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Red in the red
March 6, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Is the rise of philanthropic fashionistas decked out in Red T-shirts and iPods really the best way to save a child dying of AIDS in Africa? One year into the "save the world by shopping" initiative championed by Bono, Steven Spielberg and Chris Rock, and the bill is right at $100 million - and so far, Red has only raised about $18 million. Nonprofit watchdogs worry about a backlash. Red's CEO replies, "this marketing would have been spent anyway, on other product lines. It never would have been (nor will it ever be) given to the Global Fund."
posted by jbickers (87 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Are extremely loaded rhetorical questions the only thing that can save us now?

Seriously, it's not the 'best' way but it doesn't hurt.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:46 AM on March 6, 2007


St. Bono will not be amused - his precious idea was basically a big waste. I am sick and tired of this guy. He should give all his money away - he still will make enough for the rest of his life from royalties and concerts ...
posted by homodigitalis at 11:48 AM on March 6, 2007


I am shocked, shocked to hear this. I suggest we create, test, develop and market an anti-shopping line of clothing and premium electronics to counter this terrible trend.
posted by boo_radley at 11:50 AM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


This got more people shopping at the gap, buying motorola phones, and using amex, right? Sounds like it achieved exactly what it was trying to.

oh how I hate "solve * by buying more crap" campaigns. except for boo_radley's idea. i support that.
posted by pinespree at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think the issue is that the producers were not willing to take the hit, to say that they would sell products at normal price, but the a chunk of the price for the red ones would go to charity.

As it is, you're asking me to pay a premium for your product (in red) with some (no guarantee of all) of that premium going toward a charity. Where is the real incentive? If I care about the charity, I can buy your standard-issue (not red) product, then send the cash I save to the good cause.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Listen, I think Bono sucks as much as the next guy, but $18m is a lot of money, and as Space Coyote suggests every little bit helps. Further, the language of the first link (and the post's suggestion the initiative is "in the red") are deceptive. As best I can understand, the "Red" brands didn't spend $100m to take $18 revenues, they spent $100m marketing the campaign, which generated many millions in sales, from which $18m was sent to the Global Fund. That's a lot, and it's not indicative of failure. You wouldn't call a business with operating profits of 18% "in the red", but that seems to be what you're doing here.

(Unfortunately the article in AdAge doesn't even attempt to explain their accounting, so I'm not sure this is right. But I strongly suspect it.)
posted by grobstein at 11:54 AM on March 6, 2007


You know what would help stop aids? Condom distribution.

They could be red, though, if that's what people are into.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:55 AM on March 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


Is the rise of philanthropic fashionistas decked out in Red T-shirts and iPods really the best way to save a child dying of AIDS in Africa?

No, but it makes the yuppies feel good. (Look, obviously their hearts are in the right place here, but this problem requires way more than good intentions and way more capital than even the most earnest private philanthopists can raise).
posted by jonmc at 11:56 AM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


You know what? They spent $100 million on marketing, and I've never heard of this prior to seeing it on MetaFilter today.
posted by davejay at 11:57 AM on March 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


Somewhat off-topic, but asked in earnest:
Why is Bono bad?
posted by Dizzy at 12:04 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


HAMME(RED)
posted by phaedon at 12:04 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nobody is being ripped off here. People buying iPods and Gap apparel aren't dying of hunger. They're being 'upsold' to support social campaigns. Anything that helps do that is good. It's not happening to the exclusion of direct donation!!

You know what? Not everything supporting part of a hippie agenda has to come clad in hippie values. Just coz Whole Foods is organic doesn't mean they have to 'buy local'. Just coz a car is environment-friendly doesn't mean it has to have low profit margins. Just because a campaign contributes to charity and social work doesn't mean it has to have no ulterior motives. Philanthropy cannot be the sole domain of people doing it out of the purity of their hearts. This sort of puritan zeal is really weird. I heard the head of google's philanthropy arm say some months ago—'when I spend a certain amount of operating funds to get certain things done in my for-profit capacity, nobody raises eyebrows. But when I do it in the non-profit capacity, suddenly everyone's talking about 'overhead'." She's right! Why shouldn't charitable efforts have high pay, the best equipment, first-class jets? The point is effectiveness, not point-for-point efficiency.

I really don't understand the 'ick! commerce!' vibe I see so often in progressive communities. It's a disease, it's self-defeating. You can't demand the whole world convert wholesale to a primalistic value system. I'll give you 100 to 1 odds that power savings in general populations occur not because people decide to use less energy out of the goodness of their hearts but because energy-saving technology improves and/or energy gets more expensive. People are people. Deal with it.
posted by Firas at 12:09 PM on March 6, 2007 [19 favorites]


Somewhat off-topic, but asked in earnest:
Why is Bono bad?


