I gave a couple of bucks to African famine relief the other day.
Motivated more by nostalgia than charity, I decided to buy the original Band-Aid recording of Do They Know It’s Christmas? and USA For Africa’s We Are the World. (I’d have bought Northern Lights for Africa’s Tears Are Not Enough, and Hear ‘n Aid’s Stars, too, if they’d been available on iTunes, but no dice. I’ll have to get by with the YouTube versions, I guess.)
Back in the ’80s, I enjoyed the songs and thought it was cool that so many musicians were pitching in to help address a major crisis. As a rock star in training (or so I thought), I was proud of my soon-to-be brethren.
But these days, when I think of about the movement Bob Geldof kicked off with Band-Aid and Live Aid, I get Goosebumps. Although most of the musicians were just doing their bit for earthly (and maybe even selfishly career-oriented) reasons, it’s clear in Hindsight that God was working through these crooners, even without their knowledge.
But as I listened to these 30-year-old classics, filled with the earnest 1980s optimism that proclaimed (or at least hinted) that if we could just get that pesky Iron Curtain down, humanity was utopia-bound: hunger was an endangered species, world peace was imminent and the colonization of Mars was just around the corner, it occurred to me that in three decades, it doesn’t look like much has changed in the poorer places of the world.
There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime, either, after all. [And that’s probably a good thing, since the continent is hardly equipped for a visit from Old Man Winter, right J.L.? ;)] And there are still people dying, and we’re still saving our own lives, aren’t we?
A quick aside: Songwriters Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson were pretty kind to us in that line, weren’t they? I’d argue that the word ‘saving‘ is a bit of a sugarcoating. After all, there are about a billion people on this planet without clean drinking water, and yet 10 million North Americans have forked over the extra money ($225 in Alberta) for a vanity licence plate. (There are lots of examples of ridiculous decadence out there, but this is one that I’d argue adds precisely zero to the driver’s quality of life.) If all 80,000 Albertans with vanity plates diverted that money to, say, Water Wells For Africa, the agency could have provided around 2,500 water wells for Africa. Each well serves about 2,000 people, so Albertans are effectively driving around with the drinking water of 5 million Africans on their cars!
(There’s a choice we’re making; we’re pimping our own rides…)
It feels like our resolve to pull together and save the world forever has fizzled, doesn’t it?
Now, to be fair, these songs were in response to a specific, short-term famine in Ethiopia, and the famine was declared over by 1986 or so. But I think a lot of people hoped this music-fronted movement would awaken the West to the realities of life in Africa and other underdeveloped regions, and be the catalyst that would help wipe out extreme poverty.
It seemed like overnight, we saw the world in a different light. Somehow our innocence was lost.
But the humanitarian trend, much like the environmentalism fad that followed a few years later (remember unbleached toilet paper?), faded away fairly quickly and we reverted to our default Me-First approach.
If Ronnie James Dio really cried for the children back in 1985, when Anglo-America, Western Europe and Australia-New Zealand were rich and everyone else was poor, tears must have still been flowing when he died in 2010, because very little has changed.
Or so it seems.
Have we gotten any better at taking care of the least of these in the last 30 years? Let’s take a look – tomorrow.
Until then, peace be with you.