War Is Over! If You Buy It
Birdie Hall | Sunday Nov. 30th, 2014
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Temperatures far below zero expel frozen green snot from the lungs of bitter smokers, and a flood of money from the pockets of the white middle class. Downtown’s holiday sparkle will soon seep out into Belgrade, as we fill our reusable shopping bags with earth-conscious, child-labour-free gifts obtained piously from the heart of our small city. In 2012, the average American family budgeted $750 into their Christmas spending. That’s a lot of money, about 75 hours worth of minimum wage labor.
Americans show their love with the exchange of material possessions. As if to add insult to injury, we have also managed to define and validate our identities by means of consumption. If we don’t like Walmart and claim to despise gargantuan corporations, then we refuse to spend money there and tell everyone about it. Determined to refuse cheap sweaters constructed by malnourished Pakistani children, the sensible shopper is more than compliant to shell out $100 for an American-made one. Everything from the food we eat to the clothes on our backs relay fiscal choice, or lack thereof. For us, choosing to buy Tom’s shoes is a noble display of social activism. According to Bono, we can even purchase music to end a third-world plague.
The concept of consuming as charity is not new. This holiday season marks the 30th anniversary of the ‘Band Aid’ charity concert and album release with a new recording of the 1980’s single “Do They Know it’s Christmas?”. The original Band Aid was orchestrated by Irish rocker Bob Geldof (The Boomtown Rats) to raise funds for a famine-stricken Ethiopia. The recording featured vocals by Sting, George Michael, (as you might guess) Bono, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Phil Collins, and Kool and the Gang among others. The new recording sees the return of (yes, you guessed it) Bono and Geldof along with Chris Martin (Coldplay), Sinead O’Conner, Ellie Goulding, and One Direction. Both tracks listen much the same with functionally identical, exuberant vocals at the fore.
At the time of its original 1984 release, Band Aid and the resulting single received mixed reviews. Many people were caught in a wave of positive emotions and accessible lyrics while others saw the project as condescending in the extreme. It looked like an advertisement for white guilt. And the Band Aid project itself has been updated little - with proceeds now going to combat the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa...somehow.
Is Band Aid itself little more than an exercise in poor taste? Perhaps, but an updated “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” will serve an important function this holiday season.
Every year we look for something extraordinary to help us gloss over the unsettling incompatibility between the spirit of the holidays with the spirit of consumerism. A widening gap between rich and poor makes this harder every year. And I must say, this expected re-hashing of a lukewarm 80’s pop song has been tailor-made to suit this purpose.
The new recording features predominately white, uncontroversial performers singing about how much it sucks that people are bleeding out of their eyes in Sierra Leone, but in the end it’s okay because we have the collective power to change that.
This year we have indeed been blessed with a Christmas miracle! A reformed punk rocker (Geldof has never explicitly disavowed punk ideals, but this song and the ethos underpinning it are about as punk rock as The Wiggles) has re-discovered a thirty year-old bad idea for solving geopolitical crisis.
The world has changed since 1984. No longer must you trek to the record store for a copy of “Do They Know it’s Christmas?”. It has been released for digital download so you can help heal Africa from your favorite chair or curled up on the sofa with a mug of cider and a modern holiday classic on the stereo.
This magical song is already hard at work. At the time of those writing it has climbed to the #2 spot on iTunes, so rejoice for we are surely days from a cure. If you haven’t heard it before, the effect is impressive. Let yourself be carried away by the sickly-sweet and deeply insipid lyrics. Once finished, you will have forgotten just how unlikely it is they know it’s Christmas. Or for that matter how unlikely it is that they own an iPod or a radio. Considering that most lives in the Third World do not include access to a modern medical treatment center, clean water, education, or contraception, ‘greater awareness of Christmas’ might not top the West African wish lists this holiday season.
In the wake of a lackluster effort by the international community to corral the outbreak of Ebola, it seems unlikely that $1.29 worth of first world guilt can make up the difference. Amongst the peaceful warmth of our mostly comfortable, white suburban town, the concept of direct action need not apply to our collective consciousness. Buying locally will quell global warming, put an end to slave labour, and unplug the landfills… Right? Unfortunately not.
Choosing organic eggs will not change the fact that the chicken who laid them never saw the light of day once in its miserable life. There isn’t a pair of smartwool socks in the world capable of feeding the homeless or putting an end to the Koch Brothers’ ecological and intellectual holocaust. Just because you can pay more to have nicer things that donate twenty cents to The Gap’s AIDS campaign doesn’t mean you should. Real social change comes from direct action: Volunteering, voting, literacy, protesting, and most importantly, recognizing that our purchasing power is the most harmful in the world. Any good that could come from a measly iTunes donation can safely be ruled out.
The landfills and garbage islands can’t keep up with us. Every single one of us unwillingly contributes to the ever-expanding urban sprawl. The American way of life requires that we all partake in supporting slave-wage labour. We are destroying the planet and human psyche by purchasing needless stuff. We didn’t choose to make this mess, we were born into and conditioned by it. That being said, we are human beings. We are not morally incapable of cleaning up the corporate filth created by those who stupify and destroy for monetary gain. Happy Christmas.
Written by Birdie Bowie, With substantial contributions by Samuel Foulkes