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4 February 2010

Haiti and the media

Should we criticise efforts to raise money for charity?

By Daniel Trilling

My Art of Listening column this week is on the Simon Cowell-produced single for Haiti, “Everybody Hurts”. The charity single, especially in Britain, is one of those things that we supposedly love to hate, an attitude summed up by the Guardian‘s Esther Addley in a piece about the enjoyable awfulness of such things: “You can’t knock the sentiment — so I won’t even try.”

But this time, there does appear to be a swell of dissent. Much of it is to be expected: Simon Cowell cultivates an abrasive media persona, so the sight of him riding to the rescue of Haiti is bound to wind people up.

The song covered, too, not only comes from a band beloved by rock fans*, but also contains lyrics that are strikingly inappropriate in the context of sending aid to a country whose history contains more hurt than most — as Peter Hallward’s feature in last week’s magazine made clear.

It is part of a wider unease at the type of response to the Haiti earthquake encouraged by the mass media; as if the correct behaviour is to donate blindly without questioning the circumstances.

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This post by k-punk (otherwise known as the NS contributor Mark Fisher) deplores the “You can’t bring history into this” criticism levelled at writers, such as Hallward, who have suggested that Haiti’s plight may have political as well as environmental causes.

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And Bat, Bean, Beam (“a weblog on memory and technology”) makes a striking comparison between news footage of the disaster and the film Avatar : both are spectacles of such intensity that any critical response from the public is deemed unseemly.

The fact remains that there are several million people in desperate need of help. On this note, Bat, Bean, Beam has perhaps the best advice: “Yes, give, and give discriminately.”

(*Although not by everyone. The most succinct comment on the single so far comes from Freaky Trigger‘s Tom Ewing: “I’ve long loathed ‘Everybody Hurts’ so take a kind of mean comfort in the fact that now everybody else will too.”)