended on the ‘Great Bra Color Disclosure of 2010’ onto something slightly more productive.

    Mind, considering the amount of effort required to update your Facebook status the total energy expended doesn’t seem to be exactly overwhelming.

  19. I don’t get the awareness raising thing by itself. If you are going to participate in a meme, or a prank or some other gesture, have your back story ready and some follow-up information.

    Shine your light and tell the story.

  20. There are reactions and there are positive actions. For example, if my car is covered in snow, I could react by jumping and down and screaming. On the other hand, I could brush the snow off my car, which would make drivable. That would be a positive action.

    So to me, it’s not enough to do something. You should always try to do something positive in the face of a problem.

  21. In my opinion “Raising Awareness” = Cheap Signalling. Its the sort of thing people do when they care more about showing that they care about a problem, than they actually care about fixing the problem.

    Most of the Big Problems in the world are too complicated to be amenable to easy fixes. If you care about fixing a Big Problem, the first thing you should do is learn as much as you can about the problem and its likely causes, so you can take actions that actually make it better.

    To take an example, I’ve studied environmental economics and if environmental activists knew what I knew, the world would be a better place (and the environmental movement would have quite different priorities).

  22. Now that I finally know what it is about, I find it kind of silly. However, all of the ladies I know who posted their color(s) also organized a Relay for Life team and collected funds, so they aren’t just thinking that one signal is enough.

  23. @davew: Aww… did you come all the way from 1997 with your dial up AOL connection to write that? Adorable!

    It’s not very clever to type “Godwin” every time you read “Hitler”. If your blog responses can be replaced by a single line of perl, I think that’s probably a sign that you should try harder.

    Or maybe you should take a break and watch 7th Heaven or listen to Counting Crows.

  24. @Surly Nymph: Yes! That’s another great point: If your M.O. is ridiculous campaigns — either just plain inane, or otherwise offensive like PETA — you risk affecting the entire cause.

    PETA has essentially made two sides to the animal rights movement: For or against PETA. PETA has taken over, and more reasonable campaigns are all but ignored.

    This is not good. This is a great example of “Doing something, anything, is not always better than doing nothing.”

    If PETA wasn’t around, then the more positive campaigns and non-profits might actually take center stage. As it is, when people say “animal rights” – you almost immediately think “PETA.” And in my opinion, that’s not a good thing.

  25. Can’t help thinking about a scene from MASH. They’re under enemy fire and Frank Burns starts to panic…

    Frank: “We need to do something! Anything!”
    Hawkeye: “I agree with Frank, let’s do anything.”

  26. I think what people are losing sight of in the original question are the reasonable assumptions that the people “doing something” are:

    – not idiots
    – actually trying to help

    All of the cartoonish counterexamples above violate one or both of these. I’m surprised no one brought up the WKRP Turkey Drop. I think society suffers more from inactivism right now. We would benefit greatly from more people trying to accomplish more things even if some of it is misguided and/or futile. I think about this every time I pass a freezing college student with a clipboard on the mall. I usually have no interest in their cause, but I do admire their effort.

  27. @davew: Yeah but I simply don’t approve of people changing their status update and than claiming they are doing something.

    Do some thing, please. Just don’t pretend, it’s insulting to those that actually do help.

    Now according to the news there’s still violent injustice in Darfur, I’ve got work to do.

  28. I’m not sure why people are so offended by the bra color thing. I don’t think it’s offensive to the cause or women- in fact, most of the women in my family participated in this little meme. For us, it was more of a bonding experience- we got to stand together and do something stupid and fun and feminine and feel good about it. Yes, I agree that posting your bra color does nothing for curing cancer, and I also agree that breast cancer does not need anymore awareness. My husband and I already participate in Race for the Cure and try to donate money to these things when we can. So participating in an act that can be socially cohesive does not appear to be harmful in my point of view. If you think it’s stupid or offensive, just don’t do it.

  29. @marilove: PETA actually thinks they are helping.

    But they aren’t.

    I’m deeply conflicted about PETA and to a lesser extent Greenpeace. (I save my donations for organizations like Nature Conservancy and NPCA that I’m more sanguine about.) A lot of the stuff PETA does and says seems batshit crazy, but I haven’t been persuaded that they do more harm than good. Sometimes crazy is effective. I cite the literature on Captain “Howling Mad” Murdock on this point. I will agree, however, that PETA has provided plenty of ammunition to the people trying to make the case they do more harm than good.

  30. @Nini44:

    I’ve discussed the offensiveness of the bra color thing more than I care to… but the problem with it boils down to the fact that it completely excludes women who had mastectomies to cure or prevent breast cancer while completely ignoring one of the most emotionally and socially devastating treatments for breast cancer (that also happens to be one of the more effective treatments for it.)

