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).