Uh-oh.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:11 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


jonmc: I don't understand what you mean. Distributed small donations across populations can raise way more money than any taxed-derived government spending. If the difference was negligable you'd essentially be saying that nobody should give to charity at all..
posted by Firas at 12:11 PM on March 6, 2007


Hold on! He's talking about [AIDS in Africa], and that affects the whole damn planet!
posted by owenkun at 12:11 PM on March 6, 2007


There is nothing I have more contempt for than people who try to improve the world. Surely they are the worst form of human being.
posted by srboisvert at 12:18 PM on March 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


If I care about the charity, I can buy your standard-issue (not red) product, then send the cash I save to the good cause.

But those are two different sets of incentives and requirements. A person can do it that way, but it takes more work. Work is a showstopper. It won't slow down a passionate philanthropist, but it'll do so for a good-hearted but lazy consumer.

This isn't an ideal model of charitable fundraising by any stretch of the imagination, but the presumption that it's bad is a little boggling to me. Marketing budgets will be spent, and people will shop, and that's a fact of life: is it better to build a few tens of millions of dollars of charitable giving that probably would not happen otherwise into that system, or not?
posted by cortex at 12:19 PM on March 6, 2007


It's not happening to the exclusion of direct donation!!

I'm not convinced of that. I'm also not convinced that being anti-commerce is a disease, though, or that it's a "primalistic value system", or that "primalistic" is a word. But I'm happy to agree to disagree (although I would love to see research showing that it is/isn't happening to the exclusion of direct donation).
posted by pinespree at 12:19 PM on March 6, 2007


There's actually a very easy way to test whether this is a good approach or not. Show me the $18 million raised through private fundraising in another campaign against a 'background noise' problem like aids in 5 months via people in the 'gap shopper' demographic, not people in the "let's hit up some gazillionaires" demographic. The $100 million in marketing is a red herring—it's not $100 million operating costs vs. $18 million raised. The companies in question recouped the operating costs by selling the products themselves—the $18 million is the 'extra' money generated after the profits of the apparel, electronics &c. themselves.

Easy to snark isn't it? Much harder to get things actually done.
posted by Firas at 12:21 PM on March 6, 2007


By primalistic I meant primitivist.
posted by Firas at 12:22 PM on March 6, 2007


I bought my husband a red iPod for Valentine's Day/his birthday, and I did so not because I care about Bono or AIDS (though the latter concerns me, the former does not) but because it made a statement. The statement being "I'm sappy and I'm giving you a red iPod for Valentine's Day."

Also: I joked that I was giving him an accessory to match me - my wardrobe is black with red accents, including a red peacoat.

Anyhow, the point is that I liked the color and would have bought an iPod anyway, and so some of the money went to charity and that's awesome. I think that there are a lot of consumers in this particular bracket, and why not play it up? What's the harm in marketing things that people will buy no matter what to support a worthy cause? I'm not suggesting that we start "Project BLACK: End Peak Oil by buying black Tshirts from the Gap!" - but I can think of a lot worse ideas.

(Also: I did not pay more for the red iPod than I would have for a blue or a green one, the prices were identical. Apple's website says that $10 of the purchase price goes to AIDS relief, which means that it doesn't matter if you buy the more expensive model, the donation stays the same.)

(Also also: Apple offers a Red iTunes gift card, which is pretty neat. 10% of your $25 card goes to AIDS relief. Not bad at all.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:22 PM on March 6, 2007


pinespree: also, by "not to the exclusion", I meant that the option of not engaging in 'red' and contributing directly instead is still available. As for the behavior of people who *do* buy Red, it's a good question. I agree that they'd be less likely to donate directly after they've bought 'Red', but is that offset by the number of people who wouldn't ever have considered donating directly who do so via Red?
posted by Firas at 12:26 PM on March 6, 2007


I don't think anti-consumerism is primitivist either, but to go any further with that would be derailing.

All things considered, I'm not actually opposed to a campaign like this. I dislike it, but it certainly is delivering more results from this demographic than anything else, like Firas said. I'm happy to swallow my distaste if this is the best method to get funds to these causes.

And yes, re your most recent comment Firas, I think that many of these people never would have considered donating otherwise. There may be a few who substitute ipod buying for donation, but I expect the effect is largely positive.
posted by pinespree at 12:28 PM on March 6, 2007


Another (flash-based, satirical-but-serious) perspective here.
posted by rtha at 12:28 PM on March 6, 2007


I dream of a day when there aren't people in positions of extraordinary power overtly fucking up the world in general and me in particular, so I have some resentment to spare for wealthy activists whose style I don't like.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:29 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why is Bono bad?

Because he's a self-serving, double-dealing prick who talks a lot of big, happy talk and then does exactly the opposite?

Because he's the embodiment of the yuppie-assed Art Center-graduatin' mealy-mouthed feel-gooders who also talk a lot of big talk about social change, but can't be bothered to, say, not actually buy a new car or try public transport, or, say, instead of sending $250 directly to their charity of choice in Africa, but have no problems buying a $250 phone painted red just because maybe twenty-five cents of it makes it to Africa? Because these same yuppie scum would rather talk pointedly about how bad the world is becoming, rather than actually sacrificing some of their frequent-flyer/credit-card miles to go actually do something about it?

