Does this make me a bastard?

“But I don’t want your charity, keeping me down” – Skunk Anansie

BBC 1, as I begin to eat my dinner at a few minutes to 7pm: an advertisement about the upcoming Sport Relief major charity event, where a child gets chummy with his favourite sporting icons, when asking them to join in a two part costume to take part in the event. Then the always avoidable The One Show. 5 minutes in, the shows two presenters start jumping around, with bubbly smiles, in bright red costumes, telling us about the ‘importance of the charity event’, with narrated clips of past Sport Reliefs where certain celebrities have ‘done their bit’ to help the cause.

It’s hard to show negative reactions to events which the hype has built moral fire walls around.
Once one starts to frown, and refrains from praising these ‘great’ celebrity role models, it may look like one believes they have sniffed out a rat, that they think all the good intention is false, or even that one doesn’t want to be reminded of most desperate people/situations on the planet. Not at all.
I don’t doubt that the celebrities, like Eddie Izzard on his country-long marathon, do these things in the aim of helping people. But when I see all this enthusiasm and hype being (good)intentionally whipped up for the causes it aims to serve, I can’t help feeling a defeated sort of feeling, or the feeling that no matter how much I shouted “something is not right here” it is translated by those around me into “I’m trying to be controversial by slagging off things there to help needy people”. But as long as our guiding light remains Live Aid, and big charity events are the main way of helping those (and those things) that are in the most desperate situations, I can only conclude that their problems won’t only conclude but will increase.

So, is one mean and selfish if they find the televised screams, and ‘bubbly’ street charity workers’ shouts for our help annoying and troubling? You may think this is the case, but it would be a very simple way of looking at it, a way that doesn’t allow for the thoughts that it maybe isn’t a rule of nature that so many people are in need of hand outs from generous people. If I didn’t care for the homeless, I wouldn’t find it so upsetting when I see people in train stations with all their possessions they can carry in transparent bags, wondering where they will spend their first night without a home. If I didn’t care about nature, and climate change, and the damage humans are doing to the planet, why would the subject be noticeable (in some form) in nearly every piece of art work I have made for the best part of a decade? Surely one doesn’t need to dissect the societal norms around them, to see that something has seriously gone pear-shaped when we are surrounded by so much call for charity, on every street corner, and in every newspaper, with logos that strangely seem to enhance the legitimacy of the big company logos which occupy the same areas?

Running “1, 3 or 6 miles” doesn’t change things for the better, changes to the social system do; changes to a system where it has been normalised for more government money to be spent on bailing bankers out and military spending, and world sporting events (where nation states childishly compete to outdo each other with fancy shaped buildings and fireworks), than on helping the world’s poor or tackling climate change. Mass charity is what happens when society stalls, and goes back on the idea of progress. Big charity events merely give causes their ’15 minutes of fame’ where they can appear on the stage of the usually much more don’t-give-a-shit spectacle complex, to make our hearts momentarily bleed, hopefully just enough to be thrown a few crumbs to keep them afloat before the spectacle gets back to its usual task of keeping us as consumers hooked on dreams.

Charity of course, fits perfectly into this consumerist complex. Which is why the logos of the charities whose workers chase your guilt up and down high streets actually enhance the legitimacy of the big company logos that occupy these same areas. Giving money to a charity, or competing in an event to raise funds, is merely the purchase of ones exemption from the guilt of living within highly exploitative and destructive system, and this exemption allows for one to then go and buy from the big companies, with the exemption from the guilt allowing us to momentarily forget that these companies, if not themselves ruthlessly exploiting people and the environment in other parts of the world, are certainly part of a framework of companies bolstering the legitimacy of doing so.

And by stating that this is what I feel a world consisting of innumerable charities allows for, I am still not saying that all those who do give money or time to charity do think in such a cynical manner. But I do think one registers it as ‘doing their bit to help’, and may actually believe that it can cancel out the negative effect of shopping at big company stores (which of course we all have to do because it is has been almost impossible not to). I also think that it results from an unquestioning acceptance that this way (the way of charity being the only help for the most desperate situations whilst the real riches of the world are utilised for crueler ends) is seen as the only way, as if all we can do to help the most needy, from now until the end of the human race, is to throw them just enough crumbs to survive. Keeping them down, of course.

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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