Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Fever

The Boomtown Rats once wrote a song called ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’. I don’t like the reimagined money-spinner, Band-Aid’s racist, patronizing, insensitive, us-and-them catchy little number that is supposed to be for raising money to combat Ebola in Africa. Africa’s a continent, for God’s sake, one hundred and thirty times bigger than the UK. The rather aggressively moralistic stance it takes has all the geopolitical nuance of making your child clean their plate because ‘thousands are starving’.
The original song asked us to imagine an Africa filled with the dirt-poor, hard-scrabbling to scavenge enough food to last the day, carrying water for hours just to be able to cook a meal. Filled with victims waiting for the white man’s salvation, so very selflessly offered. As a child, I listened to a lot of what I used to think of as ‘maiden aunt’ speeches from missionaries on furlough who were ferried around to different congregations in order to scrape together enough cash for the next six months in ‘the field’. It always seemed to me that the perpetuation of an us-and-them approach to evangelism or famine relief or whatever was both patronizing and served to deepen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The Haves feel good about giving; the have-nots get into the habit of receiving. Both are socially irresponsible.
The Ebola virus’ cross-species transfer is unfortunate at the very least. The fact that it has become a crisis, like the Ethiopian famine, has been engineered by human incompetence. In Nigeria, where public health infrastructure exists, the outbreak has been short-lived and fatalities usually occur through neglect, which is why the outbreaks in Sierra Leone and Liberia have caused an exponential increase in people dying. Incidentally, diarrhea will kill just as many Liberians as it did before and for exactly the same reasons. Untreated malaria racks up an even bigger body count. Neglect costs lives.
Al - Jazeera America isn’t usually my journal du jour. They had this to say however with which I found myself in fundamental agreement:  “If we in the West just wanted to save lives, we would send doctors and pay for them. Or better yet, we would train and support …medical professionals. We would build infrastructure, not awareness. But that’s much too simple, too obvious and not nearly glamorous enough. Especially since songs like “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” encourage us to look for simple morality tales and barely updated Victorian fables about white men taking up the burden of saving Africa. They teach us to want infantile carols that flatter the imagination of consumers who like to pretend that purchasing a song or going to a concert can painlessly make poverty history.”
OK. It isn't a very good song. Even the title “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is the self-righteous asking if the poor benighted heathen who apparently sit in perpetual darkness have any concept about the Saturnalian solstice with reindeer, Santa Claus and some guy called Jesus. Yes, of course they “know”. Twenty-four per cent of Christians worldwide are African. Lots of them get trees, holly and mistletoe and sing ‘See Amid the Winter’s Snow” despite the fact that most have never seen any and lots more dispense with Victoria and Albert’s version and do it in their own way.
But, we like the idea of raising money for good causes, so we’ve bought it by the truckload.
Geldof himself remarked “It really doesn’t matter if you don’t like this song. It really doesn’t matter if you hate all the artists. What you have to do is buy this thing.” Fair play for honesty. 

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