Bourgeois Deviant

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Idol Chatter

I can't believe that I am writing about American Idol, but I think I have to this one time. Last night, Fox Network broadcast an extended, star studded version of its weekly showcase of some genuine talent and America's truly bad taste (evidenced by the longevity of Sanjaya Malakar). Its purpose was to entertain and to fund raise for charitable causes such as fighting AIDS in Africa, helping Katrina survivors and providing better education to those in poorer parts of America to end illiteracy. All fine causes to donate to and, given the viewer-ship draw Idol has, a rather expedient cash cow for the respective charities.

All well and good. I was flipping to other things and just catching it on the breaks. While it was on, however, it did strike me that they were covering their African component of the evening quite a bit more than the others. Its a big continent with a lot of problems. If they were allotting time as to be proportional to geographic size, wouldn't that be cleaver of them?

Some of the footage they aired was really compelling. Well, not the bits where Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell were sitting in various shantytown dwellings with umpteen number of orphaned children, patting them all on the back and giving half hugs telling them everything was going to be OK. That was crap. It felt like wasted air time. It made aforementioned presenters seem impotent and hollow. That they were profoundly affected by the suffering they saw was not in question. They were. And who wouldn't be? So the Idol machine was not providing us with anything more in that respect than we could have found in any other TV based fund raiser. Que Sally Struthers entrance.

Then it hit me. There was no useful information being given. There was some talk of "You," the viewing audience, having the power to change the world. And how is it that we make this great change for the betterment of those who are suffering? Money? Give them your money and everything is going to be alright. I am not sure if this is a uniquely American phenomenon or not, but the gist of most of these fund raisers seems to be geared towards cultivating pity and then relieving your visceral grief and empathy by throwing money at the problem. Then you've done your part and can go on with your life.

You might be saying "How dare you belittle the chartable spirit of America." Or something like it. I am doing no such thing. What I am doing is illuminating the fact that we are being given the short shrift from fund raisers like the one that Idol put on last night. At no time did any of the vignettes on Africa or the other causes say why things were the way they are. This is not so much a question for the illiteracy in poorer areas of the country, but its still relatively valid. The spread of AIDS in Africa is terrible and we all know that a person gets infected with it via intercourse with another infected person. Mostly, previously infected men will infect healthy women infecting and impregnating them all at once. This is why there are so many orphans in impoverished African nations. Its a cycle. A cycle that isn't widely discussed here or there. What they also do not mention is that a big reason HIV/AIDS is so pervasive in African countries is that many men are promiscuous and it is socially acceptable for them to be so. Their wives may know this but if they refuse their husbands advances, it is not uncommon at all for the man to beat her. Its also not uncommon for these beatings to result in her death. So there are massive cultural problems that aggravating the spread of HIV to such a degree that it begs the question of why aren't we hearing more about this side of it?

Another sub-issue worth mentioning is where the money goes. How much goes to bureaucracy and management on this end? How much makes it overseas? From there, how much gets absorbed by the governments? How much gets taken by corruption, gangs, militias, etc...? I bring this up not to be cynical. Its just the reality of the world that we and they live in. So, is it more efficacious to donate money or affect change by some other means?

On last night's Idol, poverty was the leitmotif of the evening. That and a whole lot of feel good music and celebrity hyjinx. The three go hand in hand, don't they? And, in the end, things like this do more good than harm. My concern is that people will think that this is enough when its really not nearly enough. Its good to give to charity. You help a cause and get a tax write off. But you should also, provided you're able, give of your time and energy. You can be a mentor, you can work at a soup kitchen, you can tutor, you can join projects like Habitat for Humanity and a great many more things. What no one really talks about, especially in commercialized venues like Idol, is that you can also vote with your dollar. You can send a message to the marketplace by buying certain goods over others. You can purchase products generated by women's cooperatives, you can go to farmer's markets, you can not buy gas from certain vendors because they obtain their product from nations that have bad human rights records. This list, like the lists of charitable causes and philanthropies, is endless.

One last time; Idol Celebrity Fund Raiser and other such things like it = Good. Well, rather, they're trying to do good and that's better than doing nothing at all. Just don't get to thinking thats all there is to it. You're not even scratching the surface.

By the way, if Melinda Doolittle doesn't win, America really has no good taste.

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