“Do They Know it’s Christmas?” Turns Me into a Grinch
Put on your seat belts, kids, ’cause Kristen is about to get her rant on. And it’s the sort of rant that might make some of you think that I’m a big old grinch who’s got nothing better to do than to complain about holiday songs intended to raise awareness about starvation and famine.
So that probably means I’m about to offend some of you.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS, ONE AND ALL!
(Don’t want to read my rant? Then I urge you–urge you–to scroll down to the bottom of this post and consider donating to one of my many charitable organizations I’ve listed. These organizations are doing a world of good, all year round, all over the world. It’s enough to make my grinchy heart grow ten sizes.)
Here’s the thing:
Every year when I hear “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” on the radio, my inner Christmas spirit turns into complete and utter grinchy-pants rage.
That’s right. A song that’s about the 1980s famine in Ethiopia–a song that raised millions of dollars in relief money for that famine–makes me grumpy and grinchy and ranty.
“But whyyyy, Grinchy Kristen, whyyyy?”
Why? Because the lyrics are filled with an ignorance and sloppiness and self-congratulatory tone that incenses me, that’s why.
Just read them for yourself (snarky commentary provided by yours truly):
It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
We let in light and we banish shade (Take it easy on the dark/light metaphors, Bob Geldof. NEED I EXPLAIN WHY?!)
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy (Because we’re so wonderful! Aren’t we wonderful?!)
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time
But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones (And by “other ones,” they mean “those brown starving people in the barren wasteland that is Africa.” More on the barren wasteland part in a bit.)
At Christmas time, it’s hard
But when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dreaded fear
Where the only water flowing
Is a bitter sting of tears (Yes. Absolutely. Those of us who have the extraordinary privilege of having a warm/cool/safe/well-fed home should be reminded to look outside our windows and remember that the rest of the world–even the rest of our own neighborhoods–isn’t so privileged. But I get uncomfortable when anyone characterizes anyone else’s home–someone else’s world–as having no redeeming value whatsoever.)
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well, tonight, thank God it’s them
Instead of you (STFU. REALLY?!?!)
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas (No, there won’t be snow in Ethiopia. But there was, and is, snow on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is in Africa. You see, Africa is a continent. A gigantic f$%&ing continent. A diverse gigantic f$%&ing continent. Ethiopia happens to be one of the countries in that continent. You’re welcome for the geography lesson.)
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life.
Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow (Drought wasn’t the sole cause of the famine. Major human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government–and, cough cough, other governments–also contributed significantly to the situation. And again, people, STOP CHARACTERIZING AFRICA–you know, that gigantic f$%&ing continent–AS A WASTELAND HELLHOLE! Next thing you know, people will start believing that Africa and/or Ethiopia are inhabited by people without culture, cuisine, or specialized knowledge. Oh wait…)
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all? (The approximately 60% of Ethiopians who are Christian and thus celebrate Christmas might have known it was Christmas. Though, to be fair, I appreciate the sentiment that starvation and famine probably interrupted every affected person’s religious celebrations, whether they were Christian, Muslim, or a member of one of Ethiopia’s indigenous religions. On the other hand, I doubt they knew that it was “let’s puke on the world with Santa-Rudolph-and-Frosty” time.)
Here’s to you
Raise your glass for everyone (Because we’re so wonderful! Yes, we’re so wonderful!)
Here’s to them
Underneath the burning sun (Yes. Because all any starving person wants is a glass of booze raised to them. IT’S A FRAT PARTY FOR THE FAMINE! And, actually, the recording of the song does sound like it was quite the party. For the starving.)
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?
Feed the world,
Let them know it’s Christmas time and
Feed the world,
Let them know it’s Christmas time…(repeat)
In sum, I think the song’s lyrics are trite, exploitative, and fundamentally ignorant of the very cause that the song itself was trying to promote.
If that makes me a grinch, or an overly-critical liberal snooty-pants, then so be it.
