The season of fundraising is upon us! There are numerous campaigns, with celebrity endorsement, vying for our support – Band Aid 30 the most scrutinized of late. Impact Comment debates whether the intentions of these celebrities are as honourable as the causes they support. And if not, does it really matter?
Is it really necessary to criticise anyone for being charitable? With over 300,000 copies sold in its debut week, Band Aid 30 is achieving what it set out to do – raise a substantial amount of money and awareness to help tackle the Ebola crisis. It would be easy to accuse celebrities involved, like Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora, for selfishly trying to promote themselves, prompted enthusiastically by their PR consultants.
As CEO of Save The Children, Justin Forsyth, acknowledged “the bottom line is that we can’t afford not to use the power of celebrity” (the Guardian 2o11). We can only blame ourselves if we choose to engage in the allure of celebrity over the tragedy of the cause: an inhumane and highly contagious disease that has already killed close to 7,000 people.
Rather than donating a finite amount, in creating or re-releasing a Christmas song, Geldof and the gang are actually inspiring an infinite amount of money to be raised
Often, a charity itself will only appeal to a limited range of people whereas with the support of a celebrity, it instantly extends its appeal to the masses. The endorsement of 30 musicians, popular and varied in age, is bringing the crisis to the forefront of millions of minds. And it is keeping it there. Rather than donating a finite amount, in creating or re-releasing a Christmas song, Geldof and the gang are actually inspiring an infinite amount of money to be raised.
Okay yes, perhaps the lyrics ought to have been reconsidered, maybe more African-based musicians ought to have been involved, but as Forsyth further contended “without the campaigning energies of Bono, Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis, for example, I don’t believe 46 million more children would be in school today in some of the world’s poorest countries”.
I, of course, accept that there are occasions where their involvement is at best contrived and self-promotional
It would be beyond naïve to deny the role of celebrities in building the momentum of a cause. I, of course, accept that there are occasions where their involvement is at best contrived and self-promotional. But, if we cannot celebrate the positivity of rallying behind a cause, regardless of whether Lily Allen joined in or not, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with our approach to humanitarian aid. Another example of a celebrity’s power in reaching out to the public is Joanna Lumley’s creditable campaigning in 2009 for Gurkha veterans to gain equal right of residence. Such high-profile personal involvement from Lumley undeniably accelerated and urged our Government to take action. Akin to the original Band Aid of 1984 and the statistics so far for Band Aid 30, the results of celebrity fundraising and involvement in humanitarian aid speak for themselves.
Good old Geldof got to the core of the matter. He declared “it really doesn’t matter if you don’t like this song… What you have to do is buy this thing”.
We have now hit the season of mass fundraising, and there is no shortage of schemes to which we can donate our spare Christmas funds to. Of course, these causes have the best intentions behind them. But the celebrities queuing up to get involved: not so much.
He described how “for the past four years I have gone to Ghana at Christmas for the sole purpose of peace and joy”
Most recently? The Band Aid 30 single. Yes, many well-meaning people will probably buy this charity single or donate a couple of pounds. And I do not doubt that the money raised will have a short term effect. However, it fails to address the long term colonialist stigmatisation of Africa by the west. As Fuse ODG explored when he wrote for the Guardian, explaining why he would not be taking part in the single. He described how “for the past four years I have gone to Ghana at Christmas for the sole purpose of peace and joy”; at direct odds with the lyric “there is no peace and joy in west Africa this Christmas”. It certainly does not inspire a positive stance when the lyrics of the song declare that a “kiss of love can kill you”.
It shifts the onus away from everyday people making small changes and contributions at a grassroots level
I truly struggle to understand why celebrities are congratulated for giving up, what is realistically, a single morning of their time to sing into a microphone. It shifts the onus away from everyday people making small changes and contributions at a grassroots level; one of the most successful means of instigating change and raising money. I have particular concerns about a certain Mr Terry Wogan, who is paid over £9000 every year to present Children in Need. It was only following public outrage a few years ago that he began donating his fee to the charity itself. The publicity associated with fundraising of this kind seems to have been maximised by Wogan, who is reported to be worth over £20 million.
Some celebrities have a very different approach: Adele, for example, has the right idea. Instead of getting involved in the new Band Aid 30 song, she privately and quietly donated money to Oxfam instead, without seeking any recognition. By contrast, as much as it pains me to criticise S Club 7, who I absolutely adored when I was younger (and I’m not going to lie, I do still enjoy their songs every now and then), it troubles me that they chose to launch their comeback on Children in Need last week. The announcement of the group’s tour off the back of a fundraising event was, frankly, an obvious ploy sell tickets for their tour.
So this Christmas let’s donate generously, but for the right reasons: helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves not our fave celebs.
Image courtesy of Matthias Muehlbradt via Flickr