Kathleen Parker

I hadn't realized how unaware I was until the woman seated next to me snapped a strip of leather around my wrist and whispered: "This is hottest thing in Hollywood right now."

Looking down, I admired my new adornment. Embossed on the soft caramel leather band were the words "Stop Global Warming." Almost immediately, I was aware of wearing a bracelet. I was also aware of an unfamiliar warmth. Not the global sort, but that which radiates from one's Inner Virtue.

I could feel other people in the restaurant looking at me and knew that they knew. As I walked down the street later, strangers glanced discreetly at my wrist, whispering and nodding. Their faces betrayed their thoughts:

"There goeth forth a woman who opposes global warming," and all were glad.

And soon the planet would cool, and the glaciers would freeze again, and Mother Earth would smile upon her diverse and virtuous children.

But firsteth, excuse me while I burneth my bracelet.

The phenomenon of "awareness bracelets" - a real term for which we have Lance Armstrong and Nike to thank - has reached its absurd conclusion. There are now so many bracelets, causes and colors that all meaning - if ever there were any - has been sacrificed to the gods of commodification.

Like nearly everything else these days, it's all about moi. Here's the trick: While publicly declaring your deep concern via colored ribbons and embossed bracelets, you get to draw attention to yourself. It's not enough to care quietly or to commit private acts of conscience. You have to erect a billboard on your forearm.

Now even the kids are on board, not to be confused with those yellow "baby on board" signs anxious mothers hang in the rear windows of their Volvos. Indeed, collecting awareness bracelets is the latest fad among preteens, who wear multiple bracelets at once.

In the era of competitive caring, wrists have become bumpers for people too young to drive. Personally, I miss the days when kids collected baseball cards and marbles and cared about Trigger. Today's highly evolved human offspring worry about everything from diabetes to deadbeats.

To say there's a bracelet for every cause or concern is to understate what can only be described as a new mutant form of mass hysteria. There are colors for diseases that germs haven't thought of yet. Ever hear of GERD? Me neither, but someone somewhere is aware of it, and he's wearing light blue. (OK, I looked it up and it's an acronym for gastroesophageal reflux disease, which seems like something we shouldn't be talking about.)

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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