Ribbon reign: 20 years of postmodern influence on a cultural phenomenon



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Texas A&M University


Diverse sociology theoretical constructs serve as the lens to examine the evolution of two popular symbols of US culture in the last 20 years: yellow ribbons displayed as decoration and awareness ribbons worn as personal accoutrement. This research was motivated by society's weakened state of "collective consciousness," whereby shared beliefs and values have declined and some have completely disappeared, and sought to determine whether symbols will survive in a culture without commitment to the social. Invoking Christopher Lasch's Culture of Narcissism, Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, David Riesman's theory of other-directedness from The Lonely Crowd, and Stjepan Mestrovic's Postemotional Society, this work examined the significance of public displays of ribbons (whether on animate or inanimate objects), theorized why certain diseases and social causes "earned" their awareness ribbons and others did not, and demonstrated that these ribbons have served as multivalent symbols to accommodate our culture in a postmodern world. These symbols have not maintained their unifying function and now serve at the whim of the individual participant or observer. Ultimately, the act of wearing or displaying awareness ribbons and yellow ribbons, like so many other symbols, has been severed from the idea and is a freefloating, simulacrum to be used in whatever mode our postmodern, postemotional society requires.