Band Aid: Feeding the world or just their own egos?


If proof were needed that no good deed goes unpunished, it is evidenced in the response from some quarters to Band Aid 30 and the latest release of the charity hit, Do they know it's Christmas? Smug, self-righteous and patronising are just a few of the criticisms levelled at Sir Bob Geldof and his troupe of all-singing do-gooders. Notwithstanding, the single went straight in at Number 1 and will no doubt raise a significant sum to help fight the spread of Ebola in Africa. Who could possibly argue that doing something is better than doing nothing at all?

Except, in this instance it feels like the "something" is a remnant from a different era. The release of the original Band Aid single in 1984 was a breakthrough moment. It was a collision of music and politics that forced the agenda and educated the public. At a time when there were just four television channels and no internet or social media, it was not easy to get causes like famine in Africa into people's consciousness. The celebrities who took part would, on the whole, not have had the stratospheric wealth that they do today. Their time really was worth something over and above any financial contribution they could make. Band Aid raised almost £20m on release in 1984. A fortune back then, it probably amounts to no more than the tax avoided by the well-managed, savvy participants of 2014.

Sadly, the need for Band Aid 30 and other celebrity-driven initiatives such as Comic Relief and Children in Need, says more about the public and its relationship to giving, than it does about the famous millionaires who give up their precious time and then implore those less well off to, "Give us your f--king money." But why does it take the endorsement of a celebrity to help us make our charitable choices?

There is often something quite perverse about celebrities being used (and often paid) to raise money for charity. Should it really need that guy who used to be in a soap opera to know the capital of Mozambique, in order for kids with cancer or war heroes to get a £1m quiz show prize? Sadly, supporting charitable causes has become overly inter-connected with the desire to create good media content. In the short-term this is fine for the small number of causes that benefit. Yet those that cannot call on Hollywood stars or even Strictly dancers, struggle to compete for airtime and publicity when up against the PR machines of the industry behemoths.

Much of it is to do with the all-pervading celebrity culture. Yet the infrastructure is in place to allow individuals to inform themselves and make choices without needing to be told what to do by the world's biggest boy band. We need to take greater responsibility for our personal philanthropy, whether it's a few pounds or a few million. The alternative is the skewed set of preferences evident today. Not only have priorities been distorted, placing Ebola above other important causes, but resources have been duplicated. The Disasters Emergency Committee has already raised £20m for the region. The public has responded in numbers. In this context, rehashing an '80s pop song and making Ebola the "African famine" for the download generation, seems wide of the mark. We have given Geldof and the like the power to dictate policy through an inability to make charitable decisions for ourselves.

To redress the balance and to ensure a better distribution of resources to those that need it, it is time to move away from looking to celebrities to front charity campaigns. A great cause can sell itself.

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