Going to keep this one short, there is enough written about the limitations of fighting metaphors to last a lifetime (however long that is). Susan Sontag wrote Illness as a Metaphor back in 1978, since then many, many others have visited this territory. I was reminded today of Jay Rayners obituary for John Diamond (hat tip to Michael) and surprised to see it was 13 years since John Diamond died. I can remember reading his column and his book, years before cancer visited our family, and being humbled by his frank honesty, a quality also present in Kate Granger‘s writing in more recent times. The Metaphor in End of Life Care project at Lancaster Uni has also recently been exploring this in relation to death, dying and end of life.
So, why given all this am I still typing. To register my displeasure at the current Cancer Research UK campaign #WeWillFight. The campaign calls for people to ‘show cancer how they feel by sharing your fight faces’
— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) August 11, 2014
While looking at Cancer Research UK resources for this post I have to confess it wasn’t easy to identify what the campaign was about, or the thinking behind it, but I did find this video [click to visit their site in a new window and watch] on The Bank website ‘We Will Win the Fight’. Wow, apparently The Bank produced this ad, with a ‘bold creative concept’….that personifies cancer with a menacing male voice and a soothing woman who will make it alright. To be honest I found this ad almost as nauseating as the #WeWillFight campaign, although it’s not clear whether they’re related or not.
Those of you who have read this blog for a while will know that my Dad lived with cancer for five years. He described his own experience as a fight, ex-navy and military through and through, the metaphor worked for him. At his funeral I gave the eulogy and felt like I had to address metaphor:
Dad didn’t lose his battle, or succumb to cancer; he stoically, bravely and steadfastly lived his death as he lived his life, with courage, dignity and a concern for others.
I think there’s a big difference between someone facing cancer choosing a metaphor that works for them, and a large well funded organisation using a fight metaphor to campaign with. I’m not convinced that Cancer Research UK should be encouraging people to ‘fight’ cancer, I’m really uncomfortable with the language and the implication. I have seen on twitter tonight that they ‘tested’ the campaign before launching. I accept that their focus group may well have said it worked for them, it doesn’t work for me. Oh and for the record testing ‘join the fight’ isn’t the same as implementing #WeWillFight.
The week after the centenary and commemorations of the start of World War One, with war raging in Gaza, Iraq, Syria should a cancer research charity really be encouraging people to share photos of themselves with fighting faces? I can’t help but feel this is an incredibly poorly executed campaign, almost lazy in its approach. Can imagine it now, the social media crew raving about the #nomakeupselfie campaign, which for those with short memories was not started by an agency or a charity, but completely by accident by a couple of punters. What verged earlier this year on a narcissistic trend is now becoming tired, it’s slacktivisim gone mad. I’ll watch and wait to see if Cancer Research UK can track and evidence their income as a result of #WeWillFight, or whether what they actually end up with is a short lived social media campaign of people posting pictures of themselves pulling ridiculous poses.
From my perspective the sooner this campaign is over the better, I can’t get past posting your picture online being more likely to indulge your self than ‘fight cancer’. If you really want to make a difference, look at what you can do to improve your own lifestyle; sure donate some cash, spend some time volunteering, do whatever works for you, but please don’t anyone ask me to post my fighting face and please don’t claim that you’re helping by doing so.
My small contribution to improving people’s experience of cancer, is this blog, and the posts within it. From my perspective the sooner we develop a more evolved language and understanding of cancer and illness the better, so feel free to join in the discussion.
For those wondering the blog title is a quote from Fight Club…it’s also worth remembering when you introduce fighting metaphors to cancer.