am now an official survivor of the unmitigated blitzkrieg people
in the UK call Red Nose Day. I suffered the relentless onslaught
of weeping celebrities begging me to part with my cash to help starved
Africans. I just managed to stomach the general public going berserk
for a day, colouring their hair red and jamming 17 fat cross-dressers
into a Mini Cooper, all in the name of charity.
despite the absurdity of it, Comic Relief's Red Nose Day works.
The charity extravaganza and telethon that happens every two years
have raised more than £337-million since 1985, with 60% going
to causes in Africa. That said, there is also something about this
feel-good frenzy and media juggernaut that is Red Nose Day that
makes me feel just a little uncomfortable. Am I the only one who
feels the bitter irony of engaging in a pie-eating contest to raise
money for the starving?
not want to be a party pooper or discourage philanthropy, but how
much thought is really going into this type of giving? I have no
doubt that those working at Comic Relief have a sophisticated strategy
for selecting projects and sustaining them. Their Website convincingly
describes the long-term impact the money makes. But is there similar
strategic thinking when it comes to the general public?
media machine behind Comic Relief, although successful at getting
donations and sensitising the public to the plight of individuals
in dreadful circumstances, also distances us from the bigger picture.
The average public donor is sold a package, complete with red nose,
hair gel and funny fundraising ideas, with no thinking required
whatsoever. The message is simple: watch the TV insert about the
plight of Africans, see what a difference Comic Relief makes, feel
emotionally moved, dial a number and, faster than you could order
a pizza, your money has bought a meal for a starving child.
would expect, after 20 years, the campaign message to be a little
more sophisticated. I do not want to take a cheap shot at Comic
Relief or those millions of generous people out there. I also recognise
the pragmatic argument that if a zany media campaign is needed to
bring in the money then so be it. But there are other issues to
an effort to present a snappy media message, there is a tendency
to paint Africa as an amorphous mass. It really doesn't matter if
the project being supported is in Sudan or Sierra Leone. It is all
Africa - and it needs help. Media-wise, this works, but it leaves
the UK public with a very one-dimensional view of Africa. It acontextualises
why poverty and conflict came about it the first place. It lets
governments off the hook and writes multinational companies out
of the picture.
that Comic Relief tries to tackle this in its own way. Its educational
materials for schools deal with questions of debt and fair trade.
It encourages students to take a stand and write to MPs. But, sadly,
this is not the public face of Comic Relief. It is a social indictment
that charity has to be funky to get a public response.
the slick celebrity-driven marketing does not challenge the public
to think about the root causes of poverty and do something more
substantial than dipping into their pockets every two years.
the campaign should include a focus on the need for fundamental
political change to alleviate poverty and not just the importance
of making an individual difference.
Relief should be commended for all it has done and the world would
be a better place if there was a red nose under every bed, but I
only wish the whole thing was just a little more political and a
lot more challenging.
find out more on Comic Relief visit http://www.comicrelief.com/
Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis
of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its
relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.
To get "Look South" by email each week click
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