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Bono, the Red Campaign, and Advanced Capitalism

21st December 2006

By now everyone has heard about Bono’s latest “Red Campaign” to raise awareness and money for AIDs relief in Africa. It’s been everywhere — in the news, and more importantly, on Oprah (if you haven’t heard about it yet, then check out this website). This campaign is meant to mobilize first world consumers by providing “red” buying options for which their manufacturer will donate some of their profits to AIDs relief. The website emphasizes that this isn’t a charity, but more of a business model. So now you can go and purchase red shirts from The Gap, a red iPod from Apple, a red phone from Motorola, and “red” sneakers from Converse, and know that when you purchase such an item some of the profits would go to AIDs relief in Africa.

Now, one one level I don’t think this is a bad campaign. In our consumer-oriented, image-obsessed society people who perhaps wouldn’t give otherwise will buy themselves a new toy (read: iPod) or designer apparel and at least some money is being raised for a good cause. But I think it is a horrible shame that charities have to use so many gimmicks to get people to donate some money to a worthy cause. Why can’t people just give?

My Edmonton colleague across town at The King’s University College, Stephen Martin, has raised some other questions about the appropriateness of this campaign. Here is an excerpt of his post on the Red campaign:

So here’s my question: insofar as global capitalism is the nurturing soil of the empire that maintains Africa’s people in bondage, is Bono not engaging in a massive legitimation of savage capitalism, and thereby assuaging the conscience of the Beast? Are not The Gap, American Express, and the like analogous to the cult parodied in Revelation 13 as the “False Prophet” who compels people to obtain a special mark, else they can neither buy nor sell? Can “ethical” capitalism save the world from the effects of “savage” capitalism? It reminds me of that other argument about [usually our] “righteous” and “just” violence saving the world from [usually their] “terrorist” violence.

I encourage you to read the entire post; it is quite provocative to say the least. He definitely raises questions about the appropriateness of “getting into bed” with advanced capitalism, though I know that Bono will metaphorically “sleep” with (almost?) anyone if it helps raise support for an important cause. That being said, Martin’s concluding paragraph is worth reproducing:

George Grant used to warn his students “when you sleep with Nietzsche, it’s always you that end up pregnant.” Could the same be said of transnational capitalists? If so, I hope Bono’s using protection. He’ll be in my prayers. In the meantime I’ll say no thanks to the red iPod (and the measly ten bucks Apple will send to Africa on my behalf) and look at more constructive avenues.

I can’t afford an iPod, no matter what colour! So I guess I will just have to donate some money “gimmick free.” (And I would encourage you to do so by whatever means possible).


10 Responses to “Bono, the Red Campaign, and Advanced Capitalism”

  1. Ken Says:

    So here’s my question: insofar as global capitalism is the nurturing soil of the empire that maintains Africa’s people in bondage…

    That’s funny… nearly had me fall off my chair… I love left-wingers.

  2. Matt Says:

    I can understand the point, and in a perfect world … sure, corperate entities that exist for profit would, well, not exist merely for profit but to care for people and better the world and would give generously of their own accord. But last time I checked the world still wasn’t perfect. Should people who are promted to help in this issue regardless of this sort of campaign suddenly spend their money on “red” rather then using other means by which more dollars actually get across the ocean … no! But what about all the people who are not inclined to help, but are willing to buy consumer products? What about companies who would not otherwise give any money to help out? If I could choose between this sort of campaign and simple corperate generosity and a renewed sense of corperate moral ethics, I’d take the latter. In the absence of that choice, I’ll take the red campaign if that will tap into dollars that otherwise would not find it’s way to Africa.

    I wonder how that conversation would go if you were to sit down with a person in Africa dying of AIDS. “Hey, some people came up with a way to tap into a few more dollars that could mean getting drugs that will save you and your family. The only hitch is it means getting into bed with the corperate world and tapping into the pocketbook of people who aren’t completely motivated out of a sense of helping others, and we decided we’re not comfortable with the ethics of that. We feel that the more ethical thing to do would be to say no and watch you and your family die needlessly. Have a great day!”

