Poverty Parade: Desperate images and sad songs that never end
Even charities need to advertise. Every good cause, no matter how well known, accepted or funded, still needs to buckle down and work at raising awareness and cash. Over the years, many charitable organizations have grown into massive multi-national do-good machines but they still need bucks to keep the wheels greased. That’s not a bad thing per se, but to view big time charities in the same light as a local soup kitchen is kind of like comparing Exxon to Ed’s Corner Gas. Different worlds. Now, admitting this doesn’t mean they’re not doing any good – they do, lots of it – but when your day to day requires constant board meetings, professional mission statements and slick ad campaigns you’ve definitely gone big time.
Well UNICEF is about as big time as charities get. In their latest attempt to raise awareness and solicit funds (for their UK arm) UNICEF has put out a new six minute web video called “Put it Right.” The video is a stark, affecting and quite simply, haunting vision of several children’s lives across the world. Set to Radiohead`s “Videotape,” the short film is a montage of scenes from Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia and the Philippines. The campaign they’ve designed is centered on six children, all featured at some point in the long-form video, from the different countries. The website UNICEF has set up here goes on to feature individual videos of each of the kids, sharing their personal stories and realities with the viewer. The intent, obviously, is to raise awareness and generate donations. UNICEF explains the campaign as such:
“All children are born with the same rights, the right to a childhood, the right to an education, the right to be healthy, the right to be heard, and the right to be treated fairly. They have these rights wherever in the world they are born. But for millions of children around the world, these rights are denied. UNICEF is working in more than 190 countries around the world to protect children and to uphold their rights. But we need your help. We want you to help put it right for children not because you feel sorry for them, but because you know it is unacceptable for them to live in this way.”
It’s hard to argue with that – what kind of heartless bastard would even question such a thing – but at the risk of embracing bastardom, I feel I have to. Even as the warm tones and bleak imagery presented starts hearts to aching many in the masses are wondering aloud about the effectiveness of such a campaign. The concern I’ve seen most often is how, after decades of effort, nothing seems to have really changed all that much. There still appears to be just as many poor people out there today as when Sally Struthers was cradling them years ago. So what’s the deal? Is UNICEF blowing it?
I don’t think so. They’re doing what they can in the face of an enterprise that is inherently misdirected. My first issue is with this UNICEF list of “rights.” How can anyone guarantee a “right to a childhood?” If my parents die in some horrible car crash who do I see about replacing my now lost childhood? It’s “my right” after all. How about the right to an education? To be healthy? What if my kid is dumb as dirt and a pale sickly to boot? Does the entire North American edu-care system grind to a halt to prop him up? Not bloody likely. I know the right to be heard is fantasy. By whom, I would ask? The day I see politicians making grand promises of shorter nap times and more candy is the day I’ll agree that kids possess a right that needs catering to. Besides, no one is listening to kids because they’re kids. They don’t know anything yet. For that matter, none of us has any actual right to be heard. Try claiming that right the next time you’re protesting a G20 summit. About the only right any of us have is to “be” and even that one is by no means universally accepted. Poll most intellectual bright lights and you’ll find a disconcerting number come down on the side of population control when it comes to solving the many problems our various contradictory “rights” create. The inconvenient truth of free will always means it’s easier to get rid of us than to keep us.
I watched UNICEF’s video several times and while I can get what they’re going for – put things right so all kids can live the way our kids live – I have to question the underlying arrogance of it. Are we really the paradigm? Viewers can’t help but compare the lives they see to their own (and I doubt anyone in outer Mongolia is watching these ads). It’s effective, but unfair. Of course I don’t want my kids rooting around in garbage dumps but I can guarantee you that video footage exists of my offspring doing things that would absolutely horrify folks viewing my life from another fiscal plane (for the record, my son was only eating cigarette butts because he couldn’t find any rocks to chew on….). UNICEF’s video doesn’t make me feel guilty – it makes me feel grateful, and more determined to appreciate what I have, irrespective of how much more, or less, others do.
Like it or not, poverty is with us forever. It will not be “solved” no matter what we do. The simple truth is that this great big circle of life we all cling to keeps on turning no matter what. And when a wheel turns you have some folks high up on top and others pressed down hard at the bottom. Today it’s them. Tomorrow it’s…who knows. Life is unfair and while we can work together to soften the blows, nothing will ever change that, no matter how much money we raise or how many airplane loads of food we drop. It’s that free will conundrum again.
The last line in the song Radiohead generously donated to UNICEF for “Put it Right” is “Today has been the most perfect day I have ever seen” – A pretty good thought, I think. We only have the life in front of us to live each day so we better smile and make the very best of it we can. Flush toilets and full bellies help, but when you look around for the truly happy, they are by no means a guarantee.