i have adventures (sometimes)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Yes, We Know it's Christmas

21:55 Posted by Ali , , , , , No comments
A song which I've only recently discovered, but which has fast become my least favourite Christmas song of all time, is Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? (Feed the World),* a title that really captures all the subtlety and thougthfulness of the song itself.

Don't call the Hyperbole Police when I tell you that it makes me want to staple my tongue to a cactus. A moving cactus. Which is on fire.

It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade

But in our world of plenty, we should spread a smile of joy!

Throw your arms around the world at
Christmas time
But say a prayer - pray for the other ones
Christmas time, it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

And there won't be snow in Africa this christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows

No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Here's to you, raise a glass for everyone

Here's to them underneath the burning sun
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Feed the world

Let them know it's Christmas time

Oh, Feed the World, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

First, I think we can all agree that it's a terrible song. It's boring, it's the bad kind of cheesy, and the lyrics sound like they were written in ten minutes by a five year old with a limited imagination and somewhere better to be.

And... there... won't... be... snow... in... Africa... Can I go and play now? (Source)
But that's not where my loathing springs from. My loathing springs from the fact that it's ignorant and condescending, and it's proud of it. It should be illegal to be both quite that ignorant and quite that smug about it.

I truly hate the way they reduce an entire, diverse continent to one homogenous mass of misery. Even if Africa were one country (which, spoiler alert, it isn't), it would be a pretty freaking big country. Like a 30.2 million km² country with a billion people in it.** Portraying Africa like it's all the same (and worse, like it's all one big sob story) is just "deepest darkest Africa" all over again. Call me picky, but I don't think it's ok to do no research, misrepresent 56-odd countries, and then pat yourself on the back because you're saving the world.

Congrats, you're a hero. (Source)

Which leads to the fact that this song is just flat out inaccurate. Where are they getting this idea that Africa has no rivers? Have they ever seen an atlas? And if nothing grew on the whole continent, then, yeah, we'd be in trouble. And that's before we even get to the snow.


You know what, I don't even care that we have, you know, Kilimanjaro, where it might get just a little bit nippy sometimes. What really makes me put my rage face on is the fact that they think it matters. As one fellow Saffa put it, "you won't find any kids in Africa weeping because the snow harvest didn't come". It doesn't take a postgraduate degree to notice that quite a lot of Africa is below the equator. Which means that in December, IT'S SUMMER THERE. Of course it's not snowing, you smug Eurocentric bastards! "There won't be summer weather in Northern Europe this Christmas. The greatest gift they'll get this year is surviving the latest financial recession"? Ok, so it doesn't scan. But if it strikes you as just a little bit totally freaking absurd, then that should give you an idea about how the original makes me feel.

And the condescension, oh dear wizard god the condescension. This is the part where I got into an argument with my friends about it, because I couldn't get them to understand why I was sputtering with rage about a song which was, they argued, well-intentioned. What with the sputtering and the fact that I find it difficult to finish a sentence on the best of, um, thingy, I coudn't put into words why this particular song makes me reach for my stapler and my flaming wheeled cactus. The thing that gets to me is that it's not ok to treat an entire continentful of people like children. That sort of infantilising colonial mindset should have died a long time ago. Good intentions and all, this is not a case of some people offering help to some other people. This is a case of some smug Europeans offering charity to Those Poor People in Africa. And there's a world of difference between those two perspectives.

You may argue that, on a practical level, there isn't, because it was Those Poor People in Africa who were the ones without the food and the money, and those smug Europeans who had it. But there's something very, very wrong with perpetuating colonial stereotypes about Africa and African people, because, even if your intentions are good, treating millions of people like children who can't look after themselves has actual real ramifications in the actual real world. For one thing, it tells people in developed countries that it's ok to think about Africa (and, while we're at it, the rest of the developing world) like a whole lot of helpless children. I'm not even going to talk about the racial implications of that sort of thinking. And for another, it doesn't encourage real change. Yes, people need food. But people also need real, sustainable political change, which is a lot harder to turn into a feel-good Christmas single.

(And can I just add that if you're thanking God that other people are starving and you're not, that may make both you and your god a bit of a dick.)

This is the part where I have to make this look like a balanced critique, and so let me admit that it's not all bad. Ok, I mean, it is, but it could be worse. I will grant that, in 1984, there was famine in Ethiopia, which is in Africa. And I will grant that Wikipedia hadn't been invented, so actually learning something about Africa would have taken precious minutes out of hair-teasing time. I will also grant that it was for a good cause, and so I can put it down as a well-meaning (if misguided) attempt to throw money at an actual real problem. Fair enough.

But you know who was no excuse? The people doing covers of this song now. Now. In the future. When Wikipedia is a thing and it will take you literally less than a minute to learn something about Africa. There's just no excuse for being so ignorant about an entire continent any more (I'm looking at you, Glee).

Now if you don't mind, I need to go and put wheels on my cactus and buy a lighter before I next encounter a radio.
*My friends from this general part of the world were surprised that I'd never heard it before. I suspect that it's because I'm from Africa. If you played this song in Africa, it would be freaking ridiculous, which I think should say something about how crap it is.
**And can I just point out that it took me 45 seconds to learn that?


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