God forbid they (or Bono) acknoweldge their roles as part of the problem as excessive consumers and supporters of the hegemonic, imperialist practices of numerous Western governments and the international corporations they're in bed with. Yes, Virginia, what you purchase and don't purchase and how you live your life here and now effects those all over the globe. No, not remotely or distantly - almost immediately and very strongly. Welcome to the Global Economy.


Also, free-thought, free-media artist-wankers such as myself hate him for the U2 vs. Negativland debacle. (That, and I hate him because his music is rehashed arena anthem rock shite on a stale cracker.)

On one hand U2 appropriates whatever they see fit, such as ideas (See EBN (Emergency Broadcast Network) vs. Zoo TV) and then is totally ignorant of his record label (Island) suing the pants off of Negativland, and is totally ignorant and dismissive of it in it's role in copyright law, fair use and parody.

That's why Bono is bad. Because he's so stupid.
posted by loquacious at 12:29 PM on March 6, 2007 [7 favorites]


Somewhat off-topic, but asked in earnest:
Why is Bono bad?


Because he made Pop. Well, that's my reason, anyway.

there may also be something about a hugely (over)exposed superstar-cum-humanitarian constantly bombarding the media. "John and Yoko fatigue," as Derek Taylor called the phenomenon of the last huge rockstar to constantly pound causes into peoples' heads via the mass media. Basically, in attempting to bring about awareness about causes, it just becomes this vision of Bono and his stupid sunglasses scolding us, obscuring any sort of validity the cause might actually have.
posted by solistrato at 12:29 PM on March 6, 2007


jonmc: I don't understand what you mean. Distributed small donations across populations can raise way more money than any taxed-derived government spending.

Well, the results here would seem to argue otherwise. I'm no Marxist, but I know when a problem is too big to be solved through either a star's fabulousness or good intentions. And since a lot of global hunger and the AIDS crisis can be attributed to governmental indifference and neglect, maybe governments should be footing the bill for solving the crisis. And FWIW, I actually kind of like Bono. Sometimes.
posted by jonmc at 12:37 PM on March 6, 2007


Private charity, especially in the form of aid, barely puts bandages on problems that are deep seated structural issues. (That's not to say that bandages aren't useful, but they don't solve the underlying problems.) Campaigns like Red just add a sleazy layer of commercialism on top of that. Trying to address issues like AIDS in Africa without changing the structural issues that give rise to epidemics is futile, but it serves a certain kind of guilty liberalism. You need to work on the fact that Africa, despite having abundant natural resources, is horribly underdeveloped and has no chance of changing that within the boundaries of world capitalism as it's currently constituted.

On preview, what loquacious said.
posted by graymouser at 12:37 PM on March 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Bono's bad because he's popular and people are jealous.
posted by substrate at 12:40 PM on March 6, 2007


I've also wondered about the Bono hate. To me it boils down to "is it better to help or not?" I would think it would be better to at least try to help people and the world at large no matter how high your electric bill is. What's wrong with that?
posted by Emo Squid at 12:45 PM on March 6, 2007


I admit having a primevalitivalist reaction to the red campaign.

So first and foremost (unless I missed someone mentioning it above) I'm just going to go give money directly to the Global Fund instead of buying red-anything.
posted by abulafa at 12:56 PM on March 6, 2007


Why is Bono bad?

Because Henry Rollins says so.
I think if the guy is doing something, it's better than nothing, but I just wonder if he's following through. Like he's "Mr. Africa Third World Debt Guy," which is a huge issue. You're talking about the continent of Africa--a huge piece of real estate with imminent fucking danger to human life. Now, I hate this guy's music, but I like the idea of absolving Third World debt, because otherwise these people are gonna die. So if he's using all that rock-star power, well, fucking right on. But now he's "Mr. AIDS Guy"--well, wait a minute. How did you go from Third World debt to AIDS? It starts to sound like he leaves a lot undone. So when I see Bono doing this, I think, Gee, is this a crusade or really good promo for U2's new greatest-hits album? How can you go on tour and be "Cause Guy" to the level that he's purported to be? Seems to me you'd have to quit the band to do that. I dunno. I have to think his heart's in the right place. I think he's a boring singer, but I don't think he's a bad man.
Rollins would rip the head off poverty, African debt, and AIDS and crush all the world's problems like an empty tallboy if he so chose. Bono mostly whines about it all in a way to advance his smirk, stupid sunglasses, and shitty tunes.
posted by peeedro at 1:04 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


You need to work on the fact that Africa, despite having abundant natural resources, is horribly underdeveloped

not to be a dick, but isn't part of the problem having enforced, and continuing to enforce western concepts of "development" and "progress"" on ancient tribal cultures. The solution shouldn't be to hope that Africa gets it's shit together and starts ripping into those abundant natural resources.
posted by mikoroshi at 1:06 PM on March 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Emo Squid:

There are a couple of problems with the question you ask.

