The ribbon has become a cultural symbol and anomaly in the United States in the past few decades. In the ’70s, pop stars sang about tying yellow ribbons around oak trees to show support for American hostages and military personnel. In the early ’90s, red ribbons began to appear on movie stars’ lapels at various Hollywood events to spread awareness and open a dialogue about HIV/AIDS. During that same period, the Komen Foundation began to use pink ribbons to signify and support the survivors of breast cancer.
The theme continued, and soon more and more political and social awareness groups clamored to find their own colored ribbon to signify their cause. There are blue ribbons and purple ribbons and orange ribbons and white ribbons. Not only is there a multitude of colors, nearly all the individual ribbon colors represent dozens of different movements. For instance, the orange ribbon has quite a hefty workload. It is used as a symbol for Self Injury Awareness Day, racial tolerance, the right to own guns, victims of Agent Orange exposure and feral cats. Yes, you read that right: feral cats.
Of course, while the overuse of the ribbon borders on outrageous, it wasn’t until the last five years or so that the absurdity reached a fever pitch. When the United States invaded Iraq, someone had the clever idea to bring back the yellow ribbon to “Support Our Troops.” This time it came in the form of a magnet, so people could easily apply one or more to the back of their cars to show their support to any and all trapped behind them at red lights. Surely, supporting the troops is a noble cause – regardless of one’s political stance – but the ribbons again began to spiral out of control.
The troops’ and breast cancer ribbons gave way to ribbons for tragic events. There were maroon and orange ribbons on cars to show support for Virginia Tech following the shooting that took place there. But magnet ribbon manufacturers didn’t stop there.
Hundreds of ribbons are adhered to the backs of cars in the Tampa Bay area celebrating the success of the University of Florida’s basketball and football programs. Their success is worth fans’ celebration, but is it necessary to use a form that has been adopted as a sign of reverence regarding war and disease?
While driving to class the other week I noticed an even more awkward ribbon, this one alerting me to another serious threat to the human species: basketball. That was all it said – nothing more, nothing less. Has the news kept me so busy worrying about terrorist attacks and mutated flu viruses that I failed to notice the threat basketball poses to society?
Of course, I can’t be shocked. Americans love to buy things, and anything can be easily marketed, whether it is a political stance or a sports team. Rubber bracelets became all the rage a couple of years ago and were soon in the same league as ribbons. Soon, everything from testicular cancer to a middle school field trip fundraiser had a corresponding bracelet.
Regardless of color or the writing one can find on these now trivialized symbols, their message is clear: When presented with a money-making opportunity, American consumerism will triumph.
Curtiss Gibson is a senior majoring in English lterature.