Tuesday, 11 March 2014

But what if one life is saved...?

Last Wednesday I wrote about The Sun's Check 'Em Tuesday campaign, No More Page 3 retweeted the link and posted it on their Facebook wall. The response was phenomenonal, to date it's had over 14,100 views and I've been touched by the many kind words I've received, clearly this is an issue that has affected many people.
Naturally I've been reading other people's responses too, both for and against the campaign. One thing that has struck me is the view that it's somehow churlish of those of us who have been angered or upset to complain because if one life is saved it will have been worth it. I don't believe for one moment that anybody will be hoping that no lives are saved nor do I believe that they won't be as pleased as the next person should there be an early diagnosis. However, I don't think that this means The Sun should be free from criticism, that we shouldn't question their motives and discuss whether they could achieve more success by handling the issue differently. To use a clumsy analogy, when the Titanic sank the response wasn't "well at least some people were saved." Lessons were learned resulting in a complete overhaul of maritime safety laws around the world.
I am not against The Sun joining forces with Coppafeel to run a breast cancer campaign aimed at young women and I'm not naive enough to believe that newspapers align themselves with charities for purely philanthropic reasons. I realise they do it to sell more copies. Nevertheless I still think there is an important distinction between hoping increased goodwill leads to more sales and using a campaign to justify an increasingly criticised feature within the paper. The former can be overlooked as nobody is harmed, the latter has led to people affected by cancer, either directly or through loved ones to be hurt and outraged. And this isn't an empty manufactured outrage. When I first saw the front page of The Sun last week I was momentarily stunned. Losing my mother has shaped my life, the day she died is burned into my memory. The woman who I was closest to in the world, who could laugh until she shook, who despite being only 5 feet and half an inch could make men who towered over her meekly apologise when she was angry, didn't recognise us any more. Dosed up on morphine in a hospital bed we didn't get to share any meaningful last words, we sat and we watched until her breathing slowed and then stopped. One of my brothers killed himself in 2012, his depression quite possibly originally triggered due to her death when he was only nineteen. The Sun has cruelly and blatantly trampled on people like me and the many women and men who have ever been diagnosed with breast cancer and for that I am furious. Regardless of whether a life is saved The Sun still deserves to be criticised for what is an unforgivable decision. They could have made it The Sun v. Breast Cancer, foregone any Page Three involvement and featured ordinary women. After all they managed it later in the week with their feature on men's cancer for the far less publicised Going Commando campaign.

A telling comparison of the images used by The Sun last week.

Lives may be saved but what if more lives could have been saved had they done it differently? Page Three after all exists for men, will that many women really respond to a sexualised image of a perfect body or would they be better reached by less salacious means? Will this campaign really lead to a permanent change in the habits of young women or will this see a short-lived increase in self-examinations that will be forgotten once The Sun moves on to another headline grabbing stunt?
I grew up in a council house, my dad worked in a factory and read The Sun. Twenty years ago I was one of the women allegedly targeted by this campaign. Twenty years ago I was on the verge of losing my mum to breast cancer. Any life saved by Check 'Em Tuesday is a success but let's not pretend this is anything other than cynical exploitation. Does the end justify the means? Perhaps...but that doesn't mean we shouldn't shout loudly when the means could have been done differently and better.

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