    I think the beginning of Luke 16 shows that Jesus is not adverse to being shrewd, using some street smarts, understanding the hand you’ve been dealt and playing it as best you can in an effort to advance the kingdom. That’s how I view what Bono has done here. I believe that the greater ethical failing here would be to pull the plug on this in the name of somebodies idealism. If someone can put a better, more effective plan of action into motion on a worldwide scale, I’m with you. Until then, I’m happy to have people and companies who could otherwise care less about what happens half a world away, in an almost accidental way help save lives. Maybe if the Church had had woken up to this issue and corperately done something about it we wouldn’t have to be having this discussion. I’m not sure Christians are in any position to be casting stones about this …

  3. tim bulkeley Says:

    If you are buying an iPod buy a red one, but better buy a cheaper MP3 player and donate half the difference to some life-enhancing cause ;-)

    Like you I have huge misgivings and mixed feelings about this project. As an ex-missionary in Africa I have more sympathy with the “left-wingers” I’ve seen the results of Western export of capitalism to Africa close up.

  4. Ken Says:

    It is repeatedly demonstrated time after time that economic growth and development, the expansion of free enterprise and capitalism (however imperfectly, granted) serves ultimately to alleviate poverty (and is actively doing so now). Indeed, look how successful a truly innovative, capitalistic solution like micro-credit lending has been. Tim, you and Martin are misidentifying the main culprit here. Left-wing utopian/Marxian delusions (the ideological underpinnings of not a few corrupt militias and regimes in Africa) have done far more to harm Africa… Marxism is the scourge of the twentieth century that unfortunately still lingers for all its obvious failures and the billions of state-sponsored deaths that lie in its wake. And ironically, people on the left-wing keep this ideology alive in whatever measure…

  5. KJV Says:

    Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
    2 Corinthians 9:7

  6. Debi Says:

    The Red Campaign is a simple,pure of heart idea. Yes,Bono is driven to help improve the whole world. Yes,maybe he does battle with OCD. However,one would have to admit his purelistic demons can and will change the world or atleast Africa for the better for a time. I think he is driven by his Christian ideaology. To bad the rest of the so called Christians in the world are not as driven in any kind of “little investment” as Bono has been. I personally feel God has given U2 their fame and fortune because HE knew they would use it to benefit mankind. If this whole idea saves 1 person or brings 1 person to Christ then it was well worth the effort. I do support the campaign, I support the Band U2 with buying everything from them and attending any concert I can, but I also think it is not bad to “JUST ASK” for contributions. After every natural disaster that’s exactly what is done. Is this not a disaster? I will also give directly to the cause without the need to buy the product. Some people have to have something for them to give so this is a fabulous idea. I also think this will land Bono another entry for The Nobel Peace Prize or Man of the Year or some grand title. Maybe that is why he is driven. But, no matter what,his ideas are brilliant. I am 50 and have been a #1 fan for 23 years of the band. I am proud to know that I have already contributed to the cause. And I will continue. I personally pray this idea takes off around the world.

  7. Debi Says:

    Ken,you are right on. I could never say anything so brilliantly or eloquently as you. Atleast, I think you are. You are quite articulate. I do hope you are using those ideas and words with something or anything to help the world or to benefit man. Use your words for a good cause! LOL

  8. Debi Says:

    Ken,

  9. Debi Says:

    Ken, I think you are probably right on. your use of words is quite bold and eloquent. You are very articulate. I can only hope you are using the gift of verbage and knowledge that you obviously have to help mankind out also.

  10. Nancy Says:

    Please remember that it is those “image-obsessed” ugly Americans who give philanthropically — as individuals — more than any other nation donating more than $275 billion annually. US corporations on the other hand give less than $15 billion collectively (and this is a 22.5% increase YOY). But it is still more than any other nation.

    It is also these same folks who out of their paychecks contribute the tax dollars that fund almost half of the UN humanitarian works.

    It is easy to throw stones at affluent people, profit-driven companies and innovative, action-driven doers like Bono (is there anyone else like him?? Would that it be so.) Is $18 million enough? What is the “right price” to learn if a social/commercial experiment could work to solve serious world issues?

    Just remember impetuous Peter loped off the ear of the soldier when he was trying to passionately do the right thing, but Christ did not kick him out of the pack. Peter learned from his passions, and Christ entrusted the Church to him — and to all of us.

    So if these nay-sayers have better ideas, please step up to the plate and BE the change you want to see in this world. We are Christ’s hands and feet on this little planet, and we’ll never progress if we don’t take risks and experiment with new ideas for real change.