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Monday, November 17, 2014

Breaking: "Do They Know It's Christmas" Is Still a Misguided, Patronizing, Terrible Song

Posted By on Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 12:49 PM

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Hey guys! Have you heard about Ebola? Did you know that Ebola is really, really bad? Did you know that the part of the world in which Ebola is a major crisis right now is one that doesn't have nearly enough treatment facilities, access to top-of-the-line medical equipment, or other resources that would help stop the spread of this deadly disease? And that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, of all people, have done more to help so far than our government?

Do you want to get into hundreds of years of U.S. foreign policies toward West African countries and the myriad ways the Western international aid structure has systematically shortchanged and screwed people for decades, set up roadblocks to democracy, and ultimately contributed to this incredibly complex issue? And then we can all agree to call our elected representatives and demand real change?

Haha, just kidding. That sounds boring. Let's just have Bono and One Direction tell us what to do.
Yes, kids, it's Band Aid 30 — from the people who brought you an incredibly patronizing Christmas song about famine in 1984 comes an exciting, new, slightly updated but still very patronizing Christmas song about Ebola in 2014.

The revised "Do They Know It's Christmas," released today in an X Factor tie-in media blitz by singer-songwriter-Live Aid founder Bob Geldof, features Sinead O'Connor, Sam Smith, Jessie Ware, Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora, Chris Martin, Bono (the only returning participant from the 1984 version), those energetic young One Direction lads, and more, singing evocative new lines like:

There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there's death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight we're reaching out and touching you
No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa
The only hope they'll have is being alive.


Look, raising money to help fight a massive health crisis is obviously a good thing; within five minutes of the single's release today, Geldof said it had already raised nearly $2 million. Just a couple of minor issues here (setting aside the first, obvious fact that aesthetically it's a really cloying, terrible song — even Geldof has said as much): For one, nobody seems to be able to determine exactly where the money is going. The campaign claims that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to fight Ebola through the Band Aid Charitable Trust, the registered nonprofit Geldof set up 30 years ago to help fight hunger in Ethiopia, but nowhere on the official Band Aid site is there a mention of which NGOs or private foundations will receive funds or how they'll be dispersed. And if you have a few hours to go down a wormhole, there's an afternoon's worth of reading available that argues the funds raised by that initial campaign have done more harm in Ethiopia than good

That's not even getting into the general view of West Africa that lyrics about tears of death help perpetuate among those who've never been there, especially when you consider the ethnic makeup (read: blinding whiteness) of the vast majority of the song's celebrity participants. Many people have spoken quite eloquently about how problematic they find the type of charity this campaign embodies — among them, people who run actual African organizations that have consistently been raising money to help fight the disease on the ground. 

But the thing that really makes me squirm? One Direction just completed one of the highest-grossing tours in history, making $5 million per show most nights a week for over a month. Apple recently paid U2 an undisclosed but let's assume none-too-modest sum in order to dump Songs of Innocence onto your iPhone without even asking, a record they're currently in the middle of promoting with a $100 million advertising deal. If any of these celebrities really deeply wanted to support the established, transparent organizations already working to fight Ebola, like Doctors Without Borders, it would pretty much take going "Hey, let's donate the money we make from this one album, or even just one show, to a thing we know is actually helping."

Is this a cynical and simplistic view of celebrity humanitarian efforts? Sure. As simplistic as trusting celebrities (who will ultimately benefit financially from the do-gooder image that participating in this song helps to craft) to guide your sense of activism while you pat yourself on the back because you helped "heal the world" by downloading a single off iTunes? Not even close.

Tl; dr: Adele, Disclosure — we don't blame you one bit.

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About The Author

Emma Silvers

Bio:
Emma Silvers is SF Weekly's former Music Editor.

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