1. Is it clear that the Red campaign is helping in any substantial way? The majority of aid agencies in Africa are very bad at doing anything besides putting people into humanitarian relief camps. How substantial is the program that Red is funding? Do you know? (Does the average person buying "Red" products?)

2. When programs like this are put out, people tend to think of them as being solutions, even when they're not. As I said, aid tends to be "band-aids" -- but if the underlying problem is cancer, is a band-aid really going to help? Underdevelopment and disease in Africa aren't being substantially changed by any of the celebrity-driven programs about them. Most of Africa would remain economically unstable and prone to public health crises (such as AIDS) even if Red did 10x better. The problem of band-aidism is compounded because people think it is helping even if it is not.

3. I'm all for celebrities taking up causes, but only if they do something that actually works. Celebrities promoting band-aid solutions is actually counterproductive.
posted by graymouser at 1:07 PM on March 6, 2007


mikoroshi:
not to be a dick, but isn't part of the problem having enforced, and continuing to enforce western concepts of "development" and "progress"" on ancient tribal cultures. The solution shouldn't be to hope that Africa gets it's shit together and starts ripping into those abundant natural resources.

Yes and no. Development in Africa has tended to be what Leon Trotsky called "combined and uneven development," where the logic of a world economy pushes advanced technologies into otherwise underdeveloped countries. So you'll have high-tech modern factories in a country that is mostly dependent upon subsistence agriculture. You never have the development of forces that leads to relative abundance in the highly developed countries; you wind up instead with immense gaps between rich and poor, underdeveloped physical and social infrastructure (roads, health systems), and the attendant miseries. This is because, simply, the underdeveloped nation (or, in the case of Africa, continent) is competing with the whole developed world, and any capital that is actually built up must go toward this losing race.

Would Africa be better off without modern development? Well, even if it were possible for a pre-industrial society to fend off an industrial society in terms of military might (and it's not -- industrial society is an "expand or die" type of social structure, and the only thing that competes with guns and bombs are more guns and more bombs), that genie's long out of the bottle. You have to deal with half-developed Africa as best as you can, which in the long run would mean a radically different world economy.

But you won't get Bono behind that.
posted by graymouser at 1:26 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


aside: can we stop quoting The Mighty Bicep Of Rock Henry Rollins as if he were the ultimate arbiter of moral truth? Thanks.
posted by jonmc at 1:27 PM on March 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


Why is Bono bad?

Best guess: wrong age, wrong economic class. He's not 23 and broke. And he wears sunglasses. Which is really annoying.

not to be a dick, but isn't part of the problem having enforced, and continuing to enforce western concepts of "development" and "progress"" on ancient tribal cultures. The solution shouldn't be to hope that Africa gets it's shit together and starts ripping into those abundant natural resources.

Not to be obtuse, but what should the solution for Africa be?

a radically different world economy.


What would this look like?
posted by scheptech at 1:30 PM on March 6, 2007


To me it boils down to "is it better to help or not?" I would think it would be better to at least try to help people and the world at large no matter how high your electric bill is. What's wrong with that?

Not all "help" is harmless, for starters. Simply sending money to the wrong charity can be more harmful than helpful. Raw money isn't the answer to everything, either.

No answer or question a very complicated set of problems can be simplified to "is it better to help or not?". For starters, define "help".

However, "helping" is decidely not purchasing new consumer goods at retail prices. That wouldn't help even if the companies involved donated 100% of their gross (not net) profits from the sales to charity.

Why? Because consuming more new raw resources made into consumer goods - some of those products (cell phones, electronics) which are made from rare-earth minerals undoubtably mined in Africa itself. (Which is a nearly exclusive source for certain minerals.)

Why is consuming new products bad, in light of the problem of developing countries? You'd think that things of rare-earth minerals mined in Africa would only help their economy, right?

Well, in an ideal world it would. But Africa isn't on a level playing field with the international corporations and first world countries in question. It isn't, generally speaking, a capitalist democracy. And many of the mines in question are owned wholly or through subsidiaries by the corporations in question. They have no incentive to improve the quality of their worker's lives - they only want to get the most minerals for the cheapest price possible.

Purchasing needlessly new consumer goods is one of the many reasons why Africa is a fucking shithole in the first place! It's because the Western world has conquested it, subjected it, colonised it, enslaved it and otherwise profited from it. Pretty much through outright theft or deception.

The Western world is why Africa sucks. We shouldn't be happy with our "generosity". We should be hanging our heads in shame for ruining an entire continent and massacring whole races of people.

So, in a very real sense, buying that new iPod or that new phone only further indentures and enslaves the people involved in helping produce the resources required to make it - because, once again, the company they work for sucks. If they're so lucky to actually be "employed" by said company, not "indentured" or "enslaved".

The only real world and simplistic solution I can offer to anyone is to consume less - much less, drastically less - and share more of their resources and time directly with those who need it.


