What is it about rock stars and charity events that brings out the cynic in me? Well lets be fair, not just rock stars but any so-called celebrity gathering to raise money for “a worthy cause” has a tendency to leave me less them impressed. Their voices drip with sincerity while their glistening white teeth gleam out from behind perfect faces under perfect hair in expressions of perfect sympathy.
It’s all just a little too perfect for my tastes. None of these people look like they have much more to worry about then whether their cuticles are perfect. How can they even begin to understand anything of the reality that the people they are talking about experience. To hear people who obsess about excess fat on their thighs describe the horrors of famine makes me choke on my food.
Maybe its the heat and humidity that’s making me so cranky but I look at the people they have lined up to perform at the Canadian Live 8 concert and something doesn’t feel right. With a couple of exceptions, the recently added Neil Young and Bruce Cockburn, the line up reads like a list of the vacuous and the vain. How the organizers can think that an anorexic Celine Dione performing in a concert to raise awareness about poverty and hunger is anything other then obscene I don’t know?
The irony of having someone who makes their living from working in one of the more horrendous examples of conspicuous consumption in the Western world, Las Vegas, headline a concert to raise awareness about poverty would be laughable if it wasn’t so nauseating. More money is probably spent on the gaming tables there in a year then the Gross National Product of the countries who will supposedly benefit by this concert.
The organizers and participants say they are trying to raise awareness of the issues surrounding debt relief for developing nations through these concerts. Have they ever been to big rock concert? How many people in the audience can remember the names of the groups they are seeing let alone absorb any political message given out during that time?
At the Canadian concert they are talking about having twenty to twenty one groups performing. The continuous bombardment upon the senses that is assured by that number of performers is not conducive to information retention. What is the chance of anyone walking away from that concert with more understanding of the complexities of international trade and third world debt?
I hate to say it but so few people in North America have any awareness of issues and life outside of their own personal concerns that I can’t see what impact a concert will have on those not already informed. Like a variation on you can bring a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink, the audience may be coming to the concert but what incentive is there for them to partake of the water being offered?
There was a time when one of the things I did was organize benefits like this. Much smaller in scale of course, and for less grandiose purposes. Invariably the majority of the people who turned out for the event, while quite willing to part with the money for admittance, had only showed up to see whatever bands were performing.
The fact that the concert was for a purpose had no significance in their minds. They knew very well that it was a benefit, and would make appropriate noises when ever someone said anything about the cause, but at the end of the evening they knew no more then they did at the outset.
What about the publicity given to the cause by all the lead-up in the press? Well how much of that really deals with anything substantial. The big headlines are about who is going to be performing, not about which countries need debt relief most.
The broadcasts of the shows won’t be much better either. People will only tune in to watch the bands they like. Remember were talking about a television audience here who are glued to remote controls and switch through channels during commercial breaks, or hit the fridge, bathroom, or other important missions when something is on that doesn’t interest them. How many of them will stay and listen to someone like Steven Lewis?
Cast your mind back twenty years to the original Live Aid songs. The Brits, the Americans and the Canadians all put out their own ditties in aid of famine relief. Of course each of them came with their very own video, and a special “making of feature”. Ostensibly these and the subsequent Live Aid concerts were done for charitable purposes.
But how much impact did any of these monies or events have on the situation. Thousands of people remain in refugee camps and famine still stalks the sub Sahara on a yearly basis. Nothing concrete or long term has yet to be established for relieving these conditions. In fact in the ensuing years most governments decreased the amounts of money spent on foreign aid and invested less effort into improving the lot of people in other parts of the world.
One of the last things that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau did when he was still leading Canada was try and interest his fellow leaders in the idea of North/South versus East/West as an emphasis for foreign policy. He thought that by implementing Marshall Plan style programming in developing and non aligned countries would have more influence on the spread of Communism(this was the late seventies early eighties)then direct conflict.
Who knows what the world would look like now if anybody had bothered responding to this idea. No one was interested. They could spend money on war but not on people. Sound familiar?
Sir Bob Geldof wants a million people to turn out next month in Edinburgh to demonstrate at the G-8 conference. Do you think that Tony Blair is going to allow them within a mile of the conference site? How will that sit with the security folk?
I can just see the reaction of Bush’s people if they’re told that a million people are going to be parading around demonstrating against his policies. With the war in Iraq and bin Laden still on the loose don’t you think the guys paid to protect the president will be a little tense? It’ll be lucky if the demonstration is allowed to take place in Glasgow let alone Edinburgh.
The argument used by the people involved in these types of events is that they are lending their names and reputations to raise awareness of an issue and put pressure on the politicians to take action. But what sort of real effect can any of this have?
The debt relief plan already inacted by the G-8 people goes nowhere near far enough to deal with the problems at hand. But even that token gesture has been watered down by resistance from countries unwilling to commit money to foreign aid. No amount of public pressure is going to cause people like George Bush or Jacques Chirac to change their minds. World condemnation hasn’t worked in the past why should it now?
If in the past these leaders and their predecessors haven’t listened to the likes of Pierre Trudeau, Nelson Mandela, Steven Lewis, and a variety of U. N. leadership, what makes Bono and Bob Geldolf think that they will be any more successful. Sure politicians like Canada’s Paul Martin will use them for photo ops. but that’s no guarantee of anything. The Canadian government can’t even keep its promises about child poverty in it’s own country, let alone for the rest of the world
This G-8 meeting will come and go and they will make the usual announcements of progress and steps forward. The little bits that Tony Blair managed to squeeze out of them will be heralded as the dawn of a new era in the developed world’s dealings with Africa. Then everyone, the protestors, the politicians, and the concert goers will go home and forget about it.
In the end the only purpose served by all this Live 8 hoop la is to make some people feel good about themselves. Since these are people who already lead incredibly privileged lives it all begins to feel terribly self indulgent. If they really wanted to make a difference they’d spend all this time and energy directly on the affected countries, or one of the Non Governmental Agencies working on the ground.
But the number of photo ops is pretty limited under those circumstances. A concert in the Key of Me is far more rewarding. You can feed your ego while appearing to do something important. No matter how sincere some of them may hope they’re sounding it all rings a little false. It’s hard to trust in the sincerity of people who make their living out of manufacturing emotion into three minute packages.