    Promoting breast cancer awareness that mocks women who have lost their breasts (intentionally or not) isn’t very nice… in fact, it’s pretty offensive. And promoting breast cancer awareness in a way that completely ignores a major treatment and preventative measure is a very strange promotion.

  31. @marilove: PETA is SO embaressing! Like this fairly recent thing that Newkirk is doing saying she wants her skin made into purses etc. when she dies. YES, I get why she is doing it but do you HONESTLY think people will take you seriously saying things like that. And who in their right mind is going to go “Woah! Pamela Anderson and Alicia Silverstone are NAKED for ANIMALS! I am TOTALLY going to be a vegetarian now!”

    WHAT?!

    @davew: A lot of the stuff PETA does and says seems batshit crazy, but I haven’t been persuaded that they do more harm than good. Sometimes crazy is effective

    I think the thing is PETA used to be a decent organization. They did things that really helped spread the message in an understandable manner. Lately though (and after the cofounder left in disagreement) Newkirk has been trying deperately to use the same marketing tactics that businesses use — which make them look rediculous. Maybe you can sell beer with a naked woman but something as serious as animal rights is going to take more than shlocky (and sometimes offensive) gimmicks.

  32. @davew: Anyone who believes they are “not an idiot” and “trying to help” can and should do whatever they feel like in the name of their pet cause with no obligation to think about how the message will be received or consider any possible moral hazards?

    That filter should work perfectly. In my experience most people believe themselves to be morons deliberately trying to ruin the world.

  33. @davew: PETA has become a huge fucking joke. There really are only two sides, now, to the animal rights movement: For PETA, or against animal rights altogether. There isn’t much in between. The reason for this is because PETA has become synonymous with Animal Rights.

    They don’t just provide ammunition: They do actual harm.

  34. Here is my problem with the “provocativeness” of the bra meme.

    I spend a lot of time and energy into being sexually provocative. It is not something you can just go and there and do, you really have to be creative.

    There was no creativity in the meme. Sure you can post the color of your bra. However, if you REALLY want the boys to pay attention, post the color of your bra after your most recent skeptical bukkake session.

    They just took no pride in their provoking of men’s penises. And I think we all know just how hard it is to provoke a man’s penis.

  35. @Elyse:
    Ok, so I admit that I didn’t think of it in that way… I just went back and read the posts from the earlier discussion and I stand corrected. It does seem odd to be doing something in the name of breast cancer that doesn’t take into account the women who have actually lost their breasts because of it… I have watched quite a few female family members struggle with cancer but none of them had breast cancer, so I think my reaction to the stupid facebook thing was actually about standing with other people in the name of something- obviously without completely thinking about it first. I am still not sure that bra colors and facebook mean that much in the grand scheme of things though…

  36. you know if he only made himself feel good, and did no real harm, that it was worth it.

    If he got people thinking .. which he did… and about more than him (despite suggestions otherwise) like say this blog post, then he did good.

    Even if all that results is “hey, this wasn’t that good, what would you do instead”.. that’s a plus and better than sitting on your hands.

    Even Martin Luther King made a few mistakes in his civil disobediance plan for civil rights. In one case famously so, where there was a protest in a town where the police and sherriff did NOTHING and just let everyone protest and go home. Nothing for the news crews to film, peaceful protest, blah…King had to rethink and retool a bit.

    Point is that trying and failing is better than not trying at all. We learn by our failures (though not everyone considers his actions a “failure”). If you are too scared to try anything because everyone with a blog is going to point out all the flaws, and goodness, don’t ever take a risk or risk looking a fool or risk failure…well I’m sure glad that scientists have a few more balls then skeptics.
    Our society is so focused on success, but success is often because of what we learned from our failures.

    Plus, freedom of expression..a little bit of 60’s “if it feels good do it” in life isn’t a bad thing.

  37. @davew:

    I think what people are losing sight of in the original question are the reasonable assumptions that the people “doing something” are:

    – not idiots
    – actually trying to help

    These assumptions are insufficient. I would ague that most major problems are so complicated no one knows how to fix them, and pretty much anything anyone does to try to solve them is either futile or counter-productive. The only productive outlet for activity in that case is to research the problem in the hope of finding a solution. But lets face it, that takes work and doesn’t have a lot of signalling value, so it doesn’t interest most people.

  38. I don’t really understand what’s offensive. We can’t talk about bras now because someone who has had a mastectomy may be offended?

    Society has become hysterically, politically correct. I would also dare to say slightly patronising too.

    There are far more offensive things on facebook, like the generic, hysterical groups that seem to pop up every 5 mins. Generally, the titles are poorly spelled and grammatically incorrect.

    Mine was gold tassles that whirled by the way. :)

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