Symbol glut is a direct result of the "awareness" trend in progressive politics. Time was, quilts were for beds (or walls if you were Tahitian or pretentious), paper cranes were cool Christmas decorations (or a clever way to brighten someone's day), teddy bears were for toddlers, rainbows were arty and cheerful, and the month of February a nice month to cozy up with cocoa and eat some cherry pie (with or without little hearts or hatchets on it). No more.

Nowadays, quilts are a symbol of mourning (or "rememberance"), teddy bears are also put on graves, or given to women with breast cancer, paper cranes mean "world peace" (because of a girl dying of radiation burns in Hiroshima), rainbows mean homosexual rights, and the month of February is a time when America collectively flogs itself for once allowing slavery (unlike, for instance, England, Saudi Arabia, the Roman Empire, or China), with special attention given to Valentine's Day, when we're told, we should "be aware" of violence against women.

Not that any of these concerns are all that bad: we should be aware that AIDS is about, peace is preferable to Mutual Assured Destruction, it's sad when people get sick and die, and that we really ought to stop being mean to people who aren't like ourselves. However, it's somewhat disheartening when the paper bird I give (with wings that flap, and all) is accepted with a tear instead of a smile, or seeing mature, adult women given dolls, as if they're large little girls who only need some trinkets to make their owies all better. (Do testicular cancer patients get HotWheels?) Being told, in between the hearts and flowers of Valentines', that the man who gives me bonbons today, will more than likely date rape me tonight, is a sure turn-off, as is the attempt of the AIDS awareness brigade (and, please, could we have some acknowlegment that this is a disease that afflicts other people than overly-neat young men who talk with a funny accent?) to co-opt any and every symbol of affection, as well as Halloween (drag queens' delight, honey!), and the first of December (and please, let it be a REAL Day without Art, as opposed to a lot of talking about how they're not arting today, and see if anyone notices).

Part of the problem is that most of these issues involve things that the individual can't do much about. Whether the button ultimately gets pushed in some missle silo out West isn't our decision; neither is it in our hands that we find a cure for breast cancer or AIDS within our lifetimes -- we can send letters to senators to vote to mandate funding, but we can't, individually, devise treatments. For most of us, hiring qualified members of grievance groups is something we don't do on a regular basis, neither are we in line to discuss serious matters with world leaders. We can't do anything about people being dead, or incurably ill, or sad because someone else is sick or dead.

People used to pray in these cases, but that's too unsophisticated and gauche, something your Jesus freak cousin would do. We're not comfortable with the traditional symbols of death, either, having co-opted them for heavy metal and Goth rock album covers So, we spend our time in symbolic acts of fake cheerfulness, attending "memorial services" where we "celebrate a life", tart up pictures of recently dead people with pastel flowers, marching in parades, buying and displaying posters, dolls, and other knickknacks, listening (at least once) to CD's of choirs of overpaid (or overaged) singers, watching specials where musicians try very hard not to look like they're having a good time, and comedians don't tell jokes. But let's let some folk traditions alone, though, and create new symbols for what we want to make people "aware" of. It might actually catch on.

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