Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.

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.”)