Monday, December 27, 2010

Working through something ...


First of all, I hope everybody had a wonderful Christmas, and if you don't celebrate Christmas, that you had an amazing day off. :)

A couple of days ago on Facebook, a friend of mine posted the following 80's video of a song called "Do They Know It's Christmas" from "Band-Aid."

For those of you who are too young to remember, Band-Aid was basically the UK version of "We Are The World."  A bunch of pop musicians coming together to sing a song, the proceeds of which benefited the hungry in Africa.  I've always been a fan of the song, and, honestly, I'm a bit of a sucker for stuff like this.

One of the commenters to my friend's posting said that she hated this song, and called it the "absolute height of pompous idiocy."  I don't think I was prepared for such vitriol, and responded back, "Pompous idiocy? A bunch of very famous British musicians getting together to do something about hunger in Africa is pompous and idiotic? Wow, maybe I need to rethink my world view."

Her response:
Well, yes, it is. "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time.." ??Gee, could that be because they're in a tropical monsoon climate? Yes, all people who live in tropical climates must be so terribly bad off. "Do they know it's Chri...stmas time at all?" Gee, if Bob had done his homework he'd know that over 60% of Ethiopians are Christian. I'm pretty sure they know it's Christmas. The bulk of the other 40% is made up of Muslims so they probably know it's Christmas but don't give a shit. The sad fact is, much of the aid raised to help those who were in such need probably got siphoned off into the corrupt government and never got to those who it was meant to help. I'm all for helping if people need help but the lyrics to this song were pompous, arrogant and presumptious and the money raised did little to nothing to help those who needed it. Twenty plus years on and there are still people starving in Africa and going without much needed medical care and basic supplies and why is that? Look to their governments for starters and how their corrupt mindset has trickled down to the people. My sister in law just spent two years in Malawi working for VSO. The stories she told about the Malawi people were enough to curl one's hair. African nations have lots of problems, but putting out silly songs and then handing the money to a corrupt government doesn't strike me as helping anyone.
Now, this strikes me as the tiniest bit racist, and although she points to nothing but suppositions and hearsay to support her arguments, I'll work with the supposition that she's correct, and most of the money didn't get to the people it was intended for.

First of all, does nobody understand symbolism anymore?  Of course there's no snow in Africa at Christmastime.  Hell, there's no snow in most parts of Southern California either, but that doesn't mean I don't understand that the targeted audience for this song is not the African countries, but the European and North American areas of the world, and that the lyrics will resonate with the target audience.  In this song, not having snow is a symbol for not having enough food or worldy comforts to have a joyous Christmas.  A faulty symbol?  Sure.  However, if one is trying to get people to contribute to a cause, one is going to need to use symbols that those people have experience with.  Yes, it's true, a good portion of people in Africa don't celebrate Christmas, but that doesn't mean the idea of sharing with neighbors, either world-wide or city-wide doesn't exist in their world view, and that doesn't suddenly make the poor people less hungry.

Secondly, making the assumption that almost all of the money got siphoned off by corrupt governments as a matter of course is a bit cynical at the least.  Especially since she points to no actual facts, just prejudicial assumptions, and a few stories of her sister-in-law who was apparently in Malawi.  Malawi, which is just one African country, and that same sister-in-law couldn't have experienced the entire or even a large part of the country given the short period of time she spent there.  So, her anecdotal stories, taken as truth for an entire continent are suspect.

But let's put the prejudice issue aside, shall we?  The issue I'm trying to work through is this, "Isn't the fact that all these people got together to do something about a problem worth anything?"  Even if they didn't do it in the most efficient manner?  Even if mistakes were made and perhaps, as the responder suggested, there were some christian- and european-centric points of view utilized?  Does this effort deserve that type of vitriol and negativity?

My conclusion is no, it does not.  Yes, we should be more sensitive to other cultures and religions.  Yes, sometimes the best of intentions don't solve a problem.  But does that mean we shouldn't try?  No, it does not.  Was one video expected to solve all the starvation issues in Africa?  I doubt anybody was so clueless as to expect such an outcome.  Poverty in Africa (and around the world) is an ongoing problem, and will always be an issue, given how survival and economics work.  However, I'm convinced that even though poverty and hunger are always going to be a problem, we should still reach out to make the world a better place, and I honestly think that's what "Band-Aid" tried to do, and my hat is off to them for it, even 20 years later.

These musicians and song-writers may not have been as successful in accomplishing what they wanted to accomplish, especially in the above-responders' view, but dammit, they did something, and if we're still playing this video 20 years later and thinking about the issues they sing about, then perhaps they did a whole lot of good, above and beyond whatever amount of people they helped to feed in the 80's.

Perhaps it's the holidays, but I'm so tired of the rampant cynicism in the world, especially toward art.  Can we please applaud the efforts of people to make the world a better place rather than trying to tear people down about it, and maybe we'll be able to make those efforts more effective, rather than just do our best to stop all efforts in their tracks.



  1. so THIS is where you've been! :)
    Are you doing LJ and this simultaneously, or for different purposes?
    In any case, glad I saw this.
    In some ways I'm sorry I didn't respond, and in others, I'm glad I didn't. I didn't want to perpetuate what I felt would become a negative discussion without any viewpoints changing, so I left it.
    And honey, I am always exHAUSTED by the rampant cynicism! But we MUST FIGHT IT.

  2. Heya,

    Different purposes, I think. Honestly, I like this blog interface better.

    That's EXACTLY why, after that past response, I just said with all sincerity, "Merry Christmas" and left the discussion.

    But I wanted to put my thoughts down in a place that didn't require the discussion with her to continue.

    You're my first comment, too!! :)


  3. In a way, I agree with both of you. I just wish that people would realize that enough good food is thrown away that if it wasn't we could feed most of the American hungry. And there are plenty of those.

    I used to run an organization that fed 5000 people a week...5000 people that live at poverty level or below. We ran it off of food that grocery stores were going to throw away because it wasn't pretty enough for their produce section or shelves. Nothing wrong with the food, it just was dented or grew oddly shaped.

    In the end corporate run "food banks" like food lifeline and 2nd harvest put our efforts out of business. Why? Because ours was a real not-for-profit and we ran soley(sp?) off of hard work and donations. No one took a salary. They were making money and wanted our resources so they could make more.

    Cynical? Maybe. Realistic? Definately. But I am one of the poor and have waited in food bank lines.

  4. Heya, Karhma,

    I remember your food bank. You indeed fed a lot of people.

    Out of curiosity, how did they close you down?


  5. This is a nice interface, but... they still haven't managed to notify a 'commenter' when someone else has commented, only the blog owner.
    This post also no doubt played some part in my being inspired to drop off a pie and some candy canes to the local homeless shelter on Christmas Day :)
    It's not much, but it's what I could do. Next year I hope to do more.

  6. Hmmm, I don't see any option that would allow me to enable that function. :( Maybe I'm just missing it.

    Good for you about the donation thing!!