Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Friday, July 01, 2005

Live 8

Over the past couple of weeks I've heard a lot of criticism of Bob Geldof and the Live 8 hootenanny. Some of this has been badly misinformed (like the tory politician discussing it on the TV news a few nights ago who complained that the situation in Africa cannot be effectively addressed with Aid money raised by charity concerts).

An important point seemed to have passed the man by... Live 8 is not a fundraising event.

But this has been a common misconception, and it's far from the only straw man gleefully made-to-order and kicked to pieces on the TV and - more particularly - on the web.

But even though it must get the guy down on a personal level... I truly hope that every time Bob Geldof reads the words; "Geldof's an idiot! He's got it all wrong on Africa! What the G8 really need to do is this..." he feels vindicated in what he's doing. Because the point. Indeed, this time round the only point; has been to get people talking about African poverty. Every article telling him he's wrong is, paradoxically, proving the worth of his approach.

I think the man's an absolute hero. He's taken the very modest amount of fame afforded someone from a late-70s punky new wave band with a couple of hits, and done frankly astonishing things with it. Yet every single time over the past couple of weeks that I've seen Live 8 discussed in the media (whether mainstream or alternative) it's been framed in the context of whether or not Geldof is really doing any good.

Even the grooviest of the mainstream journalists, George Monbiot, has had a pop. As has my dear friend and fellow traveller Merrick. And incisive interweblogger Justin has taken more than one swipe at the event. On Question Time last night there was an enormous amount of equivocation on the issue and every web forum in the land seems to be echoing the cynicism and criticism that have decended upon this event like a couple of already bloated vultures determined to gorge themselves sick on whatever good intentions might be left in our culture.

Yeah, yeah, the road to hell is paved with 'em. It's so easy to trot out the clich├ęs. But what exactly is the point of saying that? Are we telling people not to bother acting upon any good intentions they may have? Or not to have those intentions in the first place? Of course not, insist the cynics, don't be so silly! We're just saying that good intentions aren't enough.

Except that's not what's being said. Not really. Every time an article spends two paragraphs acknowledging that "yes, some good may come of this" and then forty paragraphs telling the reader how crap it is, the overall impact is to completely disempower that reader. And of course that's not the intention of Merrick or Monbiot or Justin. But that is the result.

Here's an admission... my first real political act was almost certainly my decision to become a vegetarian in my mid-teens. It was a political act in the sense that it politicised me. My decision forced me to look at the world in a way I hadn't done before and it got me reading books by people I wouldn't have considered up until then. But the actual reason I became a veggie was to impress a girl.

My point is a simple one... young people can sometimes make decisions for silly reasons, but the ramifications of those decisions can be profound and life-changing (this is not only true of young people, but for lots of reasons it's mostly that way). I'd be a completely different person today if I hadn't had a crush on a vegetarian when I was 15. My politics could very well be unrecognisable. Now, I don't know how many 16-year-old poverty activists Geldof has created in the past two weeks and will create tomorrow. Kids who are impressionable enough to have their minds changed by their pop star heroes. Certainly it'll be less than 1% of those who get fired up briefly by the event. But it'll be more than I'll manage to inspire in a lifetime of writing silly little articles.

This is also the reason I completely condone Geldof's decision to fill the limited time available to him with the biggest possible acts, rather than making the event a showcase for African talent. This isn't supposed to be an advertisement for any particular artists (though of course it will undeniably function as one); this is an attempt to get minds thinking about a particular issue. So it is infinitely more important to have the stage filled with the same faces that appear on the posters above teenage beds and on MTV than to have it filled with relatively unknown African artists, whatever their talent.

Live 8 is about generating press and attention for an issue that is being completely neglected by the media now that they have an unending "War on Terror" to cover. And every time I read a piece attacking the principle of popstars getting involved in politics, or attacking Geldof for not having identical views on market liberalisation to the author I just shake my head and chalk up another opportunity missed.

Geldof is doing one thing. And that thing is providing every other commentator with an opening to address the issue of African poverty. It's suddenly on the agenda. No it's not going to solve African poverty. Of course it isn't. And when Geldof says "we can solve African poverty this year" he isn't suggesting that his concerts will be what does it... merely that it is technically within the power of the human race.

When John and Yoko ran their advertising campaign for peace, they didn't honestly expect the billboards to end war. And you're missing the point of Live 8 if you see it as anything other than a bloody massive billboard. One that Geldof should be justly proud of.

What about the other thing though?

Well yes... there's also the whole other issue of Bono and Bob's praise of Dubya Bush and apparent adoration for Brown and Blair. And here, I concede, there may well be plenty to be pissed off about.

But it pisses me off that so many people are giving Live 8 a kicking because of it. And yes, they can - and should - be viewed as separate issues. Bono and Bob have been courting the powerful for many years now. But Live 8 is a one-off event aimed at raising awareness. Every 16-year-old who reads a book about globalisation or the politics of African poverty as a result of Live 8 (and I say this now: "You're a complete fool if you imagine there won't be quite a few") will come away with opinions far more nuanced and subtle than Bono or Bob will ever convey in a 30-second soundbite, or even a speech to the Inner Party. Every single one of them will be a victory for Live 8.

And given that's the primary purpose of Live 8. Well... you draw the conclusion...

And on the whole "Bono and Bob courting the powerful" issue...? I hope to return to that at a later date. This blog entry was about Live 8. Not about that.


Blogger Justin said...