Finally, a disclaimer: I'm no saint. While I do put my money where my mouth is, locally speaking as I am able to do so, I'm not currently in Africa involved in direct action or volunteering. However, I'm starkly aware of my role as a consumer in an elite, western society.

I'm so aware of it there have been a handful of years in which (outside of rent/utilities) I've spent far less than $1000 in an entire year, in which the vast majority of that was food, drink and smokes. I recycle clothes, music, books and technology for everything else. I don't miss malls. I don't miss shopping. I miss being on the bleeding edge of technology, but I don't miss paying a premium for it. I religiously eschew purchasing anything new at retail, and avoid needlessly acquisitional behavior. It's all I can think of doing that has any chance of working. If you have better ideas that don't involve the needless shuffling of little pieces of paper, I'm all ears.

posted by loquacious at 1:37 PM on March 6, 2007 [6 favorites]


Bono's bad because he's popular and people are jealous.

You're one of those seriously sick-headed fuckers that actually bought a U2 iPod, aren't you?
posted by loquacious at 1:44 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Awright, fuck Red. From here on out I'm giving all my money to the Human Fund. We're all winners!
posted by diastematic at 1:44 PM on March 6, 2007


posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! You know what would help stop aids? Condom distribution.

Word.

What's Bono's position on condom distribution?
posted by fandango_matt at 1:50 PM on March 6, 2007


scheptech:
What would this look like?

Well, I don't have the time or energy to get into a full-scale debate on what the world economy should look like, but I'll put out a few basics just relevant to the problems of Africa.

1. You'd need to not have transnational corporations as they exist today. You've got tremendous amounts of capital that are aimed at nothing but the constant accumulation of more capital. Africans can't hope to compete.

2. Natural resources would have to be exploited by collective or state owned agencies and the benefits shared by the whole society (whether fundamentally capitalist or socialist) for its own benefit. This is much easier said than done; many people have been killed for trying this.

3. Development would have to be sustainable and at least relatively equitable.

Without these 3 basic points, you're not going to narrow down the rich-poor gap and the infrastructural problems that underpin Africa's ongoing problems. You need some kind of welfare state in order to bring the infrastructure up to date, and you couldn't do that while maintaining the global economic order as we understand it.
posted by graymouser at 1:50 PM on March 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


The Western world is why Africa sucks.

You're missing the real perpetrators here: the Italians! After all, Rome defeated Carthage and it all went downhill from there. The whole Egypt/Nubia thing was really more of a sideline, so we'll just ignore that bit. Besides, they're both brown so that's no good.

I say we march on Italy waving little homemade banners that spell "Carthage" wrong, maybe with a few quaintly-incompetent public speakers thrown in for good measure. And chanting. Can't forget the chanting. "Hey hey, ho ho, SPQR has got to go! Hey hey, ho ho!"

Justice for Carthage! No peace until we get Justice!
posted by aramaic at 1:55 PM on March 6, 2007


Frankly, I'm a bit ti(red) of those who da(red) to criticize a well-intentioned campaign without a sh(red) of evidence that it hasn't empowe(red) some real change. I've sou(red) on some of you who have mar(red) the good work of true cultural icons I've admi(red). You've showe(red) this thread with your cynicism, but if you sta(red) at these giants you'd see they towe(red) over your char(red) excuse of a soul.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:55 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


is there some special hidden sunglass hut that bono and yoko shop at?
posted by breakfast_yeti at 1:56 PM on March 6, 2007


A lot of the people who wear those kinds of things don't think about the implications of it. They're wearing stuff like that because it's fashionable.

Witness, for instance, a guy wearing a Mao T-shirt and a "Free Tibet" badge.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:57 PM on March 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


You're missing the real perpetrators here: the Italians!

You seem to have failed Geography. Since when has Rome not been considered part of Western culture?

Besides, the Italians keep trying to steal my delicious Arctic Candy, so fuck'em.
posted by loquacious at 2:00 PM on March 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


pinespree, re: "I don't think anti-consumerism is primitivist either, but to go any further with that would be derailing." I disagree that it'd be a derail, I think it strikes to the heart of the issue here. In essense what we have is an aesthetic objection to the campaign, the aesthetics of 'let's be pure and noncommercial'. The reason I bring it up is because I see it in soooo many things, it's a way of viewing the world—a sort of 'devolution fetishism'. This aesthetic holds that all we need to do to fix things is just, you know, do less. Let's farm less. Let's spend less. Let's use less energy. Let's do less this, less that. Let's "go back". Maybe it's related to 18th/19th century romanticism, the idea that nature is 'pure'... I would identify statements like "maybe the Africans don't need development" among those lines too by the way.

I have a completely different attitude on this… I favour technology, development, and economic enterprise as ways of freeing up humans from petty burdens, spreading wealth, and um, actually solving problems. I'm reminded of this article about Stewart Brand:
He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about “frankenfoods” and embrace genetic engineering.
'Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.'

Like the pastoral fantasy in the poem, an anti-commerce aesthetic idealizes a world that never existed (commerce and trade is just another way to say 'cooperation', which is a key component of identifying a civilization).

