I was in a counselling session, having a rather intense moment. In fact, the moment had passed and I was sat composing myself when, out of the blue I heard myself say “And I hate Red Nose Day”.
Now, this was arguably relevant to what we’d been discussing but I was completely bemused to hear this statement come out of my own mouth and I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to understand exactly where it originates.
For a start, it’s true. Well, I didn’t think I hated it although on some level I know I’ve resented feeling obliged to watch it, to join in and to donate. To be clear (and a little defensive), I do give to charity, mainly to Oxfam and WaterAid, and I’m less inclined to give to ‘domestic’ charities or ones that are primarily concerned with homeless dogs. But my problem is certainly not to do with what Comic Relief does with the money it raises.
And, by and large, I’m not knocking the celebrities who line up to get involved. It’s clear that the organisers put a lot of work into it. In his recent blog, Graham Linehan made the point the James Corden had given up three weeks of his time to work on Red Nose Day, although it’s obvious that he is not doing his career any harm by doing that. However, since we can never know someone else’s motivations with any certainty, I’d rather assume he was doing it because he’s a nice guy (which is how he strikes me).
I do agree with those who have queried the fundraising venture whereby people can bid to have a celebrity follow them on Twitter for six months. That seems sad to me in all sorts of ways and on this point I do disagree with Graham Linehan, who effectively brushes the criticisms aside with the “it’s all for a good cause” argument. In fact, this defence seems to me to one that we need to dispense with before we go any further.
On the day of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster, the Twitter account for the Bing search engine put out a tweet stating that they would donate $1 dollar for every retweet up to $100k. I do hope this was the idea of a marketing intern who’d been left unattended at the weekend because I would hate to think that this was a decision taken by someone with any experience of marketing or, indeed, life. There was a justified degree of revulsion about this on Twitter, the overriding impression being that people thought Bing should donate the $100k and not attempt to make capital out of someone else’s misery. What I didn’t see was anyone saying that it was for a good cause and that the ends justified the means.
I’d like to proceed then on the basis that just because Red Nose Day raises money for charity, that doesn’t mean that its methods can’t be examined and criticised.
Having mulled on this, I have three main problems with Red Nose Day.
Firstly, historically, fundraising for charity has involved doing something involving an effort, such as a sponsored walk. An effort was made. So, my first – and most trivial – issue is the fact that Comic Relief is so lazy. This, I believe, is the post Live Aid phenomenon. You can knock Bob Geldof but he used what skills he had available to him to raise money and, as an entertainer, that meant it was show time. I don’t want to sound worthy about this – “no pain, no gain” – but compare the Moon Walks for breast cancer charities, which have an element of fun, of course, but which ultimately involve an effort, with Red Nose Day where we pay for our entertainment by donation.
But it’s not just the entertainment, which brings me to my second point: the juxtaposition of comedy with suffering. I’m almost tempted to simply let this point stand but I wonder how those people whose terrible lives are televised for our entertainment would feel seeing Red Nose Day? These affluent Westerners, not giving out of compassion but because someone is making them laugh. Making them laugh and playing with their emotions by showing them scenes of suffering as a contrast to the fun.
And this is my last point: the pornography of suffering. “Did you see that Davina, crying she was so moved?” Television crews looking for the best shots of misery, starvation, disease and suffering, to send back so that they can be interspersed with choreographed news readers showing off their legs.
Is this who we are then or whom we are becoming? A nation that will accept televised suffering if it’s moving enough and serves only to emotionally counterpoint the entertainment that we have switched on for?
Does the end justify the means?