I live not far from the small town of Dexter, Maine (population just under 4000). Anyone living in or near Dexter knows the date June 13, 2011 only too well. On that date, a man awaiting trial for holding his family hostage at gunpoint one year previous, went into the home of his estranged wife and two kids (aged 10 and 13) and one by one shot and killed them before turning the gun on himself. Such a thing would be shocking and stomach turning in any city or town, but I think it was even more so given the small town in which it happened.
And so, our outraged, shocked, mourning, hurt community stepped up. No, they didn’t push for stricter punishments for domestic violence perpetrators. They didn’t rally for safeguards to keep guns out of the hands of an obviously disturbed and violent man. They didn’t pressure legislators for swifter trials for those who are an obvious danger to others and themselves. They didn’t even really shell out time, money, or support for local area shelters or phone banks.
Nope. They slapped a ribbon on it.
Everything in Dexter turned purple overnight. They released purple balloons while playing schmaltzy country music about angels. The school colors temporarily went from red and white to purple and purple. People dyed their hair, painted their mailboxes, put purple glittery garlands on their houses at Christmas time. And, at Christmas time, the local commercial church put up three trees with purple lights and plywood cutout angels, near a giant purple looped ribbon fashioned out of Christmas lights. One enterprising local “artisan” made and sold (or attempted to sell) wreaths with purple looped ribbons and purple glass ornaments on them (a practice Regretsy calls “tragicrafting”). Purple purple purple, and ribbons ribbons everywhere.
Less than two years after the event, people are back to being OK with making jokes like, “Women. Can’t live with ’em, can’t shoot ’em!” Area shelters and phone banks are putting up fliers asking for volunteers and donors. We also got a bridge in the slain mother’s hometown renamed, via petition, the “Remember Me Bridge.” No name, just a pronoun, guaranteeing that in 40 years nobody will “remember” who “me” is. BUT GOD DAMN IT WE STILL GOT PURPLE RIBBONS SO WE’RE DOING SOMETHING.
A purple ribbon is one of those things like prayer, that makes you feel good inside and look good outside as if you did something, but in reality accomplishes very little about the actual problem. Or as Bill Maher and others call it, literally the least you can do. A symbol and a focus on a movement itself is not a problem; indeed it can be a very good thing that unites people in a common cause, a real impetus for change.
But when people make the symbol ALL they do, because they honestly think that’s all that needs to be done, the cause is not helped and may in fact be hindered.
So. Rise up, dance, and make machinima if you wish. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the literal least you can do is all that should be done.