Rip the Band Aid Off
I FUCKING LOVE CHRISTMAS. Well, to be more accurate, I love the Christmas season. I try to be decent about it and wait until the day after Thanksgiving before I lose it completely to the evil Christmas spirit, but the few weeks leading up to Christmas are probably the only time of the year where I enjoy excessive sentimentality and Christian traditions. As we speak, I’m listening to a 2-hour-long playlist and I’m not even sorry.
But even at my most lenient, there are still a couple of things that make me cringe (I mean, THEM FEELINGS, Y’ALL) namely: the Do They Know It’s Christmas? lyrics and the plot of Love Actually. Now, those of you who have known me for a while might be surprised at that last one, because I used to watch the DVD on a regular basis back in high school, but it goes to show how much my enthusiasm for Christmas can cloud my judgment. And, full disclosure: I’m not going to address Love Actually here, but instead redirect you to the hilarious piece by Lindy West entitled I Rewatched Love Actually and Am Here to Ruin It for All of You. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t exactly pass the Bechdel test.
But what’s wrong, you say, with Do They Know It’s Christmas? [Side note: the punctuation nerd in me wonders if I should have doubled the question mark in this last question but that looks ugly AF.] Back in the 80’s, Bob Geldof asked celebrity friends of his to participate in one of those star-studded guilt-trips-in-the-shape-of-a-song-millionaires sometimes record when they want to raise money and awareness for a cause. And, don’t get me wrong, I genuinely laud the intention behind the projects —confession: I find We Are the World incredibly catchy— but can we PLEASE all admit that this is the most patronizing approach to third-world crises? Also, using the umbrella-term “Africa” as a toponym for poverty and AIDS isn’t exactly the most delicate way to address the particularly complex issues experienced by a variety of people on an incredibly diverse continent.
Yet Bob Geldof has been rehashing his tired anthem every ten years since 1984. The 2014 version is intended to raise awareness (and by “awareness”, I definitely mean “money”) about Ebola, thus regaling us with such gems as “Where a kiss of love can kill you / And there’s death in every tear” (yikes, rien que ça !) and “Why is comfort to be feared, why is to touch to be scared / How can they know it’s Christmas time at all.” Well, someone should probably point out to the members of Band Aid 30 that, considering the vast majority of the West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak are predominantly Muslim, perhaps they don’t really care that it’s Christmas time at all? I guess one thing we should feel thankful for —how appropriate during this holiday season— is that they removed the original lyrics “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.”
Many prominent British singers have declined the invitation to partake in the eurocentric do-gooder effort —including my fave Adele— and Lily Allen and Fuse ODG both wrote excellent pieces on why they decided not to be featured on the track. Fuse ODG, who was raised in Ghana, writes:
In truth, my objection to the project goes beyond the offensive lyrics. I, like many others, am sick of the whole concept of Africa – a resource-rich continent with unbridled potential – always being seen as diseased, infested and poverty-stricken. In fact, seven out of 10 of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa.
On a related note, a couple of years ago, a group of South Africans responded to the Western world’s obsession with aiding Africa in song in the most perfect way: with a charity single to end all charity singles entitled Africa for Norway by Radi-aid. It’s a tongue-in-cheek anthem calling for the donation of radiators to help Norwegian fight frostbite, highlighting how ridiculous the image of the African continent conveyed by the charity hits is. Here are the points that Radi-aid list as reasons behind their project on their website:
Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
Most of us just get tired if all we see is sad pictures of what is happening in the world, instead of real changes.
We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
We want to see more nuances. We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.
Media: Show respect.
Media should become more ethical in their reporting. Would you print a photo of a starving white baby without permission? The same rules must apply when journalists are covering the rest of the world as it does when they are in their home country.
Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.
If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that Ebola, AIDS, poverty, etc. are very real issues in Africa. But it’s a bit of a cop-out to literally recycle the same old tropes about an entire continent —which has been sucked out of its resources by the very system that enables people like Bob Geldof to avoid taxes and feel good about it— in order to guilt people into donating their money to charity. It also puts the people who were asked to participate in a very awkward position: it sure cannot be easy for Adele to hear Geldof says she is “doing nothing” to fight Ebola when she actually made a very quiet donation to Oxfam. UGH, HOW UNCHARITABLE.
In conclusion, and in keeping with the idea of re-using things that have already been said, let us reflect on the following quote: “The problem with God is he thinks he’s Bob Geldof.”