I'm not entirely one-sided on this—I can appreciate the notion of holding on to values vs. selling out, and so on. It's just that I have a bias towards effectiveness of outcome over purity of procedure.

I feel like I can explain what I'm getting at much more articulately with more examples/time/thoughts, but you sort of see my point right? I used to be completely aligned with "No Logo" type thinking—omg Starbucks is destroying local coffee shops and selling overpriced stuff! But nowadays I think that's totally the wrong way to look at it… if a corporation gets you to pony up more money just for the pleasure of identifying with their brand, isn't that 'clever' on their part? As long as you're a conscious player in the game, feel free to fork over the cash... Or turn it over to somebody else whose values you identify with instead. What won't help is deciding to stop buying from anyone.

This is all very scattershot and certain strains may turn off people who're inclined to agree with other parts of it. My disclaimer is that I know these issues are very, very complex. But people don't think through complex issues, they have a way of viewing the world and they bring it to bear on them, usually. This is my way of viewing the world—let's use technology, development and commerce to fix things. This is the view of the world I pit it against: "let's hate on business, recede to our little communes and figure out a way to stop spreading human impact". It's a laudable attitude, but beyond intrinsic/abstract evaluation of whether it's grounded well, it's also ineffective. It doesn't work.

Regarding Google's Sheryl Sandberg, I don't have time to listen through the audio and pick out the quote where she spoke about what I said, but it's in the investing for impact discussion from the Slate 60 conference. She's speaking with Bobby Shriver of (PRODUCT) RED. mp3.
posted by Firas at 2:01 PM on March 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


The GAP has great advertising campaigns (beautiful), and yet, the RED campaign is a flop. Probably because nobody shops at the GAP.
posted by mylittlehipster at 2:08 PM on March 6, 2007


You seem to have failed Geography

No, see, man, the thing is that the Italians are why the West sucks dude! They've, like, taken over our minds and turned us all into little Eichmanns! We have to break free of the SPQR power structure dude, so we can return to the original state of nature, man. It's all about mother earth, like.
posted by aramaic at 2:08 PM on March 6, 2007


MetaFilter: It is better to stand cursing in the darkness, than to have Bono light one candle.
posted by ColdChef at 2:08 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


graymouser, I think 'technology transfer' is as key as where the capital is coming from... a lot of times, within a developing country, you can raise capital but can't get the technological capacity to do what you want without an outside partner. The key is to make sure that the outside partner actually trains indigenous people in doing what they do rather than just putting down machines, importing their expat workforce and exploiting the opportunity of setting up business in the country. In fact I'd say transferring the technology of extraction is almost more important than who owns the current means of extraction. Um, I'm feeling so inarticulate today. Do you sort of see where I'm getting at? The way developing/underdeveloped countries have always been expoited is like this:

[0] Raw Material from underdeveloped country -> [1] Manufacturing in developed country.

[1] Is where the value is added, so where the capital accumulates.

In certain modern situations, you have this sort of structure:

[0] Material and Workforce from underdeveloped country -> [1] Company ownership by developed country.

Again, [0] is being left out of the loop even though they're putting in all the work! They're just being paid wage for labour. The way to break this cycle is to develop indigenous technology and skills and/or force companies coming in to do business to have co-ownership requirements and training/technology licensing mandates.
posted by Firas at 2:11 PM on March 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


God forbid they (or Bono) acknoweldge their roles as part of the problem as excessive consumers and supporters of the hegemonic, imperialist practices of numerous Western governments and the international corporations they're in bed with.

I don't know. This strikes me as the same kind of logic that's used by global warming dissenters to tar Gore. He has a big house! He uses a lot of energy!

If you're going to be a highly visible advocate for an issue, and you want to rub shoulders with those with enough power to effect any kind of change, a vow of poverty coupled with a hard-line, vocal disdain for imperialistic governments and corporations isn't exactly an effective strategy.
posted by brundlefly at 2:19 PM on March 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


Firas:

Nothing you're saying here is inaccurate, but modern transnational corporations make it impossible to break the cycle as you suggest. Trying to force these corporations to act in a way that benefits your country is necessarily detracting from their bottom line, and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that a government that tries this could expect to be forcibly overthrown. (See...well, large portions of Latin American history since World War II.) Transnational corporations, by their existence, are tremendous machines for transferring capital to themselves. You can't get around that when the problem is how to develop Africa in a world economy.
posted by graymouser at 2:20 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


As an aside, I do agree partially with Firas.

Technology is good, but I'll argue that technology is merely information, and it exists independently of unbridled commerce.

Commerce does fuel progress and scientific advancement, yes. But at what cost? What's the total end benefit?

I do not argue that we should return to some idyllic, non-existant era that never existed. It's not possible, namely because it never existed.

However, I will argue that reducing one's needless consumption of things is essential to the global problems we face, and choosing wisely where to spend your resources is essential as well.

