Monday, January 24, 2011

O Stands For Opulence

I've been embracing my stay-at-home mom status by watching (via PVR, natch) episodes of Oprah, The Farewell Season. I've been skipping a lot of the more morbid episodes, preferring instead to wile away the hours on the more energetic episodes, you know, the "favourite" things, stars promoting their latest films, J-Franz's book club appearance (how uncomfortable was THAT?). Most of the time I can ignore the overt marketing crap because I do think it's honourable to encourage people to read, to write, to live their "best" life, whatever that means. But never before has the sheer marketing value, the desperateness of various different high-profile brands been more apparent than when I was watching the Australian episodes.

Cue sappy, inspirational music as we come upon a very thin man with a beautiful wife and two gorgeous children. He's suffering from Australian cancer, which isn't much different from cancer in any other part of the world. But somehow, these people are special, they are undergoing tragedy. And I'm not belittling their suffering. My grandmother and uncle died of bowel cancer; it's an awful way to spend your last days. My point, though, is that the saints of Oprah-land deemed this particular couple worthy, and found a corporate sponsor, XBox Australia, to underwrite their suffering or, rather, to give them $250k so they can spend a year "enjoying" their lives instead of having to work so hard keeping everything together in the face of tragedy.

This got me thinking. Maybe that's what I need. A corporate suffering sponsor. I could blog about my trials and tribulations having an awful disease like Wegener's Granulomatosis (because, seriously, haven't we all heard enough about cancer, why not let some of the other diseases have the spotlight and the cash influx from companies looking to reformat their image in the age of social responsibility?). I could stand to cash a cheque for hundreds of thousands of dollars and spend the year recovering in the south of France or somewhere equally indulgent to my inner most and wildest dreams. I mean, who wouldn't?

But the whole idea is so repugnant, in a way. That some suffering is worthy of corporate sponsorship, simply because Oprah came to town and wanted to do some good (I'm not criticizing the intentions). What I'm more curious about is how the idea came about in the first place -- did XBox Australia sit down with Oprah's people and say, "we need to revamp our image and we'll do anything to get in bed with you, because you are the queen of all media and our time is running out, with this being the "farewell" season and all." Because it doesn't seem like a likely fit -- video games and cancer. Well, maybe I'm wrong. I guess I could have used some XBox while I spent three weeks in the hospital almost dying, then giving birth, and then almost dying again.

Maybe it's just sour grapes. Maybe deep down I'd love it if Stella McCartney or Jo Malone or Mac or Apple or some other giant brand that I actually respect and admire came calling to highlight my suffering for their own corporate greed. Wait, greed isn't the right word -- and marketing doesn't quite fit either, it's a strange combination of altruism for the sake of selling shit, and I know it's as old as dirt, the idea of companies giving back so that their brands are vital and necessary, and, well, front of mind, but I can't help but feel that it's tawdry to capitalize on someone's suffering regardless of how it must have felt to that family -- like winning the lottery. They are deserved of such a gift, that much is true, but I would love to see a lot more transparency -- it's not Oprah giving these gifts, she's simply allowing big, fat companies to ride on her coattails and allowing them to pat themselves on the back by doing "good" in her name.

And why is corporate generosity such a boon these days? You can't watch a single one of these daytime shows without the audience members receiving diamonds and computers and a whole host of other crap. And I'm not saying we don't do it either, gosh, we give away a lot of books, it's a good marketing ploy, but my company has never underwritten suffering the way XBox has -- they've never sponsored a tragedy in the name of "fun."

So, any company out there looking for a family undergoing some serious tragedy, we're here. We could use a little fun. We could use a little corporate social responsibility. And I promise I won't even mention the fact that my disease was ultimately discovered by a nasty Nazi doctor. Ooops. Maybe that's what's holding everyone back.

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