You have noticed, no doubt, that the latest and most common banner ads on Scienceblogs are for Americanchemistry.com, a blogospheric entity representing a handful of Chemistry special interest organizations. (“Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” and all that.) Which is fine, who cares? But what I want to draw your attention to is the ubiquitous use of the imagery of first responders in those ads. The message is obvious: Without chemicals, first responding itself would be impossible” which equals “Without the American Chemistry Industry, Osama bin Laden will eat your next born” or words to that effect.

To be fair, the same ad uses other images as well, like the astronaut-looking that I always assume is on his way into a chemical plant to clean up some disaster. In fact, I imagine the first responders as on their way from a chemical fire and cleanup site (they always look haggard like they just got off duty) and I imagine them going home that night, suddenly feeling ill, retching for a while, and dying of exposure to some …. chemical.

So the ads really aren’t working for me.

But that is not why I bring them up. I bring them up because I think the use of first responders as icons that are intended to make us like something is interesting, and part of a post 9/11 trend. Remember right after 911? When the word “first responders” was actually first heard in a lot of communities, and first responders were almost deified, or at least, demi-deified? They were readily allowed to desecrate the American Flag by draping them all over their vehicles and in some cases their own soot covered uniforms, they were on talk shows, they probably even got raises. Well, probably not raises. Anyway you do remember that.

I’ve noticed as well that first responders have taken a different tact in their field operations lately. I do enough highway driving to have a sense of this; I think first responders at accident scenes are taking up more space (closing more lanes) and taking up more time (having their post-disaster cup of coffee, etc. while the barriers are still up) at accident scenes.

I sense that they are strutting. And I find that annoying, if it is true.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are first responders. And I have tremendous respect for what they do, and I feel that they are worthy of honor in our society. But let’s also remember, on this memorial day weekend, that first responders occasionally gun down innocent people, hog the donuts, and run one of the more misogynist, sexist operations in our society.

So as we remember our first responders — police, fire fighters, EMTs — lets also remember that they really are not demigods. Keep the safety locked and stop excluding women, don’t strut on the highway, and so on. And when you have to go to that great chemical spill down by the tanks next to the river … remember:

Chemistry … is essential to living.

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