To argue otherwise is to remain ignorant of the mountains of trash and wasted resources, the scarred lands and the smoky air such unbridled, rampant consumerism as we've applied it produces.

We can talk about theory all we want, but the reality is that only the richest 1% of the world isn't actually wallowing in its own filth - or the filth of that 1%, who produce a vastly larger ratio of said waste and filth, and then conveniently export it to other countries and then complain about how dirty they are.

These all have very real impacts on our lives, in wasted arable land, in healthcare costs, in lost and squandered resources utilized only as voracious, unaccountable corporations see best - which is at maximum yield and profit, with the shortest of long-term plans.


That said, we do need better methods of commerce and innovation. We do need a new kind of commerce and a new way of doing things.

Consuming more - or consuming just as much as we have been, which is really and truly a staggering amount when you look at it objectively - within our current economic and political models isn't the answer at all. Neither is "investing for impact", unless someone has found a really extraordinarily clever way to invest against unbridled capitalism.

Which frankly makes about as much sense as fucking for celibacy, drinking for sobriety or dropping bombs for peace, but, hey, it's a crazy world.


All that said, it's a highly complicated issue that touches every aspect of all of our lives, in more ways than any of us would care to acknowledge. I know this, because most of us are still sane. If we'd actually confronted the issue with any sense of realism and objectivity, there's a pretty good chance each of us would go utterly mad. That's how complicated the issue is.
posted by loquacious at 2:20 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


An open letter from Reverend Billy to Bono. Billy explains himself a little more in this article.
posted by jtajta at 2:32 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


loquacious: yeah, I see what you're getting at—Americans don't consume on the same playing field as others do, in fact the harm is subsidized, cost of waste processing on an environmental level is not factored into the price of the product, etc. The way things are is definitely not sustainable and far, far, far from equitable.
posted by Firas at 2:32 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


not to be a dick, but isn't part of the problem having enforced, and continuing to enforce western concepts of "development" and "progress"" on ancient tribal cultures. The solution shouldn't be to hope that Africa gets it's shit together and starts ripping into those abundant natural resources.

yes yes, they should all die from AIDS.
posted by delmoi at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2007


If you're going to be a highly visible advocate for an issue, and you want to rub shoulders with those with enough power to effect any kind of change

Ah, and this is a long-lived fallacy of Western thought - that change actually happens from above, from those in positions of power.

Change begins with you. The only effective way towards a non-violent revolution is for you to make it happen. "Be the change you want to see in the world" is more than just a lame, hippy mantra. It's the brutal truth. Change and revolution begins at home. AT HOME. Not touring, not on the road, not gladhanding it with muckity-fucks so you can stay exposed in the media and sell more records. It begins at home.

People - in general - have no idea how much power they weild. The base of the pyramid is where the strength is, where the work gets done, not at the peak. I've lived through 8-plus United States Presidencies. Amount of actual effect on my day to day life by policies of said Presidents? Pretty much a big fat zero.

I suspect that this is the case for most people all around the world.

And yet they don't see that they're the ones with the strength of numbers, the strength of hard work and the ability to survive on so very little?

However, the long tail awakes. People are starting to realize this. Philosophies and idealogies are shifting in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

True change doesn't happen from positions of power. It can't be dictated. It can't be legislated. It happens inside of people and manifests directly through their actions.

Bono's actions aren't revolutionary. His dog-and-pony show is a tired, old, familiar one. Hucksters have used it the world over for as long as there has been celebrity.
posted by loquacious at 2:39 PM on March 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


loquacious and greymouser have mentioned pretty much everything I would have said in this thread, except my contributions would have been chaotic, incoherent, and full of seemingly misdirected rage at most people who disagree with my assessment of the situation as it pertains to Africa, charity, and the necessary changes that must happen before real progress can be made in the developing world.

What's really funny is if you look at things, the crap that's been going on in Africa is just beginning to show up in Iraq. I'm wondering how much longer before we have to start sending food shipments to refugee camps there. Oh, wait we started. How interesting to see first hand something take only years that took decades to do in other nations. At least we're good at something.
posted by daq at 2:44 PM on March 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ah, and this is a long-lived fallacy of Western thought - that change actually happens from above, from those in positions of power.

Change begins with you. The only effective way towards a non-violent revolution is for you to make it happen.


I understand generally where you're coming from, and agree that individual action is vital, but really? The only effective way? The idea that there is only one legitimate approach to social/political change seems pretty simplistic to me.

You can limit your consumption and recycle and whatnot to your heart's content, and that's great, but nobody's going to give a rat's ass unless you have a soap box. And the long tail you refer to is changing a lot of things but, for the moment at least, old-fashioned star power is useful, and it isn't attained by acting like a socialist saint.
posted by brundlefly at 3:02 PM on March 6, 2007


Firas, in my attempt to not derail I didn't fully explain how I feel, but I'll go with you on this not being a derail and try to do so.

