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How about an anti-wristband wristband?

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

  • With the market for anti-racist, anti-bullying and anti-everything wristbands nearing saturation, I am thinking of launching a new anti-wristband wristband.

It could be worn as a symbol of concern about the mass outbreak of multicoloured plastic bands on the wrists of the Western world. Available in ‘invisible’ flesh tones only. Make cheques payable to Emperor’s New Clothes Ltd.

Wristbands have replaced ribbons as the badge of compassion du jour. The phenomenon took off in May when Lance Armstrong, six-times winner of the Tour de France, and Nike launched yellow Livestrong wristbands to highlight testicular cancer. By October they had sold 20 million, and everybody from presidential candidates to Prince William wanted to be seen wearing them.

Now it seems that every victim-centred campaign has to have its own coloured wristband. The most obvious ones in Britain include blue for anti-bullying (one million issued), endorsed by the Government, the BBC and assorted celebrities and charities, and white for the Make Poverty History campaign, sported by everybody from Nelson Mandela downwards.

They are supposed to be about raising awareness of good causes. But it is hard to see how glimpsing somebody else’s wrist-furniture could raise my awareness of anything – particularly when different causes have adopted the same colour. Some critics complain that the wristbands make a fashion statement rather than a moral commitment. But this is more than a style thing.

It seems to me that the wristband wearers are making a moral statement, but one based on a fashionable self-flattery. One wristband sold for the victims of the Asian tsunami by an American retailer of girls’ fashions sums up the underlying message: it bears the inscription ‘I CARE’. The wristbands may not make much difference to the world outside, but they can make you feel better about yourself inside – and provide an ersatz emotional connection with others. If there are grown-ups with a wristband-shaped hole in their lives who feel that they need to affirm their goodness in that way, fair enough. But leave the rest of us out of it.

Wearing your heart on your wrist is now presented as some sort of moral imperative. ‘Wear a band – take a stand’ commands Rio Ferdinand at the end of the television adverts for the anti-bullying wristband, as if refusing to do so meant siding with school bullies. And who would want to take a stand for racism, breast cancer or poverty in the Third World?

The spread of the wristbands is both a symptom and a symbol of our culture of conspicuous compassion (‘I feel, therefore I am good’), competitive compassion (‘I care more than you do’) and compulsory compassion (‘support this anti-bullying campaign – or else’). It is enough to make some of us feel like tearing a wristband to ribbons.

  • Remember the child obesity epidemic?

That was the one that was meant to wipe out a generation, before we discovered that the epidemics of passive smoking and binge drinking are apparently going to get them first. Now a report from by the Oxford-based Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) suggests that the panic about child obesity has been blown up out of all proportion.

The Government’s line is that around one in six children in Britain are currently obese, with doom-laden predictions that this could rise to one in two. Using the Department of Health’s own data, however, and applying the international standard for assessing child obesity, SIRC has found a truer figure of more like one in fifteen, with no evidence of an ‘epidemic’ or exponential rise in child obesity rates, or of any overall decline in children’s health. It also found that, despite the focus of concern on child obesity, people are far more likely to get fat as they get older – something which seems unlikely to come as a shock to many of us over 40.

SIRC concludes that ‘hype and exaggeration’ about an epidemic of child obesity can lead to ‘inappropriate health interventions’. It is high time that the Government stopped force-feeding us fattened-up data to support its public health crusades. The unfortunate fact that a relatively small number of children are obese is no excuse for treating us like a nation of fatheads.

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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