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Home > Culture and Society

Making wristbands history

3 July 2005

Glastonbury has always been where hedonism meets moral consciousness, and with the G8 summit just around the corner, the festival was the ideal platform for the Make Poverty History campaign. Everyone passing through the turnstiles was handed a special ‘Glastonbury 2005 – Helping Make Poverty History’ band. At 4pm on Saturday Sir Bob Geldof Himself took to the Pyramid Stage with festival organiser Michael Eavis to exhort the thousands present to raise their arms (if not their middle fingers) in defiance of nasty old poverty and the rotten old G8, and in support of the good old cause.

‘On 6th July we will face down those eight men that can do this thing’, Sir Bob said. ‘This is not a question of money. I want you to individually believe you can change the condition of the most put-upon and beaten-down people on this planet. To die of want is an intellectual absurdity and it is morally repulsive. I would ask the people watching this on television to imagine half of this field dying now, and half tomorrow. And between them, those men at the G8 could have resolved it in seconds.’

TFT was walking past the Jazz World stage at the time, and the gang of earnest bongo-fondlers thereon paused in their set to say something a little less stirring but equally heartfelt, and ask us to raise our arms. This happened all over the 30-acre site, and well over 100,000 people all lifted limbs in a show of unity. As we put ours in the air we felt a warm glow, buoyed further by the cheers of the crowd, and we thought for a moment about the power of Ideas and of Simple Gestures and Conviction and Hope. Then we wended our way to that nice recycled jewellery stall we’d found via the ice cream van and forgot all about it, our wristband yellowing in the weak sun.

The trouble with the Make Poverty History campaign is that it’s too easy for people, especially pear-cider-sozzled festival-goers, to join in a big display of something for the helicopters and whoop and think that they’ve done their bit, that they have contributed something. As though wearing a bit of rubbery stuff around one wrist directly puts food in some Kenyan street-urchin’s mouth. The wristbands were designed as a simple statement of the wearer’s alignment with an ideal, but have quickly become perverted to the extent that they might as well say ‘Make Sickening Public Displays Of Altruism History’. Thinking about the complacency and dumb herd mentality of people who wear a rainbow of bands up and down their arms, around their necks and through their nipple piercings, you fear that that’s all *you* are, and the wrist-jerk reaction is to look around for a burning lake to cast yours into.

The organisers may have had people’s shallower impulses in mind all along, possibly appealing to individuals’ desire to *look* like they care, in order to access via this their better nature and make them consider the grave implications beyond the fad. Only there’s a wider chasm between vanity and selflessness than they’d hoped. Similarly, the wristbands themselves are aimed at garnering media coverage, which the campaign needs to use as a tool to vicariously bop the G8’s heads with. A great idea but again, this may not work in a country whose government blithely soundbit into oblivion the presence of a million of its citizens on the streets.

None of this, however, is a reason to discard your wristband. It is made of good intentions, and isn’t likely to grout the road to hell. Snubbing it because you are afraid of hypocrisy, or of looking like a fashionable wonk, suggests that you really only do care about your own appearance, and not about people living on a quid a week. Subverted by trendy Barleyite idiots it may have been, but you can’t let them get in the way of something that may give you or someone else pause for long enough to start a ripple. So really, you *are* doing your bit just by wearing it and sticking it in the air for the cameras. Even if you are a contemptible, vacuous, cause-happy, iPod-shuffling prannock.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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