These demonstrators at GM Summits and World Bank and IMF meetings just don’t get it. Direct, grass-roots action is out, philanthropy is back in. Who needs Marx and Engels when you’ve got Bono and Geldof? Of course on a purely immediate, humanist level it’s clear that raising money for starving children is never going to be a bad thing per se. But in every other respect, Band Aid 20’s re-done Christmas single is an aberration. The original “Do they know it’s Christmas”, and its accompanying fund-raising concerts, at least helped bring previously ignored suffering to the attention of the popular consciousness, and for this we could perhaps forgive it for having also prolonged the careers of several decaying big-hair dinosaur-rockers. The whole thing reeked of liberal guilt, but there was a genuine innocence about it, and one way or another certain boundaries were crossed.
In 2004 we know all about “Third World” starvation; the argument goes that we have in fact become numb to it, and that therefore once in a while we need an event like a Band Aid 20 release to “remind us” how lucky we are. The idea seems to be that a recently laid-off factory worker in Manchester, or a single mother on an estate, rather than equating his or her situation with that of the starving child in Africa on account of the fact that they are both subjects to the same world economic system, must instead detach himself from the African problem, and just be grateful it’s not them who’s starving (“Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”). The situation is alien, “Third World”, detached. So the argument is that because we have become numb to suffering, we must respond by repackaging our guilt in an updated, more facile way. The desired effect is a state of permanent gratitude on both sides; dependency is perpetuated, while our consciences are satisfied.
Of course the giver/receiver relationship can only be seen to be beneficial in the context of a certain perceived world order; that is to say, we must not consider economic structures and the essential role they play in bringing about the poverty in question. Without a revolutionary change in the world economic structure, all the charity in the world won’t stop babies starving – the very “necessity” of another Band Aid record is a grim testament to this. But of course the liberal conscience wants to keep things simple, or else it would have little to gain from such an initiative in terms of a “feel good factor” of its own; nor would it want to compromise its future status as “giver” or “reliever of suffering”, with Bob Geldof as its Messianic sandaled saviour.
And for this reason we are told the following things on the record:
“[Africa,] Where nothing ever grows/No rain nor rivers flow”.
This valuable insight, sung this time around by Time-Out-friendly Miss Dynamite and Beverly Knight (they’re black so, like, they would know) quite conveniently reaffirms the decades-old misconception that Africa’s problems are almost entirely due to geographical factors. African poverty? Oh it’s the weather, innit?
“Where the only water flowing/Is the bitter sting of tears…..Underneath the burning sun.”
The people who brought you this record are beneath contempt; to try and understand the world’s problems is one thing, to trivialise and cheapen them in the name of humanism is quite another. Thanks to a host of top names and the attendant emotional blackmail of such releases, it is sure to be a hit. Some people will argue that even though it’s not going to change the world, it’ll raise lots of money and that can’t be a bad thing, and they may be right – it’s better to save one child than none at all. Alternatively, if we consider the net result of projects like this – the trivialisation of the issue in the popular consciousness, the perpetuation of a culture of charity, the affirmation of false myths to explain human suffering, pandering to smugness, the strengthening of a misguided liberal consensus, the stunting of political consciousness in young people – in this country alone, it is highly likely that, over the long-term, these projects may yet do more harm than good in terms of “fighting poverty” in Africa, even by the liberals’ own favoured body-count barometer.