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Shock Tactics?

Late and long this week but then I was struggling with the topic and trying to be as balanced as possible; and probably I should not have bothered. But I was ranting at myself this week in the care (and had far too much time in the rubbish traffic) so perhaps I can explain this away as being personally cathartic. I’m not an expert on any of this, but a blog is a personal thing anyway, and no one reads it so I do not see what I was worried about.

The new Band Aid single is pretty awful. But then the original was hardly the pinnacle of song writing and largely survives more positively in my memory because of the nostalgia more than anything else (and, as previously blathered, because it was a new idea at the time). I’d have preferred an entirely new record for the ensemble although I suppose with the 30 year anniversary of the original single that was never going to be an option. And it’s marginally better that the last one and on a different artistic plane from the Hit Factory remake in the 1990s.

What has surprised me, and slightly bothered me, is the negativity expressed in some areas of the media. A lot of the ‘backlash’ (and I use the word in inverted comma’s because based on sales the negativity is not something held by most of the buying public, or maybe it is just the 1D fans doing the buying) seems to be based around two main areas – a lack of respect for the African people and shock tactics and suspected ulterior motives of some of those involved. Accusations seem to be that this is just artists promoting their new album and/or their new tour. Or that maybe these same artists maybe are angling/obtaining tax benefits, or assuaging their consciences for not paying money directly into charities from their own funds and forcing us poor public to buy this tosh instead.

Well. This is probably true in some cases.

But does it really matter?

I am not sure it does in my opinion. I think we have kind of forgotten what philanthropy is about. Putting aside that many of these artists probably do give significantly to charity (quietly) anyway and my personal bugbear on how many other people with significant incomes are making no contribution at all (while making tutting noises as they read the newspaper but not thinking for one minute that, just because they are not in the public eye, identical opportunities for giving do not all apply to them) this is money going to a cause that would not be there otherwise. Bluntly, there are thousands of kids who are not going to put 99p into the pot to fight Ebola in the street collecting box but are more than happy to pay that to get a few seconds of Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith.

These people have a talent (well some of them at least) and they are using it to do something good. I do not see what is wrong with that. If it is not entirely altruistic then that does not bother me. When rich Victorians paid for and built hospitals and orphanages it was not entirely altruistic either and mostly was to sooth consciences, put in a good word with the Almighty and/or massage their egos with the name in big letters carved in stone along the top, but it was better to have a hospital then not to have one at all.

I’m not going to hold anyone up to a higher standard than I have to apply to myself, and too often when I give it is out of guilt or some kind of sense of duty – of course I have an ulterior motive. It makes me feel good to give.

And plenty of giving is needed. For example, one good point I have seen made it is while everyone seems terrified of Ebola, TB, malaria and heart disease continue to kill thousands every year globally with no sign yet of a charity record to fight them. Maybe if we can knock this one on the head we can focus on the longer term issues. But sadly these don’t create the same fear factor for many people over here.

Fear and shock is something which has been recently and eloquently criticised in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/19/turn-down-band-aid-bob-geldof-africa-fuse-odg?CMP=fb_gu ) although to be honest the original Band Aid did not invent shock tactics intended to try and shake the cold hearted and self-centred society we live in to part with their cash or push for change. When Charles Dickens wrote Hard Times it was deliberately to shock his Middle Class readership with the state of those working in the Northern mills (interesting how the most forwarded pieces on this topic seem to be from The Guardian and The Telegraph – coincidence? I think not). Pretty much every Humanitarian (and many other) Non-Governmental Organisations use exactly the same shock tactics.

Sorry, but this is advertising plain and simple and while the cause may be different from commercial profit the approach is the same – you have a short period of time to grab the attention and make an impression. If you want people to give you money you need to upset and horrify them and thinking this is ever going to be balanced is hopelessly naive. For better or worse, the current Band Aid is not doing anything different, and with the record sales you can understand why.

The image of Africa and its people is a key point and possibly the most challenging of all the discussions and like Fuse I do not have any answer other than that, to avoid being patronising, a lot of this change of image has to come out of Africa itself. Our role is to be more balanced and have to be ready to listen with open minds.

Here is hoping that whatever the views expressed, the actual situation improves and lives are saved.

Next week I want to go back to being fluffy. I am considering the practical plan for turning into reality a suggestion from Chris Evans on Radio 2 this morning that, after the survey suggesting our engagement with police is increased if they are mounted on horses (who would have guessed?) that all police on the beat should now be armed – with kittens.

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