Band Aid 30 is officially the fastest selling single of 2014. Yet this attempt by successful musicians to heal Africa through song has not met with universal cheer. Instead, a fickle and febrile debate has raged over whether this is something to be approved of. Unless you subscribe to the 'primacy of celebrity-hating' school of foreign policy, approval should be bestowed.
As soon as news broke that Band Aid was reforming to raise funds for ebola victims, the instinct was to deride. The Guardian posted a comment piece slamming it as a condescending and reductive portrayal of Africa. Nick Dearden, director of the World Development movement, feared that Band Aid would neglect the more complex and deep-seated problems of the ebola-stricken regions of the continent. I look forward to Dearden’s three-minute pop smash that sets all that out. Damon Albarn then went on Channel 4 News with some meandering burbles, again to the effect that celebrity interventions often demean Africans.
The Right was then marshalled against Band Aid 30 when Jayne Secker of Sky News rattled Bob Geldof by suggesting that if he and his celebrity chums paid their taxes in full these fundraising efforts would not be needed. Bryony Gordon picked up the baton making similar points in the Telegraph: 'I don’t want to be told how to behave philanthropically by a man worth an estimated £32 million, a man who is said to use tax avoidance schemes.'
With the commentariat sheep now herded into the anti-Band Aid pen, the contrarian clever-clogs at Spiked decided the time had come to play their hand, dismissing the criticisms as cynical group-think. The site’s assistant editor, Tom Slater, proclaimed his 'new found respect for Bob Geldof' in the face of the 'principle-free carping that has met the latest Band Aid effort', although one wonders whether Spiked would have been so kind had the media flock stampeded the other way.
As a former trenchant critic of Bob Geldof and Band Aid, I can attest to the fact that much of the criticism is cynical and borne of those intensely personal, unilateral hatreds one fosters towards celebrities without ever meeting them or their having done anything to one’s detriment. Up until 2010 I had persuaded myself that I hated Bob Geldof for pontificating, being aggressive and musically talentless. How I rubbed my hands with glee when BBC Africa editor Matin Plaut made waves with a report that money from the original Band Aid was siphoned off by Horn of Africa warlords and so plunged the region into further chaos. In the end, however, the BBC had to concede that while some aid money raised at the time for the Ethiopian famine may have fallen into the wrong hands, the claim that Band Aid money was part of this leakage could not be substantiated due to the charity’s careful monitoring of how its funds are disbursed.
But oh how I wanted to believe that it was true. There was something in me that found it pleasing to think that famine victims were being left to starve through the credulous ineptitude of Band Aid. Why? Because that would make Bob Geldof look like a twat. That was a more satisfying scenario than soundly-administered Band Aid money being used to nourish the afflicted back to health, as that would not make Bob Geldof look like a twat. I had become the ultimate victim of the celebrity culture I professed to despise, subordinating all principles of factual rigour and morality to my desire for Bob Geldof to be made to look like a twat.
So I resolved to get over myself. The present day critics of Band Aid should do likewise. Yes, it would be good if celebrities paid their taxes, but don’t delude yourself that more than trace amounts of that revenue would reach ebola victims. The vast bulk would go on UK pensioners (who don’t have ebola), the UK NHS (which is not struggling to contain ebola) and welfare for non-ebolic UK residents. And yes, Band Aid does tend to treat its beneficiaries as nameless, homogenous objects of pity, but if I was an ebola victim bleeding from my eyeballs, I think I would let that slide right now.
It is tempting to mock Band Aid 30. Tempting and fun. But if you succumb to that temptation you will be prioritising your imaginary war with Bob Geldof over the fact that Band Aid is an effective vehicle to raise large amounts of money for a good cause quickly and then to spend it competently. So who would be the twat then?