The thing is Jim, Live 8 been badly handled from the start.

Most of those attending the event tomorrow are there for a nice day out and will then go home and probably not give Africa a second thought until the next free concert. On that score, not making the concert a fundraiser was a mistake.

The litany of cock-ups is a long one which I won't rehearse in full here but here's a flavour.

Live 8 wristbands sponsored by companies who use sweated labour. The whole ebay debacle. The smearing of black artists who allegedly asked to be paid for appearing. The paying of the presenters - the public and black artists weren't allowed to make a buck under Geldof's code but Jonathan Ross was.

What about the segregation of African artists at the Eden Project? That leaves a nasty taste. I know you argue it's a question of bums on seats and I know that's what whitebread brings. But isn't this supposed to be a gobal event? There are some African acts that - globally -outsell some of the acts appearing in Hyde Park tomorrow. No doubt Britain would have gone to the bog while the Bundu Boys were on but there'd have been a few of us who wouldn't have budged.

Maybe Bob thinks this is his last big chance to make a difference and he's grabbed it with both hands. Fair play to that, but it's become a case of what he says goes and I wonder if cooler heads and a wider consensus would have done Live 8 more favours. How many people saw the cover of the Guardian today, I wonder, and just thought, "for fuck's sake"?

I'll admit that this event isn't aimed at me (or you) - you can tell that by looking at the set list. I'll be in front of the telly for Pink Floyd and that'll be about it. I'm a middle-class, educated, empathetic white guy who's aware of the issues - what do Live 8 need me for? I've been signing petitions and all that since I was 18.

I just think with a little more finesse they could have avoided the negative headlines and made the thing even more inclusive. And I'm sorry to reiterate my cynicism but to most of the people in the crowd tomorrow, this is a free jolly and little else.

1/7/05 18:27  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

I don't for a moment disagree that it could have been done better. And I feel certain that dreadful decisions have been made along the way.

(as an aside; I've helped organise club nights in the past and witnessed the number of stupid decisions that get made due to time pressures and what-not. Putting together a global music festival and protest march in 3 or 4 weeks is an achievement in itself).

My problem is the tendency to concentrate upon the bad decisions to the extent that it completely drowns out everything else. The frontman for the Boomtown Rats has somehow managed to focus a vast amount of attention worldwide on the G8 and on African poverty as an issue that needs resolution.

To do that - even in a cack-handed manner - gets my whole-hearted applause. That's all I'm saying.

1/7/05 18:41  
Blogger Peter Gasston said...

Jim, first of all: clap clap clap clap clap. And I'm not being ironic.

Second, to address Justin's point:

"Most of those attending the event tomorrow are there for a nice day out and will then go home and probably not give Africa a second thought until the next free concert." - What about the ones that don't?

3/7/05 01:36  
Blogger Jarndyce said...

I broadly agree with you on this Jim, but for one thing: they should have charged for tickets. Fair enough, awareness, etc. etc. But would they have got fewer column inches if they'd charged for the tix? No. And with the money they could have built a few schools in a few places and for just a few kids (then adults, then their kids, and so on) they actually could have "made poverty history". The grand gesture is all very good, but I can't help thinking that if all those people in Hyde Park yesterday had put their train and bus fares into a big pot and donated it to charity it would have done more good. Shit, they even turned down money from eBay for a bit of pointless grandstanding over the morality of touting (versus the alternative - out of sight, out of mind touting in the local).

3/7/05 11:35  
Blogger Andrew said...

The problem for me is the focus on short-term solutions. Live8 has been all about increasing aid and dropping debt, with barely a mention of trade issues, which will give everyone in the West a warm glow as NGO's suddenly discover what wage inflation is all about, and will do nothing for Africa in the long run. We'll be having this conversation again in 20 years time. With this much awareness, the media, politicians and our pointless celebrity horde could have educated the masses about what trade subsidies are doing to Africa. Instead, a bit of grandstanding on trade (I'll drop my subsidies if you drop yours) is happening, although no agreement is going to happen as the EU won't end CAP. If Blair really believed all this stuff, he'd withdraw unilaterally from the CAP and damn the rest of the G8. At least then we'd be doing something permanent.

4/7/05 12:31  
Blogger merrick said...

I haven't criticised Live8 anywhere, Jim. In fact, if you remember I did a post about the Band Aid 20 single making many of the points you're making here.

As I said there so I say to andrew here; there is no conflict in providing short-term solutions and wanting long-term ones too.

The simple, immediate fundraising thing of Band Aid in the 80s and Band Aid20 was superb. That, like Jim says about the Live8 thing, make these issues prominent and put a lot of people on the track to making long-term changes. Beyond that, they make unselfish moral concerns popular.

The real error with Geldof and Bono - and this is what I have criticised them for Jim - is that they are saying that the Western governments are doing great things when in fact they are doing nothing of the sort. They praise the leaders and the deals they make when these will undoubtedly cause millions of the poorest to suffer further.

I suspect they know it, but are aware that railing at the politicians from outside won't change them so they need to go into the lair. I suspect they think that a little flattery will make the politicans deliver more. I suspect they are very wrong.

The politicans only appear to have done anything, they gain all the kudos they desire from Geldof and Bono, and then carry on.

Geldof and Bono have totally undermined the good work they have done, they are actually reinforcing the things they seek to destroy. Rather than them using the politicians, it has become the other way around.

For all the laudable broad strokes, that most certainly is worthy of criticism.

10/7/05 17:42  

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