“There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.”
Dr. Martin Luther King once said “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Obviously, similarly-admirable, selfless sentiments explain the reflex outpouring of generosity on the part of millions in response to the heartbreaking tragedy unfolding in Haiti. It only makes sense that such an ongoing, shocking tragedy would automatically trigger a philanthropic urge in the average person, since no one wants to sit in front of the TV feeling traumatized, helpless and inadequate in the face of visually-captivating, mass suffering.
For the bulk of Boobus Americana, the charitable act of choice amounts to little more than opening up the wallet. In fact, television has made it so easy to contribute that all you have to do is send a text message on your cell phone to a number emblazoned on the screen. The almost insane, subliminal suggestion here is that couch potatoes can do their part and fully participate in the relief effort while continuing to watching TV from the safety and comfort of their own living rooms. Just send money.
Unfortunately, in the rush to assist in this purely electronic fashion, few people hesitate long enough to ponder whether there’s even a remote connection between their donations and the noble rescue mission they’re so transfixed by. Even fewer wonder why the airwaves have suddenly become so saturated with urgent requests for cash from celebrity pitchmen appearing on news shows, telethons and TV commercials on behalf of a variety of non-profit foundations.
Do you care whether your contribution is being used appropriately? Or was sending $10 via text to the Red Cross, UNICEF, Oxfam or CARE merely intended more as a means of absolution, of cleansing your conscience, than as an effective attempt to alleviate the plight of the orphaned, injured and destitute?
Call me cynical, but it has crossed my mind more than once that these charities might be competing with each other in a calculated attempt to leverage our sense of empathy. After all, the Machiavellian image makers on Madison Avenue are masters of manipulation bent on exploiting the human condition purely for the sake of profit. What makes you think that they might make an exception in the case of a natural disaster? Never forget that TV is basically a biased, brainwashing tool which preselects, edits and reshapes aspects of reality into a viewing experience in order to elicit a specific emotional response.
Numerous non-profit corporations have checkered track records in this regard in recent years. Consider all the criticisms leveled at the Red Cross in the wake of 9/11 after it distributed only a quarter of the $564 million raised with the help of misleading TV ads run right after the terrorist attacks. That organization’s behavior was even more disgraceful after Hurricane Katrina when it accepted close to a billion dollars but failed to send ANY personnel or desperately-needed provisions into the city of New Orleans. As the days wore on, frustrated donors found this lame excuse posted on the Red Cross website: “Homeland Security… requested-and continues to request-that the American Red Cross not come into New Orleans following the hurricane.”
Back then, President Bush assured the world, that Brownie was “doing a heckuva job!” Today, like the UPS slogan, I ask, “What can Brown do for you?” For those who ignore the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat it. Just some sobering words of caution to ponder as you contemplate how to respond most effectively to the despair, devastation and rising death toll in Haiti.
To see a video of The Hurricane Song written for Hurricane Katrina,