Bono Still Hasn't Found What He's Looking For (Ryan Anderson, First Things)
In this article, Anderson comments on the foolishness of spending $100 million in advertising to raise a mere $18 million for Africa, and shares my general sentiments regarding the consumeristic ego massaging nature of Bono's campaign:
Buying overpriced luxury items—the true meaning of the Parable of the Good-Looking Samaritan. Anyway, it’s been a year now, and the results seem poor. Unhappy with the Advertising Age report, the CEO of (RED) issued a public response. It makes some valid points: The money was going to be spent on product advertising anyway, so we might as well raise awareness about AIDS in Africa and raise some money at the same time. Certainly the sick in Africa aren’t sneering at the $18 million. For many, it has been the difference between life and death.
But there is something wrongheaded—even repulsive—about the approach. Turning the life-and-death plight of an entire continent into just another advertising strategy. Making charitable giving a matter of satisfying consumerist desires. Attempting to solve African need by Western greed.
It reminded me of one of Bono’s earlier endeavors: the ONE Campaign. Bono titled this “the campaign to make poverty history.” Its strategy was simply to rally Americans to call upon President Bush to allocate one additional percentage point of the U.S. budget to fighting extreme poverty across the globe.
Surprisingly, they never ask for any direct contributions: “ONE isn’t asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice. ONE does not accept donations. Instead, we hope that you’ll take action with ONE by contacting Congress, the President and other elected officials and ask them to do even more to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. We encourage you to sign the ONE declaration and help by spreading the word about the ONE Campaign by talking about it with your friends, family and co-workers. Additionally, you can show your community that you support ONE by purchasing ONE merchandise on our website.”
Just sign our petition! Just call President Bush! Wear our wristband! That’s all it takes to make poverty history! You don’t even need to give a dime!
What a bizarre method. Why not appeal to our consciences directly and ask every American to donate 1 percent of our personal budget to the poverty-fighting charity of our choice? The ONE Campaign made significant inroads with the religious communities—having them demand more from the government. Why not ask for a tithe? Why not call for personal contributions instead of political noise-making?
But that would require sacrifice. And that wouldn’t sell. Nor would it be trendy. It’s so much easier to say we can fight AIDS by buying Armani and Gap. It’s so much easier to say we’ll end world poverty by telling Congress to do something about it. My “good-looking” “fine self” sleeps so much better at night knowing that my (RED) purchase has bought pills for someone in Africa, that my signature on the ONE declaration means I’ve done my part.
Many people got fed up with this. They thought it was just an attempt to ease our consciences about being so well off. To give until it feels good, not until it hurts.
Anderson also links BuyLessCrap.org. Though their approach is a greatly improved approach to the glam-clad RED campaign, Anderson notes the weakness of their approach as well:
Giving money will never be the focus of the real solution. This simplistic view assumes that Africa’s only ailment is material lack. But this is to mistake the symptom for the cause. A materialistic understanding of the causes of poverty—at home and abroad—will never suffice. Real answers need to address culture and its institutions.