Sunday, 13 March 2011

Is Red Nose Day just about cheap publicity for desperate celebrities?

The population has over recent weeks had to endure the irritating build up to Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day.
The event offers an opportunity for comedians and entertainers to do something to help the poor of the world – both at home and abroad. The event has been supported by the public in their millions, since its inception in 1988.
Red Nose Day sits together with Sport Aid, Children in Need and other great charitable fests organised to help the less well off.
Charitable activities to help the poor are ofcourse most laudable and to be encouraged.
One of the problems though with events like Red Nose Day is the crass celebrity led nature of the process.
One programme in the lead up to Red Nose Day was titled Famous, Rich and in the Slums featuring comedic actor Lenny Henry , Eastenders actress Samantha Womack and former newsreader Angela Rippon visiting poor people in the slums of Africa. Can it get much more patronising?
The celebrities are lauded for giving their time and taking the trouble to find out what is going on. Another side is that this is easy cheap positive publicity for the celebrity class. It is a sad society that can only understand poverty and suffering viewed through the lens of their own priveliged rich celebrities.
These fundraising fests in the main simply reinforce the stereotypes about poverty in the world. The subjects are victims to be showered with pity. They pull on the heart strings, people react and give generously. They do not address the real causes of poverty and what can be done to eliminate it.
In this country, what of the structures that mean one in five live under the poverty line? The fact that 9,000 elderly people died over the past year due to the cold. And that it is the poor and vulnerable who are being hit by the austerity budget to cut the deficit. These questions do not arise as part of Red Nose Day.
These TV celebrity led charitable affairs in the main simply reinforce unhelpful stereotypes about the poor.
The people who contribute are made to believe they are really making a difference, while reinforcing their generally negative views about the helplessness of the poor.
They give no dignity to the victims, simply providing them with a bit part in a warped soap opera of suffering.
The all important element missing is justice. If justice were part of these events, then the links that keep so much of the world - at home and abroad - poor would become apparent.
The fact that many in this country could not enjoy the lifestyles that they do, were it not for the suffering of others, needs to be pointed out. The economic system that dominates throughout the world demands that so many people remain poor.
If some of these points were made and a vision for real change offered then there would be a point to these fundraising affairs.
At present they are at best band aids for suffering, at worst a means to massage celebrity egos and reinforce unhelpful stereotypes of the poor.
If the celebrity class want to do something useful then they should learn about the causes of poverty at home and abroad. Then they could use their positions to inform about these matters. It would be interesting to see because no doubt were they to move out of the passive self publicising charitable role then they would soon find demand for such appearances would drop off. Imagine, the arguments about too little tax being imposed on the rich in this country (a subject close to home for many celebrities) or the need to curb arms exports to Africa.
These various fundraising events have gone on for decades now but how much difference have they made? The world is more unequal than ever. No doubt there have been important changes made at individual level by much of the work done by these events but do they not just obfuscate the whole injustice of the bigger picture.
Giving to charity is a very simple way to feel good and salve consciences. Questioning why the world is set up in such an unjust way is a much more difficult challenge to undertake. This requires that justice be put to the forefront and that charity does not replace it.

2 comments:

  1. I think you make an excellent point about the need to look into the causes of poverty at home and abroad.

    A massive problem with this celebrity fest, and others like it, is that it is entirely depoliticised and does not give serious treatment of the reasons for increasing inequality and poverty in developing countries and at home.

    If we take developing countries first, we need to acknowledge that the UK's political, financial and legal elites:

    - play a major role in sustaining and enforcing an entirely one-sided and vicious global financial and banking system that ensures developing countries remain impoverished

    - assist and encourage numerous UK controlled tax havens to flourish, enabling corrupt politicians and criminals in developing countries, and at home, to hide and launder the millions they've ripped off their fellow citizens.

    In the UK the extent of corporate tax avoidance, evasion and use of tax havens by multinationals (and very high net worth individuals, including celebs) has shifted the tax burden, through direct and indirect taxation, onto smaller companies and average individuals.

    The secrecy of tax havens and avoidance of regulation was also a major contributing factor to the last financial crisis.

    You can be certain many of the Red Nose Day celebs are banking secretly offshore and so evading paying their fair share of taxes that ought to be going towards paying for public services that we all need and use.

    I hope more people take the first step of educating themselves by doing some basic research of their own, then acting on that information to promote change and tougher regulation.

    For a start, watch a good presentation:

    http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2011/03/09/the-rise-of-britains-tax-haven-empire/

    Or read a good book: http://treasureislands.org/

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