Wednesday, December 08, 2004

bland aid

Those of us who remember 1984 feel our age as kids buying the Band Aid 20 single Do They Know It's Christmas tell journalists they don't know who Bob Geldof is.

Then, as now, I think it's a bit weird that we have extremely rich pop stars asking that we use unsustainable consumerism to help people.

Some people have been buying copies then destroying them in novel and amusing ways.

But beyond the short life of the chuckle it produces it is, of course, appallingly wasteful to be destroying resources for a laugh in oder to help those who haven't even got food.

CDs are made of unbiodegradable plastic, they will still be around many millennia from now. That plastic is derived from oil. Oil reserves shrink every day and demand grows. When - as will certainly happen well within two decades, and probably within one - the demand outstrips supply, oil prices will skyrocket and our whole way of life, utterly dependent on oil, will crumble.

Our squandering of it on, say, the twenty five million carrier bags we get through weekly in the UK will suddenly be seen for what it is, an obscene waste. The same will apply to buying multiple copies of a CD just to burn it.

In the shorter term, buying a CD of the single is financially inefficient too - chunks of the money go to the pressing plants, distributors and others, rather than the people we're wanting to help.

I've heard numerous people suggesting that people should donate to a relevant charity without buying the single and cut out the middle man. This does seem far wiser, although it's usually come from people slagging off the whole Band Aid idea, saying that we shouldn't help a cause just cos a pop star wants us to.

I remember that sort of talk abounded at the time of the first Band Aid.

The year after Live Aid Chumbawamba released an album entitled Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records.

It made me want to release an album called Cynical Sneering At Pictures Of Starving Children Selling Records Also Sells Records, Only No Lives Get Saved By That.

The plain fact is that for a lot of us, the publicity thing is what it takes. Even those of us who do cut out the middle man are using Band Aid as a prompt and we'd probably not have thought about it if there hadn't been those preening pop statrs moving the issue up our agenda.

Band Aid and Live Aid were magnificent events, not because of the music (anyone actually want to hear the Thompson Twins doing Revolution ever again?), but for the message they sent out.

Right slap bang in the middle of the supposedly selfish and greed-fuelled 80s they said that celebrity and even music are not the be-all and end-all, that there are things far more important. Furthermore, they said that each of us has the power to make a difference on those things that are important.

Though I always shuddered at the self-congratulation of many of those involved, nonetheless I sided with them and against the bard Morrissey when he slagged it off. In his attack he said that it was ludicrous to say the fate of starving people comes down to an eleven year old girl in Wigan buying a record.

It certainly is ludicrous. It's also true. People are starving to death because of the lack of food that could be bought with the profits made from buying a single.

It called on a deeper humanity in us 80s kids, and we responded. The impact was huge on the psyche of those of us old enough to love pop music but still young enough not to be cynical, and I still see its repercussions now. I know for a fact that it was an inspiration for me to get plugged in and busy in the world. As a starting point, a kick up the arse, something to inspire a thirst for justice in teenagers, it was magnificent.

I hope and expect Band Aid 20 will do the same. I don't see anything else around that puts such motivations in the face of today's adolescents.

And, of course, the impact of the original Band Aid was huge in more quantifiable direct and practical ways. There are people right this second drinking clean water from wells dug with Band Aid money. Anyone who wants to slag it off should go and explain to those people why they shouldn't have their village well.

The pop stars are just doing it for the publicity - yeah, sure; Radiohead, Coldplay, Dido and and Paul McCartney so need the publicity. And for the lesser Pop Idolesque runts, even if they are doing it as a career move, so what? If someone's drowning would you grab the arm of the person about to throw a lifebelt and say 'hang on, I don't think your motives are pure enough'?

As Noah Vale said over at the Head Heritage message board;

Dear starving people,

you'll have to starve some more until we can find some earnest people to raise money to help you. The money we have raised came from Will Young & we know how much you hate him.

Why don't the pop stars give their own money instead? - details do leak out that people like Bono and McCartney are constantly giving on a colossal scale, and it's a fair bet it's true of others too. But if they went round trumpeting it can you imagine how that would look? And what, people are not supposed to encourage others to give cos there's someone richer?

People are just buying it to salve their conscience, thinking that's all they need to do - So there are two types of donor - those who are prompted by big publicity drives and think that's enough, and those who give and then go on to give more and do more than just give money.

Whilst I'd agree that we need more people in the second group, I don't see that something like Band Aid, which gets both groups to donate, can be a bad thing. There would be less activity if it didn't happen, and less people getting interested in the issues and realising that just buying the record isn't enough.

The tune's a pile of cack, though - It's a christmas song, so it being a pile of cack is hardly a surprise. Despite some excellent piano work form Thom Yorke, the Bland Aid nickname is well deserved. But actually, Do They Know It's Christmas is a smaller volume of cack than most; if you don't believe me go back and check Cliff Richard's Millennium Prayer or see if you can get through a single listening of Neil Diamond's Christmas Album - a ripe choice for a gag about 'a christmas turkey' if ever there was one.

That Christmas element is a tad culturally inappropriate - The Christmas reference is uncomfortable for me too. We have a tendency to see western social ideas as universal, or at least better and desirable. There's a sliver of that in the song.

But I think there's also more than a sliver of truth in the argument put to me by Jim Bliss that the song is aimed at us, people who have a christmas tradition, asking that we spread that spirit. It's tapping into the stuff about peace and goodwill, it's saying that we should actually do something on that front. It takes a strange and overly literalist mind to think it's advocating exporting missionaries and tinsel.

It's not going to solve anything long-term, globalisation and western power are at the root of much of it - the project has never claimed to solve it. Indeed, Geldof went with the initially unpopular name Band Aid precisely because it needs to be made crystal clear every time we invoke it that the project is a short-term temporary measure.

The need for long term political solutions has never meant short term charity is pointless.

This time around they're openly assaulting the debt and the trade rules that cause much of the problem, they're using the platform Band Aid provides to stimulate something that will change things long term.

In the meantime, food and clean water are available to those who wouldn't otherwise get it. If I were starving I'd want long-term solutions too; but any food offered now from whatever source would be gratefully received, and I'd despise the well-fed cynics who would withhold it from me because they don't like the donor.

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