And yes, I know, some of you object to my criticisms. You might even think I’m far worse than a grinch for even daring to tarnish such a beloved holiday song.
But bear with me as I respond to what I thinks some of these objections might be:
But! but! the song unquestionably raised lots of money for a great cause. How can you criticize that?
Let me start by making one of the least objectionable statements in the history of the world: working to end hunger and famine in a country that had been experiencing famines for nearly 25 years is a great cause.
I don’t want to undo any of the relief money that went toward the Ethiopian famine, nor do I want to belittle the impact of that money.
But that doesn’t mean that the song itself isn’t offensive/sloppy/based in ignorance/a celebration of Western cultural hegemony.
But! but! people who are starving probably don’t give a crap where the relief money and food comes from.
The crappy song did an astonishing amount of good, and the people who were the recipients of that good probably don’t give a crap about the crappiness of the song.
And yet, the crappiness is not erased by the good.
But! but! there are lots of other songs that are far more offensive than this one.
Yeah. I know.
On the other hand, I think that there is something especially insidious about a song that is, on the surface, pure and good-natured but that, when submitted to critical thinking, is found to perpetuate a whole hell of a lot of ignorance.
But! but! this song (supposedly) inspired Bono and Sting and Bob Geldof to become the humanitarians that they are today!
I, for one, would also love to hear Bono and Sting’s current take on the song lyrics. (Though I’m sure Bob Geldof wouldn’t like to see my take on the lyrics.)
But! but! whenever I hear this song, it makes me feel good and charitable and reminds me that there are others less fortunate than me at this time of year!
Because there is currently a famine is encroaching on Ethiopia yet again in 2011 (and devastating the Horn of Africa) at this very moment, and if this song is gonna exploit the hell out of our emotions and our love of “feeling good about giving,” then we should, you know, actually do some giving.
And so I challenge you to this:
I hate “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” I have strong, sincere philosophical objections to its lyrics.
You might also hate it. Or love it. Or really, really love it and all that is “inspiring” and “feel-goody” about it.
How about each time we hear it on the radio, we donate money (small amounts, large amounts, whatever we can give) to a reputable charity that is working to improve conditions (and save lives) throughout Africa (and yes, I do mean the entire continent) today?
How about we consider donating money even if we don’t hear this song even once this December?
For even if this grinchy-pants is averse to ignorant song lyrics, I’m certainly not averse to giving.
PLEASE GIVE HERE:
The Fistula Foundation – “We believe that no woman should have to suffer a life of shame and isolation for trying to bring a child into the world. We are dedicated to raising awareness of and funding for fistula repair, prevention, and educational programs worldwide to help eradicate fistula.”
Every Mother Counts – “Every Mother Counts is an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase education and support for maternal and child health.”
Save the Children – “Save the Children serves impoverished, marginalized and vulnerable children and families in more than 120 nations. Our programs reach both children and those working to save and improve their lives, including parents, caregivers, community members and members of our partner organizations. We help save children’s lives, protect them from exploitation and assist them in accessing education and health care.”
Doctors without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres) – “Today, MSF provides independent, impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters. MSF provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need. MSF also reserves the right to speak out to bring attention to neglected crises, challenge inadequacies or abuse of the aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols.”
CARE - “CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. Through our community-based efforts focused on empowering women, we work to improve basic education, prevent the spread of disease, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources. CARE also delivers emergency aid to survivors of war and natural disasters.”
UNICEF – “Our vision is to build a world where every child can grow up healthy, protected from harm and educated, so they can reach their full potential. Every day we’re working to make this vision a reality. No matter who they are or where they are born, we reach out to the most vulnerable children wherever and whenever they need us.”
The U.N. World Food Programme - “As the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against hunger, WFP is continually responding to emergencies. We save lives by getting food to the hungry fast. But WFP also works to help prevent hunger in the future. We do this through programmes that use food as a means to build assets, spread knowledge and nurture stronger, more dynamic communities. This helps communities become more food secure.”