That last post was getting a bit long, and it was bedtime, but the thing I wanted to go on to do was draw a parallel between the furore over #ShirtGate and the rumblings of discontent over the re-re-re-recording and release of the Band Aid single. That might seem like a bit of a stretch, but stay with me.
I was put in mind of the similarity by the astonishingly charmless performance of music promoter and general mover and shaker Harvey Goldsmith on the Today programme on Radio 4 last week. When faced with someone from the area in question (in this case Liberian academic Robtel Pailey) telling you that actually quite a few Africans find this stuff problematic, at least try and listen, even if you disagree. It wouldn't have been that difficult to say: yes, I understand what you're saying, but resurrecting this hoary old chestnut, problematic lyrics and all, is the best way in the short term to raise the big spike of cash that the crisis demands. Instead Goldsmith chose to go with the WELL I SUPPOSE WE SHOULD JUST DO NOTHING AND LET EVERYONE DIE IN A BIG LAKE OF POO THEN SINCE THAT'S WHAT YOU CLEARLY WANT line, which wasn't very helpful.
dismissive, in his inimitable way, of the numerous other criticisms directed at the single and the underlying charity campaign. This interview with Ian Birrell (journalist and co-founder - with Damon Albarn - of Africa Express) sets out a few of them - basically, this is a simplistic solution to a complex problem, it perpetuates a paternalistic "them" (i.e. black Africans) and "us" (i.e. white westerners) mindset, the implication that Africa is some single monolithic entity all currently riddled with Ebola is wildly inaccurate and unhelpful, the past record of charity money getting routed to the right places is not uniformly glorious, charity money of this sort can be counter-intuitively harmful by allowing governments to ignore the underlying chronic systemic problems that allow these crises to happen in the first place, and there's an uncomfortable tension between the spectacle of super-rich music stars tearfully exhorting us to give our hard-earned (after tax) pounds to charity while frantically doing all they can to avoid paying millions of pounds of tax in the first place. Geldof conveniently avoided all these questions (while still getting the publicity he was after) with a bit of calculated sweariness. Have a look at the half-smirk as he drops the bollock-bombs; he clearly knows exactly what he's doing.
And that's before we even get to the lyrics. The original Band Aid single in 1984 was knocked together in a matter of days, a pretty remarkable organisational feat in those days before mobile phones and the internet, and while the lyrics were a bit crass and clunky in places people were prepared to overlook that, since there just hadn't been time to come up with anything more crafted. The trouble is, that excuse has long since evaporated in the 30 years since, but paradoxically the periodic resurrections of the idea are hamstrung by having to do something that sounds mostly the same as the original song, since the perception is that that's what'll sell in the greatest numbers. So a bit of tinkering here and there is the best that can be done.
As it happens I think the Ebola crisis might be one that's more amenable to being treated with a one-off cash injection than the original Ethiopian famine was, and I'm certainly not saying No More Band Aid Ever, just that it wouldn't hurt to acknowledge that this is actually a complex problem and while the overall balance of good vs. harm might well come out in favour of the single and its accompanying charity campaign there are nonetheless people who are hurt and frustrated by it.
The parallels with the comet/shirt debacle are, well, firstly that if you're in the privileged group it behooves you to listen to what those in the non-privileged group are telling you, since it may be about problems that you are completely oblivious to, and secondly that the whole attitude of HOW DARE YOU BOTHER GREAT MEN WHILE THEY ARE DOING GREAT THINGS WITH YOUR PIDDLING OBJECTIONS AND SO-CALLED "FEELINGS" is not very helpful or healthy, since for one thing it implicitly makes the assumption that people can't hold more than one thought in their heads at the same time. Like: Ebola is clearly a humanitarian crisis requiring swift action BUT here are some issues with the way it's being done here. Or: it is clearly unutterably awesome that the ESA Rosetta team has landed a probe on a comet BUT we could have done without the sexist bullshit. Call me a crazy old optimist but I actually think people are more than capable of grasping this.