On idols and charity

21Dec07

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Thanks to a friend, I’m reading a biography about U2 now and getting inspired by how much I agree with this band. I think this quote from The Edge really sums up my feelings about being in awe by famous people or having idols in general, that we are all equally confused about lives and we have to listen to ourselves to decide on the life we want.

My personal journey with U2 began really superficially, I have a U2 iPod because I liked the colour combination. Then I started hearing U2 songs and I got captivated by its messages of brotherhood, patriotism and passion. It certainly helped that Bono is the poster boy of idealism, helping the fight against poverty and aids in the Third World.

But true to the spirit of the quote, Bono gets confused sometimes too. His campaign to fight HIV and AIDS in Africa, (Red), got a lot of debate amongst my friends recently. One felt it was bad because it only encouraged consumerism, another felt it was the only way to get big corporations to cooperate (after all, what’s in it for them?). In fact, there is a campaign that attempts to correct the failings of (Red), it’s called Buy Less!

There seems to be a trend of selling idealism as a way of life nowadays and (Red) is one instance of this and others include magazines like GOOD and Monocle. It shows that everything can be commodified and I am worried that its original intentions would be diluted.

In a sense, it adds another layer between the donor and the needy. It used to be charitable organisations, now that has enlarged and comes in some form of “social enterprises” — businesses that attempt to have some social good component. People start thinking that they can continue with their normal lives and somebody else will take care of those who need help. Apathy arises when its always somebody else taking care of it, and it seems to complicate matters like how to sustain these people and what values they stand for. Most importantly, there is the death of the personal relationship between the donor and the needy and charity organisations try to simulate that by creating “personalised” greeting cards of gratitude when Christmas comes. It just feels… fake. Jean Baudrillard, a postmodern thinker who theorised that simulation would take over the original, would have felt so vindicated.

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2 Responses to “On idols and charity”

  1. 1 Megan

    I don’t know. Sometimes I think that the people behind “buy less” have failed to take into consideration the impact that reduced consumerism has on the families whose livelihoods depend on it. Also, the plain reality is that trade is the main key for escaping the poverty trap for today’s third world. I am not saying that buy less doesn’t have good intentions, but I find its solutions somewhat simplistic….how do we leave the corporate monster we have created? Can we tame it? Or is revolution the only answer?

  2. On retrospect, I think the answer isn’t so much about which is the best solution, but there is a diversity of solutions. The good thing about diversity is there are many helping hands to a problem, so even if one fails, another can make up for it. The flip side is there might be overlap or competition for resources.

    At the end of the day we make a decision we have to think, who is it helping? As long as you can confidently say that what you are doing is helping, regardless the magnitude, I think it deserves some applause already.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think revolution is the only answer, but it is a constant struggle to ensure we balance these things. Unfortunately, there isn’t a utopian ending to it all.


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