Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Child Cancer Patients Given 'Supercure'

(Disclaimer: supercure might be advertising and/or chemotherapy)

Stolen from the Editor's Desk: There are a lot of opinion columns, write-in articles, and advice editorials in the greater medium of the written word. Virtually none of these advisors are particularly qualified, either. There's nothing to stop them from giving bad advice. Except me. Stolen from the Editor's Desk involves me taking some sort of advice column and tearing it a new one, all for your sake. Bad advice, meet the nerdery.

This "Stolen from the Editor's Desk" is a bit of a stretch, since this is in response to a proper news article. But at the same time it's well within the spirit of the series, so forgive the slight stretch in categorization.

A children's cancer center in Sao Paolo, Brazil is taking a novel approach to helping kids cope with chemotherapy. The hospital staff is telling their young patients they're getting a "superformula" and emblazoning their chemotherapy supplies with Justice League character symbols.

Warner Brothers' team-up with the Brazilian cancer center goes further than that. They're kitting out rooms of the hospital as superhero game-rooms with comic book decorations. Furthermore, they're penning a series of special comic book issues in which DC's title characters get cancer (or some similar ailment) and then go through their own version of chemotherapy, after which they promptly return to full crime-fighting health.

Now, one of the key problems with treating long-term patients is morale. There is a measurable correlation between optimism and recovery outlook. That's why hospitals all over the world engage in different programs designed to cheer up their patients--whether it's individual volunteers or organizations like the Make-A-Wish foundation. For children fighting cancer, they have to cope with invasive, painful testing and medical treatment as part of chemotherapy, so for them maintaining a hopeful and determined perspective is especially important. I get that.

But how do you treat those children in order to give them hope?

Do you make them as comfortable as possible and try to equip them to deal with any outcome? Or do you tell them that if they cooperate and do the right thing, well...look how easy it was for Batman? It seems to me like there are better ways to make kids have fun with the process--why not give kids the opportunity to customize their chemotherapy kits, rather than giving them commercially-produced kits that bear the promise of a brand.

And it's not like these superheroes are necessarily meaningful to the kids getting them. What if a kid asks for Captain America? Sorry, have Green Lantern--he's kind of a supersoldier. What's that little girl? Want a heroine who's not laden with a history of bondage imagery to encourage you to get better? How about Wonder Woman? Because all they have is the Justice League represented.

Which leads into the creepiest thing about this scenario: this is a commercial deal (however charitable) between a company and a cancer center. It boils down to placing advertising in a place of healing for children that are not only suffering, but are more likely to be the focus of news reports regarding their condition. I imagine the cancer center probably opted for this deal out of a chance to get a free or cheap way to meet their patients' needs, and that's admirable. But isn't it telling that this news is an international story so quickly? And what's even more damning, in my opinion, is that the attached video announcing this deal is in English, and the Portuguese version of the video was posted almost a week later. That's right, the version most likely to be viewed around the world was made first, and only six days later did they post a version in the national language of Brazil itself. And who's producing these Youtube videos in question? JWT, the fourth-largest advertising agency in the world. This is a transaction as much as it is a proper act of charity.

I'd like for this to be a Marvel vs DC issue, I really would. Not because I enjoy kicking DC when they're down--though sometimes I do--but because this is more an issue of the way these high-profile medical facilities' decisions get treated. Like when Penny Arcade strong-armed their Child's Play charity to reject donations from "Retake Mass Effect" because he disagreed with their message about a video game.

I don't know, maybe this should be a Don't Be That Guy article. Don't use sick kids as marketing gimmicks.

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