At one time, days designated as ‘special’ – dedicated to a particular indigenous custom or religious festival – were traditionally dictated by Church or State and were dotted sparingly across the calendar; as children, many of us were made aware of the day events such as Shrove Tuesday fell upon by observing John Noakes making a balls-up of tossing a pancake on ‘Blue Peter’ while Shep lingered at his feet in the hope of his master dropping it onto the studio floor. By contrast, Bonfire Night was something we didn’t need to be reminded of, brought up on the ‘Remember remember the fifth of November’ rhyme and bombarded with public information films featuring the scarred countenances of children who had chucked bangers at each other.
In recent decades, however, it seems as though everything and everyone has their own special day to the point whereby there are fewer of the 365 we get most years that aren’t actually set aside as anything special at all. The United Nations leads the way in international observance days, though doesn’t have a monopoly on them. Some of the more well-known ones that are currently crammed into the calendar include Holocaust Remembrance Day, World Cancer Day, International Women’s Day, International Children’s Day, World Refugee Day, World Mental Health Day, World AIDS Day, and International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3).
Alongside these sit some lesser known special days – and how many are you familiar with? I promise I haven’t made any up, by the way, so try these for size: World Puppetry Day, International Jazz Day, Geek Pride Day, Global Wind Day, International Day of Yoga, International Beer Day, International Lefthanders Day, National Boss Day, World Vasectomy Day (ouch!), Global Hand-washing Day, World Statistics Day, World Tripe Day, World Smile Day, World Hello Day and International Cello Day. It would appear if there’s a fanatical enough lobby pressing for it, being awarded a special day is fairly easy now.
Whereas some, such as National No-Smoking Day, enable the finger-waggers to be even more insufferable than usual for 24 hours, the sheer abundance of others that are frankly irrelevant means many pass us by completely – being of no interest to anyone beyond those who actively demanded them in the first place. I don’t suppose it’ll be too far in the future when every day of the year has been allocated to ‘raising awareness’ of something, though I’d argue my awareness of tripe is advanced enough to know the thought of eating it could produce a substance probably a tad more appetising than tripe itself.
The transformation of charity’s image from the duffle coat of the little old lady rattling a can outside the supermarket to the expensive designer jacket of the celebrity began in earnest in the wake of Live Aid, and the Geldof approach to altering an indifferent public to a neglected issue was adapted to promote high-profile campaigns and events like the Hands Across America link-up of 1986 (apparently to combat homelessness) and Just Say No (which warned kids of dabbling with that nasty heroin like poor Zammo). Whilst awareness – and in some cases, money – was raised, how long-lasting was that awareness once the world turned its attention to the next cause, I wonder?
This butterfly attitude has migrated to social media today, where aggressive emotional blackmail is often employed to provoke guilt should some resist the urge to publicly proclaim their raised awareness before the clocks strike twelve and another issue has its own day to mark.
Back when the UN also used to devote entire twelve-month cycles to awareness-raising, Ian Dury was asked to compose a song to celebrate the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981; as a prominent victim of childhood polio, Dury hadn’t used that misfortune as a selling point to mark himself out as ‘special’, relying on his distinctive stage persona and witty lyrical ability to do it for him rather than advertising his disability so that people would pity him and express sorrow for his predicament. Dury viewed the notion of an officially designated year for the disabled as a grandiose patronising pat on the head, understandably wondering if all awareness would cease on January 1 1982.
His response was not to write a saccharine-laced soft-rock plea for tolerance ideal for montages at the climax of the Paralympics, but an unapologetically angry anthem in ‘Spasticus Autisticus’. Inevitably, the BBC duly banned it because it obviously didn’t correspond to the concept of the disabled as dependent on the kindness of strangers and forever gushing with gratitude. Of course, gratitude is an emotional response implicitly expected from the recipients of awareness-raising, presumably overwhelmed that others have set aside one whole day to pause for thought and perhaps donate a few quid in the process.
One of the problems with special days of this nature is, whilst they have the potential to awake a conscience that might just last a little longer than 24 hours in some (which one presumes is the purpose), for many they serve as one more means of achieving moral superiority over the Jones’s. And what of the disabled or homeless or HIV-positive or mentally-ill person who joins the club when the can-rattlers have moved on? None of these conditions should be judged as ‘so last year’ like a pair of trousers that are suddenly unfashionable; but it would seem the only way to highlight certain issues that are prone to public neglect is to give them their own day, even if most require much more than that. Perhaps indicative of how this practice has ultimately failed is that these days are still necessary thirty-five years on from ‘Spasticus Autisticus’.
© The Editor