Monday, March 21, 2011

Why do we do what we do

I was watching the telly the other night. Either a baseball show or a Hawaii Five-O rerun; you can't go wrong either way. In the midst of the entertainment it came time for the networks to pay the bills- commercial time. Trucks? Damn you, Bob Seger, I haven't been able to listen to Like A Rock for years. "Feminine stuff"? My daughter is eight, I don't have to worry about that yet. Outback Steakhouse? Yeah, I can deal with this.

Outback Steakhouse supports the troops! Well, tell me something I don't know. Everyone "supports the troops" these days. But Outback Steakhouse is different. If you order from the Red, White and Bloomin' menu they will use the proceeds to support the troops. Nobel cause? Possibly. But wait, there's more. In the midst of the grandstanding and back-patting, five seconds of tiny type appeared at the bottom of the screen. Thank you, DVR, you give me the ability to finally read the fine print. "5% of the proceeds of food items ordered from the Red, White and Bloomin' menu between (date 1) and (date 2) will go to (some vet group)."

What the hell?

Am I the only one who sees through this empty gesture? If a family of four decides that Uncle Jackov in Afghanistan needs their help, and therefore they will order that night's dinner from the local Outback to the tune of $80, Private Jackov and his buddies see $4. And Outback will pocket $76. Noble gesture? More like a way to prey on the country's emotions to improve their profit margin.

It gets worse. Apparently some Facebook genius has decided that it would be a fine idea to start a campaign. Facebook campaigns are a dime a dozen these days, but this one has a familiar ring- wear red on Fridays to show that "we support our troops". And to facilitate the support, companies are already marketing "support the troops" red t-shirts for the occasion. For the low price of $22, you too can show the rest of your community that you care!

Two thoughts here. One, guys in red shirts have traditionally been the ones to die first. When has Star Trek steered me wrong? This campaign wasn't thought through very well. And second…


Seriously. How? I'll let you think about it for a moment.

OK, ready for the answer?

It doesn't. But it does make the shirt wearer appear to be caring, and that seems to be the whole point. We don't have to do anything to support the troops, as long as it looks like we do. If someone thinks we're supporting them, that's all that matters.

"But at least I'm doing something. It raises awareness."

No, you aren't doing anything! Don't you see? Wearing a red shirt does not comfort a soldier not sleeping in the desert in the dead of night because they're missing their girl. It doesn't mow the lawn of a military wife who busy with three children and one on the way. It doesn't give a hug to the seven-year-old child who is thinking "I don't give a flying rat's ass about your red shirt, my daddy promised to take me fishing and I've been waiting for two and a half years!"

And let's talk about awareness for a moment. Umm, awareness has been raised. I can't take three steps outside my house without hearing about how I need to thank the troops. I can't watch tv without hearing Gary Sinise tell me how Golden Corral is serving our troops… by giving them a free meal. When a soldier dies overseas and his/her funeral is held, the whole town comes out to be seen, err, "show support". I think we're aware.

Awareness. We substitute our Facebook profile picture for one of a Japanese flag. For awareness. We post the places we like to do the dance with no pants… err.. the places we "put our purse". For breast cancer awareness. We wear blue jeans every other Wednesday. For prostate cancer awareness. Oh wait… no, we don't. Prostate cancer doesn't have its own publicity firm. You guys with prostate cancer? You can just go sit in the corner and die. Just shove the one in a hundred male breast cancer victims out of the way.

If you aren't aware that there was a tragic earthquake in Japan… if you aren't aware that breast cancer claims… well, umm… "too damn many" lives… if you aren't aware that men die of prostate cancer and yes, even from breast cancer… then you just don't care. Wake up from your slumber and pay attention. You can't not be aware. There isn't anyone in this country who isn't aware.

Boy, I am one cold, uncaring bastard, aren't I?

Not even close.

I am the type of person who looks like he is always in a hurry. When I'm eating, I'm eating fast. When I walk, I'm walking fast, even if I'm not really headed anywhere. So when people are at the store taking a survey, or taking up a collection, I walk right on by. I have learned that if you don't meet their eye, more often than not they will leave you alone.

But there is always an exception to the rule.

I am one of the least patriotic people you are going to meet. I didn't fly a flag on Sept. 10, 2001, and I didn't suddenly "find religion" the next day. I felt like it would be hypocritical of me to start flying one just because everyone else was, even though I had no feelings for it. I support our troops- guys like Ehren Watada and Bradley Manning who had the stones to confront a corrupt regime absolutely deserve our support.

A gentleman had a table set up outside Giant Eagle recently and he was taking donations for the Lorain County Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. I decided to talk to the guy, and after a few minutes of conversation I put a $5 bill in his jar. He thanked me and asked if I would like one of the assortment of flags or bumper stickers he had on the table. I declined. I explained to him that I didn't want to show off patriotism (I didn't explain that I didn't have any). I said that I was glad that he made it back alive, and I could see a wistful look in his eyes as he stared away, just for a second, and then thanked me. My groceries and I proceeded on the journey home, with the little paper flower I bought from a World War II veteran several months ago still wrapped around my rear view mirror. The elderly man who sold me the paper flower, who had to point to the enclosed explanation because he couldn't talk, is probably close to death now and wondering why Johnny bought it on the muddy battlefields of Europe and he survived.

I know a couple whose lives have been irreparably altered by breast cancer. I wear a t-shirt with a pink ribbon on it because I love these people, but not only because I care about them and their daughters, but because I've thrown a couple hundred dollars their way and they gave me one. More than one, actually, but I'm a fat pig and can't fit in an XL shirt anymore. Had they not given me a shirt, would I have withheld the funds? Hell no. It was never about the shirt. It was about the cure. It was real support, not a phony "hey-look-at-me-I-have-American-flag-underwear-don't-I-care?" attention-grabbing scheme.

If my dining-room table has a short leg, I don't put a shirt on with a picture of a dining-room table prominently displayed. I put a book under it, to support it. I don't talk about it, I do it.

Think about it.


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