Friday, December 14, 2007

Somebody pass me a soapbox

I know I'm probably messing with a sacred cow, but can I just say that I'm really quite sick of that Band Aid song? You know the one that's been on the radios every Christmas since 1984? Do they Know it's Christmas Time? Perhaps it was slightly appropriate for the 80s when Ethiopia was in the middle of a famine, and I'm sure it was meant in the right spirit and probably raised scads of money for a good cause, but pay a little attention to the words and you'll realize it's one of the most patronizing, ethnocentric songs around.

Walk with me through the lyrics...

It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid (Really? ‘Cause even at Christmas time, lots of people have reason to fear.)
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade (Oh c’mon. If that’s the case, then why are there so many suicides at Christmas time? In rich, comfortable
North America, that is. Not in "poor destitute" Africa.)
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy (Does plenty REALLY equal joy? I have my doubts. Sometimes plenty DESTROYS joy.)

Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time (long arms!)

But say a prayer

Pray for the other ones (The OTHER ones? Isn’t that a little patronizing?)
At Christmas time it's hard, but when you're having fun (What if I’m NOT having fun? What if all this craziness that Christmas has turned into has thrown me into exhaustion and near depression and I can barely cope?)
There's a world outside your window (So… inside my window there’s “fun” and outside my window, not so much?)
And it's a world of dread and fear (Always? Isn’t that generalizing it just a little? You know, I saw a whole
LOT of joy in Africa and probably less dread and fear than I often see in North America.)
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears (Ugh.)

And the Christmas bells that ring there (If they don’t know it’s Christmas, WHY do they have Christmas bells?)
Are the clanging chimes of doom (Wow. That’s dark. Is their ONLY hope that they might be rescued by benevolent, rich, patronizing North Americans? Some of the smartest, most hardworking and hopeful people I know are Africans.)
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you (Oh yeah – cause we’re SO much better than them, aren’t we? Again – a little patronizing. Not to mention not particularly grace-filled. Because God really does bless
America? And only America?)

And there won't be snow in
Africa this Christmas time (Umm… I don’t think they necessarily regret that.)
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life (Well, that’s not really OUR gift to give is it? Let’s drop the “Great White Hope” angle here, puh-lease.)
(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows (Hello!? I saw PLENTY of things growing in
Africa. Let’s drop the meaningless generalizations. A lot of the problems in Africa are more about unfair markets and the exploitation of people by rich countries, not necessarily about things not growing.)
No rain nor rivers flow (Again – have you BEEN to
Africa? Lots of rivers and sometimes even too much rain. Yeah, I KNOW this was originally written in response to a drought and resulting famine, so I'll allow you a little leeway with this one.)
Do they know it's Christmas time at all (Do they care? Some of them are Muslim or Animists, etc. – they might not be particularly interested in our ethnocentric version of Christmas.)

(Here's to you) raise a glass for everyone (Lucky us – we get to sit in comfort and drink our wine and look down on “the other ones”.)
(Here's to them) underneath that burning sun (Ah – that warm African sun. What I’d give for a little of that right now! Oh – that’s not what you meant?)
Do they know it's Christmas time at all

Feed the world, feed the world, feed the world (Yeah, okay, I’m not so very fond of the “feed the world” language. Perhaps “share food with them” or “improve the systems so that they can access their own food”, but “feeding” sounds more like something you do for animals or children. Let’s try to treat them more like our equals.)

Let them know it's Christmas time again (So… what’s to say our version of Christmas is better than theirs? Perhaps, instead of claiming superiority, we could build relationships with them and learn from each other. Many of my African friends know a lot more then I do about supportive communities and a spiritual approach to Christmas that is more about honouring the birth of Christ than it is about the excessive consumerism and self-centredness that North American Christmas is often reduced to. Somebody pass me a soapbox to stand on!)

Feed the world (Sigh. Didn’t we cover this already?)
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again (Again? Let’s drop it already. Maybe somebody could write a new song?)

According to Michael Maren in The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, “The starving African exists as a point in space from which we measure our own wealth, success, and prosperity, a darkness against which we can view our own cultural triumphs. And he serves as a handy object of our charity. He is evidence that we are blessed, and we have an obligation to spread that blessing… Starvation clearly delineates us from them.”

(Why do I have this feeling that I'm opening myself up to the wrath of sentimental people all over the internet?)


Anvilcloud said...

Some songs grate -- on different people for different reasons. Fortunately (I guess), I don't seem to hear this one too much.

Krista said...

No wrath from me. I totally agree with you and your soapbox. I've never been to Africa myself, but the pictures and slideshows and stories about it on your blog make me feel like I've had a taste of it and I have to say, the whole 'us' and 'them' thing makes absolutly no sense to me. I've had the opportunity to meet plenty of Africans working at Prov and every one of them is as gracious and humble and genuine a human being as I could ever hope to meet. In fact, their heart for evangelism and their passion for God far outweigh my own or any of my North American friends. When they come to N.A. to minister to us, then I know that the tide has changed and that affluence is a bigger and more depraved viper's pit than famine and drought could ever be.

And, to get on my own soapbox a little, 99.9% of every missionary I have talked to in the last four years has said the same thing to me - riding in on a white horse to 'save' the poor nations of the world DOES NOT WORK. They're now focused on sustainable solutions - helping people help themselves and working themselves out of their ministries instead of just blindly throwing money at problems.

There. That's my addition to your rant. :)

andrea said...

Amen! (from your co-anti-Pollyanana)

(Off topic) And while 'they' are banning "Do They Know It's Christmas Time" can I add a vote for "Sleigh Ride" as the worst ear-worm song ever? (Christmas or otherwise!) I used to like it until it played itself to death in my head every December for 20 years...

Linda said...

I agree. Totally. Fortunately, I haven't heard the song yet this year.

Gina said...

I sort of like the song, but that's just because it is full of Brit-poppers that I like. But you are right, it is patronizing, although I really don't think they were trying to be.

Stephanie said...

I hear this song all the time too, and I always think, "I hate this song!" I think it's so insensitive and odd and weird, and everything you said.

Scoot over...I'll join you on your soapbox.

Michele said...

definitely stick to "something about christmas time" by bryan adams if you want to raise money for starving people...

Pamela said...

First time I've "heard" the words.

Karmyn R said...

That is one of those songs that I don't think I really ever heard the words before. Not so good now that I hear them.

I'll have to go and listen to Bryan Adam's song next as michele suggested!

Dreaming What Ifs...

Anonymous said...

I ranted to A about this very song in a store line-up the other day - there's NEVER snow in Africa. How is that making any kind of point AT ALL?

joyce said...

Thanks a lot, HEATHER! That was like... My favourite song... EVER. So full of the JOYS of CHRISTMAS where North Americans can throw a few coins towards all those DEVELOPING and LESS FORTUNATES. Way to go, heather. Boy, am I mad that you rained on my sentimental holiday parade.

So just don't ruin my joy of all the remakes of the old Christmas favourites. Like when you are in superstore and some wanna-be jazz singer takes about four hours to grind out "Have yourself a merry little Christmas..." I've nearly impaled myself with plastic cutlery over that one.