I know. It’s Christmas time. I can’t help knowing this because we’ve had subtle reminders rammed down our throats for months now, in the shop windows and the commercials on TV and the ads on websites, and in that despicable sub-genre of pop radio known as “classic hits”.
Such radio stations are unavoidable, however much I try, however much I know that their main aim in life is – let’s use a technical term here – to Maximise Guaranteed Audience Share & Return On Investment (ROI) For Advertisers While Turning Listeners’ Brains To Mush.
The Christmas records are on the radio and mushing brains throughout the land: in taxis, on the Dublin to Cavan bus, in the bank (if you actually still go into a physical bank – and if your village still has a bank), and even in my local doctors’ waiting room. It’s sick, It’s unavoidable. And worst of all it has Band Aid.
The Minister for Arts has diverted hundreds of thousands in arts funding for this
They’ve even announced that “Sir” Bob Geldof will be coming to Dublin this week to donate his documents and letters and pix from Band Aid to the National Library of Ireland. The Minister for the Arts, Josepha someone or other, has decided to divert hundreds of thousands in arts funding for someone to sit next to a scanner for several person-years to digitise this archive. Seriously. Even though the level of arts funding in Ireland is among the lowest in Europe. Even though there must be dozens of other worthy causes and far more pressing cases for state funding right now.
Bob Geldof is a good man. He means well. But that Band Aid single is still unforgivable after all these years. And its accompanying video of the pop stars mincing their chops and doing their photo ops is pukesville personified.
White Western saviour complex
It was all supposed to be for a good cause, but that first Band Aid single is – to put it mildly – so patronising on so many levels. Or, less mildly, it stinks. It suffers from a “white Western saviour” complex that’s bigger than Bono’s mullet. Its smug, superficial lyrics don’t even correspond with basic geographical and meteorological facts, let alone economic and political ones.
For example, take this tosh: “There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time”. This line turns life on an entire continent into shite snow-free conditions, even though snow occurs regularly in many of its constituent countries, particularly at high altitudes, from Morocco and Tunisia to South Africa and Lesotho. As for using those two words “in Africa” about an entire continent, that kind of splattergun approach would never be considered acceptable if applied to another continent such as “in Europe”.
But as for Bono’s line “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” (let’s assume the “them” bit refers to starving people in Ethiopia rather than ordinary Irish tax-payers), it’s sick – almost as cringeworthy as the reference to “the other ones”.
Perhaps worst of all, what exactly can the “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” chorus line mean, besides a condescending and ethnocentric outlook on the world? About three fifths of Ethiopia’s population are in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and about a third are Muslim. Why on earth should people of the Islamic faith have Christmas time so uppermost on their minds?
For all that, many people in Africa would probably still know something about Christmas nowadays, given its pervasive presence in popular culture across the world and its consumerist invasion of every crevice of modern living at this time of the year. Christmas has become as insidious as classic hits radio.
There’s a world outside your window alright, a world of nasty dictators and post-colonial messes, of climate change and unfair trading relationships. But let’s not get political, let’s not be analytical. Feck the facts. Let’s just push the Christmas slush.
Do they know it’s Hallowe’en?
In October 2005 a group of rock musicians in Canada released the charity record “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” to raise funds for UNICEF. It reached number four in the Canadian charts. According to its official press release, the song “stems from a frustration with other benefit songs’ misguided, somewhat patronizing attitude, and Western-centric worldview”.
And in December 2011 the South African website Hiyabo.com ran an article about how “After 28 years of silently tolerating it, a group of unemployed local musicians have joined forces to release a Christmas single, entitled ‘Yes we do,’ in response to the Bob Geldof inspired Band Aid song, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’.
“Speaking at the launch of the single, whose proceeds will go towards teaching discipline, literacy and contraception at British schools, composer and singer Boomtown Gundane said that for years he had been irked by Geldof’s assumption that hungry Africans were also stupid. ‘Or was he just saying that Africans were stupid? Of course we knew it was Christmas.’”
The news story poking fun at the “doing-a-Bono” tax-avoidance megastars from the West was a spoof, by a now-defunct satire site. I think they had a point though.