Poverty porn and Celebrity Saviors

Oh, my! I looked away from pop culture for a few unguarded decades and failed to notice that philanthropy can have unintended consequences and that noisy philanthropists may be promoting themselves.

For political leaders, who increasingly struggle to make a connection with their publics, and the media, which has an unhealthy appetite for poverty porn, the attraction of Geldof was always that he was a maverick, a doer rather than a thinker, whose quickly thought-up campaigns — from Live Aid in 1985 to Live 8 in 2005 — provided politicians with an opportunity to shoulder-rub with rock stars and look caring at the same time and gave the media yet another opportunity to publish photographs of emaciated foreigners. This is also what riled Geldof’s then small number of critics, which included me. Some of us argued that the depiction of Geldof as Africa’s “messiah” both rehabilitated the outdated idea of the White Man’s Burden and also distracted from any serious debate about the kind of massive economic development sub-Saharan Africa really needs, and how it might go about getting it.

(Note to self: add “poverty porn” and “celebrity savior” to sound bite collection. Second note to self: don’t use it to the point of cynicism.)