Flight of the Tatas: Summary and Analysis

Whew! That was a Telling Knots first! I’d like to put things into perspective now with a summary and my analysis of the issues.

On the blog

I first became aware of the Flight of the Tatas event when fellow-blogger Scorchy Barrington posted a link to this article about it in the  Wall Street Journal online European edition. This was on Wednesday, July 3rd. I published a post about the event and my first thoughts on it on Thursday, July 4th.  Beginning on Friday, July 5th and continuing today, July 6th some people who had never commented on the blog before and who appeared to be unaware of my orientation in writing it began to write comments that I and many of my friends found offensive. Some of my friends and I began to respond in kind. Things went down from there. Today I cleaned up the ad hominem attacks and the strongest language. Comments are still open, but if the level of discourse degrades, I’ll shut it down.

Behind the scenes

I spent some time on July 3rd and 4th looking for any evidence that Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) was aware of this purported fundraiser. All I found was their logo among the sponsors on the Flight of the Tatas home page. Nothing else. I decided to contact them. Things were further complicated by some technical issues on the LBBC site that resulted in my first two emails (to LBBC development and communications addresses) being returned as undeliverable. I sent my third to the “mail” email address on July 4th and it did not come back.

On Friday, July 5th, Jean Sachs, the CEO of LBBC replied to my email. I published her message in my blog that day. I found her response completely reassuring.

Analysis: What’s the problem with Flight of the Tatas

Because at least a couple of the comments seemed to me to be genuinely puzzled about why this event offended me and so many others, I decided to spell it out more carefully. There are two issues specific to the July 4th Flight of the Tatas event, and there are some more general issues.

Specific Issues

According to the message from Jean Sachs, the event used the Living Beyond Breast Cancer name and logo without permission. I am no lawyer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a copyright infraction or something of the sort. That’s one issue.

Another specific issue is that LBBC were not consulted, were not asked if they wanted to be a part of this event. It is as though the event organizers just put down the first breast cancer organization they came across or perhaps knew from personal contact. This is bad corporate manners, bad event organizing and very arrogant.

It must also be said that many people in the not-for-profit economy do not believe that all money is the same, do not believe that it doesn’t matter where donations come from. Some people and some non-profits feel that it is wrong to take donations of money that was gained through exploitation. I have personal experience with two very different organizations that have turned down sizable donations because they did not want to give the donors the legitimacy that accepting would have conferred.

General Issues

Why is an event featuring “a bevy of topless skydivers” offensive to so many people who have breast cancer and/or who are active in breast cancer awareness?

Sexualization of breast cancer in fundraising and awareness campaigns is a very sensitive issue. This can be seen, not only in the event we’re talking about now, but even in more mainstream campaigns. There are many reasons to object to it:

* It tends to portray breast cancer as a condition that damages our identity as women, rather than as a disease that kills almost one-third of the people affected by it.

* Breast cancer does not strike only at women. Men get breast cancer and men die of breast cancer.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” (which was not invented by the organizers of this event) tend to present women as sexual objects and give the impression that the worst thing that happens to someone who has breast cancer is that they may lose their breasts, and that this loss is catastrophic.

* Slogans like “save the tatas” are semantically similar to slogans like “save the whales”, further tending to make women “other than”, to ignore their full human existence.

Breast cancer is not cute. Breast cancer kills people. In all likelihood it will kill me and at least two of the commenters (that I know of) in the July 4th thread. This is a life-threatening illness. Those of us who object to this trivialization and sexualization tend also to object to these slogans and the various pink campaigns wherever they appear.

These are wonderful topics for further conversation, but let’s all remember that we can disagree with respect. Ready, set, go!

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21 Responses

  1. helensamia says:

    I hear the hornets nest stiring!!!

  2. Maxine D says:

    Well spoken, as ever. We as women do not find our identity in our breasts…….. and as you so rightly state, men suffer breast cancer too!

    prayers and blessings

  3. mariaratliff says:


    You are diplomatic, but mostly you are class! Well handled!


  4. heyjudyjudy says:

    I have some things to say about this situation – my thoughts are not in otder or organized. Whatever it is that’s wrong with Larry Flynt has caused him to be a disgusting, revolting human being. On the rare occasion when I think about him, I usually end up trying to say some kind of prayer for him. He is just so spectacularly sick. He seems to have no concept whatsoever of decency or integrity – not even the most basic sense of respect for others or for himself. He has a history of exploiting the vulnerable and weak. Now he’s shown us that he’s also willing to TRY to make fun of women with breast cancer and with his deep sickness at full throttle, he tried to legitimize “Flight of the Tatas” by falsely aligning the event LBBC. He clearly is not at all interested in people with breast cancer and doesn’t even have an elementary understanding of the disease. It was just business as usual for Larry Flynt.

    All that being said and since we can’t go to Las Vegas and hurt him, we might as well try to apply The Serenity Prayer to the whole thing. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And the Wisdom to know the difference.

  5. KT, I love the way you articulated the issues, what’s really going on, in a loving and non-confrontational manner. I could just hug you.

  6. kurtnemes says:

    Just saw this and read about the response it caused on your website. You handled it well–not assuming LLBC was involved with the event and checking with them. Quite responsible journalism. You also gave thoughtful and educative reasons about why the event is offensive and the way it perpetuates stereotypes of women, makes the disease seem cute, makes it seem like a female problem, and ignores the suffering it causes. In the end, it was just a publicity stunt to bring more money into Larry Flint’s casino and fleece people of their money through the vice industry. I’m sorry you got hate mail. I’m sure some people were mouthing off about free speech. Well, this is your blog and you have the right to set rules of engagement for civilized behavior. Please don’t shut it down. Keep writing. You inspire me and so many others.

  7. Nicely said. I don’t know if I am one of the two you mentioned, but I will also likely die of this disease and found this, and other fundraisers like it, extremely offensive. Thank you.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Hi, Cristine. No, I didn’t know you are member of the mets club. I’m glad to meet you, but sorry to hear that you’re one of us. I hope you’ll be back reading and commenting here. You are very welcome. 🙂

  8. Ginny Marie says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. You state so clearly why the sexualization of breast cancer is so upsetting. Unfortunately, the people behind the comments on the Flight of the Tatas post will probably not read this, or if they do, will still miss the point. Thank you for writing this post–I will refer to it often!!

  9. bethgainer says:

    A brilliant post and so true. Breast cancer is sexualized, and the ta-tas language is disturbing to me. I wrote a post awhile back about the sexualization of breast cancer at http://bethgainer.com/sexualizing-breast-cancer/

  1. 8 July, 2013

    […] their permission. They did not sponsor the event. To read more about this, Knot Telling wrote an excellent series of posts about it as well as communicating directly with LBBC about […]

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