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Home > Culture and Society

Make papacy history

10 July 2005

On Saturday everyone on Earth and some rudimentary life-forms on Mars watched the Live8 concerts. Numbed as we are by over-exposure, media saturation and charity fatigue, bulging with information and comment like an over-stuffed sofa, most of us were still at least a smidgin stirred by the Hyde Park event. Even if it was only to scream 'how the fuck is Dido one of the richest women in the UK? She couldn't hit a note with a cricket bat and a cluster bomb'. Madonna swore, Snoop swore, yer man from Razorlight swore, and bookies up and down the land swore when Sir Bob didn't. (400 people complained about the swearing. Oh, do fuck off.) It felt odd somehow to not be urged to pick up a phone and give fookin' munny - all that was being asked of us was to absorb a message, maybe go to a website and enter our name. This in itself will have inspired people, not because they wouldn't gladly cough up a tenner but because there's something pure and direct about it, something additive-free and organic and good for the spiritual digestion. Certainly better than the artery-clogging tedium of all those 'Make Bono/Sting/Geldof/Whoever
History' t-shirts.

Rock stars - and here a multitude slaps collective fist against palm - do enjoy the combative edge to a campaign such as Make Poverty History. They love the opportunity to rouse people to be anti-establishment, and fair enough. It just shouldn't be mistaken as a brave or risky thing to do. Just as there's nothing controversial or risky for a politician in speaking out against an unpopular war, it doesn't take especially metallic cojones to publicly berate heads of state for being slow to act, uncharitable of outlook and appearing to stuff in one more figurative wafer-thin mint while millions starve. Pipe up that the most powerful men in the world stand ankle-deep in the poop of injustice and you'll hear a deafening chorus of enthusiastic concurrence. Few citizens are ever happy with the government they have, whether they are free to say so by phone, text or email, or could have their heads scythed off just for picking their teeth when Beloved Leader comes on the telly. Knowing that we as Well-Fed Westerners (WFWs) can't get out of bed without stepping on the frail skull of someone less fortunate, it's comforting to feel we can make amends for our relative obscene wealth in some small way. It's like the Carbon Neutral thing - buy stuff, generate waste, then plant a tree to cancel it out. Consume, then compensate. Perfect. But aside from all that, it's *fun* to slagthe G8. It's metaphorical tomato-tossing. Ideological wet-fish-slapping.

So it's relatively easy to mobilise the conscience of a rich nation's vaguely guilt-ridden public, to woo it into action with the combination of politicians in the stocks and pop stars on a stage. And this is as it should be - this campaign is about numbers, numbers, numbers, bums on seats and heads briefly disengaged from arses. To maximise philosophical and actual attendance, Live8 and MPH have had to minimise offence. Simplification is necessary, non-dilution of the uncomfortable gravel of truth. The nagging thought that none of this may make an After Eight's worth of real difference to anything persists. But what's really niggling away at us like a brain-eating blowfly maggot is the issue, conspicuous by its absence, of prophylactics. Nary a johnny has poked its nose into any of the literature. No one wants to be assailed by something sticky when
trying to concentrate on how they can help alleviate the pain of millions, but it just won't quit.

As the campaign explicitly addresses, the AIDS statistics are truly terrifying. The Pope and his predecessor can pat their saintly selves on the back for that. Or they could, if one of them wasn't dead. The Make Poverty History campaign is very big on the fact that people are dying for want of drugs we can pick up at our local pharmacy - a shame indeed - and that the cost of HIV treatment is still prohibitive for most Africans. All of this is sobering and salient. But the campaign seems, bewilderingly, to pull up short of suggesting preventative methods, concerning itself solely with treatment. When it comes to thinking in the long-term on this, as it does on the idea of eventual self-sufficiency in trade terms, it seems to get a little queasy and blush. It's not like condoms are prohibitively expensive (even if they were, shouldn't someone be making a fuss about this as they are about the drugs - need for which would be lessened if fewer people were infected in the first place?) - the only reason for their glaring omission from the campaign can be fear of causing religious outrage.

The rabid conviction and message of the All New and Improved Holy Father - spread throughout Africa via his faithful minions - remains that the only way to dampen the all-consuming blaze of AIDS is for them all to get Bible'd up. That's right, only the awesome power of believing you're a filthy sinner with no more right to live on God's clean earth than a termite can save you. Those blasphemous rubbery things are only good for pinging at non-believers. It's like a government ordering its populace not to wear seatbelts, or another simile so preposterous you couldn't even express it in words, just with a gaping mouth and a gargling dentist's-chair noise.

Given time and balls enough, there could have been a Make Papal Horseshit History element to the campaign, because people's right to preach really ought to be at least questioned at the point where it starts to become directly responsible for death. Even after the government brings in the ostensibly loophole-closing, comedian-bothering Incitement to Religious Hatred bill, the mass arrests of people demonstrating for the right of others not to die for fear of eternal damnation would bring in terrific publicity and sympathy. Hell, they could really throw caution to the wind and have organised public fornication for the cause. However, with Geldof and Bono still in bed with His Holiness, everyone with a record deal they want to keep is liable to remain mute on this most basic, life-saving point.

The Pope has sent a little message to the G8 urging them to do the right thing.

We'd add our own two cents' worth to that, but we feel sure that if we all pull together we can achieve *so* much more.



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

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