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Mass hypnosis, the vanity of charity and pointing the finger back at prostate-exam month

Am I the only one who does a gigantic eye roll every time one of those patronising, gimmicky ‘cause-of-the-week’ things comes around? You know the ones. National Phantom Limb Day. Wear Your Suit Backwards June. Fart Week.

This morning I pulled up behind a bus that had stopped at some traffic lights. There, on the bus’s caboose, right where an ad for the new Hunger Games movie should have been, was a six-foot promo for Blue September, the prostate-cancer-awareness-themed month, featuring talented but underappreciated Kiwi thespian, Mark Hadlow.

Now Hadlow’s a great actor, but Jennifer Lawrence good-looking he ain’t, and adding insult to injury, the enormous Hadlow was waving a single blue rubber-gloved finger in the air in the universal symbol for ‘this is going up yer bum’.

Is there anything more likely to cause an involuntary clenching of the buttocks than a smirking Mark Hadlow, threatening the viewer with a skyward-thrusting, potentially lubed-up digit? As a way to promote check-your-prostate month, it strikes me as…er, counter-productive.   

But that’s how charity drives work these days, right? No more little old ladies knocking on your door with plastic donation buckets. Now everything’s an epic four week event, a social-media celebration, a cause célèbre all wrapped up in a party you don’t want to miss.

But I don’t buy it. How can anyone? This month it may be Blue September, but next month it’s Stoptober (anti-smoking) and then, ugh, the worst of them all, Movember (men’s health) and so on and so on, ad infinitum.

So enough with the charity-themed-months already.

And before you get all indignant at my heaping of scorn here, are you aware that last month was Digestive Tract Paralysis Month?

Oh, you didn’t know?

How uninformed.   

I knew it was on, and I embraced it to the hilt, eating nothing but Home Brand Colby Cheese blocks for the entire month out of solidarity with my digestively paralysed brethren. You may have chosen not to get involved, but some of us still care about the havoc this freaky condition can wreak on one’s inner workings.

But I’ll let you off this time. After all, there are a lot of these things to keep up with and last month was particularly busy, with Cystic Fibrosis Week, World Breastfeeding Week, Money Week, the International Day of Indigenous People, and Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month.

I don’t know about you, but I was super-careful with my children’s eyes last month.

And right now we happen to be slap bang in the middle of Cervical Screening Awareness Month. We’re also in Students Against Driving Drunk Month, plus you’re coming to the end of Conservation Week, and you didn’t even know it.

So feel free to choose the cause-of-the-month that suits you and flog it. Or if, like me, your attention span doesn’t conform to the lunar cycles, just pick any one of the many single-day options available for being a temporarily better person. Wednesday was Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness day and the Alzheimers Canterbury Appeal is next week, plus it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day on the 19th, so, yeah, all great causes.

But I’m being facetious. Who really cares about the arbitrary ‘theming’ of days of the week, especially when it’s for a good cause, right?

Not me, that’s who. As I said to my children when they asked if they could look directly at the sun through binoculars: “it’s a free country; go nuts”. I’m not here to ruin anyone’s fun.

There is, however, one event I will not participate in, endorse or tolerate.


Way too many people get far too excited about this ridiculous event.

Really, fellas? A month where you ‘finally’ get an ‘excuse’ to ‘grow’ a moustache? Why on earth would you need an excuse?

Here’s a tip: No-one respects a man who needs permission to grow a moustache.

Why not grow one in May? Or July? You can still give a bunch of money to charity, you’ll still look positively terrible, plus your carbon footprint will be a wee bit smaller because no-one will feel the slightest bit obligated to re-tweet those sad photos of your wispy little cookie duster.

When I was at primary school, the teacher used to have us sing the afternoon clean-up song while we tidied the classroom. It was mass hypnosis at its finest. Every child sang, every child cleaned, and we never stopped to question why we were so cheerfully doing something we wouldn’t have otherwise done.

And that’s the thing. Without the slick marketing, we wouldn’t, in fact, give a damn about any of these issues. We know the month of the year doesn’t suddenly make men’s health important – it’s either always significant, or it’s not. Either we care or we don’t. We’re obviously being manipulated, and we know it, so why are we so happy to go along with it?

It’s probably because we know, deep down, that it is an important issue, right? And if a harmless bit of silliness helps the cause while appealing to our better instincts, all the better, right?

Well, no. Not even close.

The real reason we play along with this charade ­– and bear with me here – is this: Wrapping these horrible conditions up in gimmick is the only way we’re actually willing to put up with hearing about them. Presenting a charitable cause under the guise of a silly themed month lets us distance ourselves from it, and that’s really what we want, psychologically speaking. It lets us ‘put on’ that offered cause just as we’d put on a coat, and it lets us take it off and put it away just as easily.

That’s the mechanism at work here and that’s what charity is these days. The fact is, we don’t want to think about this stuff on a real-time basis, we won’t, and so when the horrible, cruel and arbitrary realities of the random universe are packaged in just such a way, a way that lets us, say, laugh at some mindless pratfall, pay a little cash and go on our way, otherwise unaffected, we jump at the chance.

And while we’re on the subject, here’s another question: Why are modern charity appeals always bundled with some kind of conspicuous display – a ribbon, a plastic flower, a wrist band or something else? Is it not enough for us to be charitable? Do we have to appear charitable as well? Am I the only one that finds wearing a badge you got for making a $2 donation just a little ostentatious?

Now don’t think for a moment I’m criticising the organisers of these events. All of the charities mentioned above do good and often thankless work (especially you, Talk-like-a-Pirate guys), stopping the gaps we’re all either too uninformed or indifferent to fill ourselves. If they’ve found a way to motivate punters to dig deep, then, of course, they should milk it for all it’s worth. And if that means creating dorky themed-months or swapping trivial vanities for hard cash, then so be it.

Grift the rubes, take the money and save the kids.

I just wish we didn’t demand a show before we drop a couple of dollars into a bucket under the veil of doing what’s ‘right’, and I wish we didn’t have to be manipulated with a juvenile theme-of-the-month concept before we do what we know we should.

In that regard I’ve got a great idea where the very gifted Mr Hadlow can stick that finger.

So yeah, it’s Blue September, and of course, they’re right. Your prostate is worth thinking about once in a while, it’s definitely worth getting checked if you’re in an at-risk group and, at the end of the day, and it’s just a finger up your bum.

You will get over it, so just get it over with.

Now is as good a time as any.  


Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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