I did make one hint of explanation, actually: I changed the phrase "anti-commerce" to "anti-consumerism". I'm not anti-commerce, and I would not argue that to be truly anticommerce is to be primitivist (wouldn't agree at this point either, since I really haven't thought about the issue).

What bothers me is the culture of marketing that developed in the 20th century. Put simply, I think it makes people unhappy. Now I may well be wrong on this point, but that's how I feel. I have no problem with filling a need and charging money for it, but the paradigm has been, for a while now, creating a need and filling the demand for it.

As long as you're a conscious player in the game, feel free to fork over the cash...

I really don't have any problem with this statement. But I feel that the system of marketing and consumerism is largely built around making people an unconscious part of the game. Conscious in the sense that they're fully aware of what they're doing, but unconscious in that most of us don't think about the extents of marketing and disposable consumption in our lives. I've become somewhat aware of it in the past couple of years, and since then I've found that when I buy less, I'm more happy. EEMMV. (everyone else's mmv)

I'm not being primitivist, and I'm not being romantic; almost all of us here are, in global and historical terms, very rich people. Globally, historically, rich people have always consumed a great deal. So to suggest that we might be happier if we consumed less isn't retro at all, it's just an idea. It's obviously not my idea, and in fact it's very old: I think Buddha and Jesus both suggested similar ideas, and as influential as they were, it has not caught on. I'm not suggesting we throw out technology, or commerce. Just that living to buy is probably not the path to individual happiness (and also not the path to making others happy).

I favour technology, development, and economic enterprise as ways of freeing up humans from petty burdens, spreading wealth, and um, actually solving problems.

This demonstrates pretty well the difference in our philosophies on this issue. I see pretty much the entire point of economic enterprise as concentrating wealth, not spreading it. And I see the point of marketing as creating the perception of petty burdens and offering a cure. Technology and development have great potential, but I'm sure not sure how it is that we can harness them to make more people happy. I freely admit that I'm no great thinker, and that I'm not very effective, in the long run. For the most part, all the change that I effect is the change that my personal actions make. Which is a lot less than it could be if I were better at these things. A difference in philosophies is all it is: you're very right that these things have the potential to do great good, and I'm right that they often don't (now, we might argue about how often the "often" is).

Someone interested in using the tools of business, technology, and development to really help people could be very effective, and there are some of those people out there. But I don't think we're really going to solve the world's problems by buying more products.
posted by pinespree at 3:07 PM on March 6, 2007


So let me get this clear: the perfect is the enemy of the good now?
posted by Richard Daly at 3:14 PM on March 6, 2007


I understand generally where you're coming from, and agree that individual action is vital, but really? The only effective way? The idea that there is only one legitimate approach to social/political change seems pretty simplistic to me.

I try not to be overly simplistic - and you should know this by now about me that I'm nothing if not complex - but the way I see it and have seen it, individual change is the only way to real, lasting change.

Why? Because change requires behavior modification, and the most effective, lasting way to modify behavior is for people to desire to change themselves.

Why? Because despite all the complicated, Machivellian machinations by which we arrange ourselves into tribes, cities, states and nations - we're all still intrinsically individuals.

Change has been inspired by policy, or by technology, or any number of things. But in the end, all of the change was individually adopted.

These philosophies are inline with a number of notable individuals who managed to effect great change. Ghandi, for starters. Mother Teresa for another. While they both understood the function of media and statesmanship, they didn't allow that to impede how they lived as individuals, and would likely be appalled by the ideas you've presented in defense of Bono's techniques.


In counterargument: Name one large-scale, corporately funded program that has every actually solved any problems, much less one that hasn't imploded in mismanagement or outright fraud. Bonus points for naming a program that spends less than 50% of its income on administrative or marketing costs. Mega-bonus-round points if you can find one that spends less than 10%.
posted by loquacious at 3:16 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


You're missing the real perpetrators here: the Italians!

Don't ask me about my business, Kaye.
posted by jonmc at 3:17 PM on March 6, 2007


The other point is this: The establishment generally has no motivation to effect positive change, for it is most often they themselves that are the targets of the change.
posted by loquacious at 3:20 PM on March 6, 2007


People - in general - have no idea how much power they weild. The base of the pyramid is where the strength is, where the work gets done, not at the peak. I've lived through 8-plus United States Presidencies. Amount of actual effect on my day to day life by policies of said Presidents? Pretty much a big fat zero.

I suspect that this is the case for most people all around the world.


Not in Iraq. Or Latin America, for that matter.
posted by delmoi at 3:42 PM on March 6, 2007


For those who haven't yet seen it: buylesscrap.org*

*site opens with minimal Flash, but nothing that'll eat up your life or anything. Certainly worth a look, and if you're flush enough to donate to charity causes, perhaps a good site from which to do so.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 PM on March 6, 2007


aah, damn, sorry... Just saw the buylesscrap link was already posted above by rtha.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 PM on March 6, 2007


Now that someone has run the numbers on the Red campaign, can we pull some real numbers on the Pink one too? 'Cause I'm willing to bet that the Susan B. foundation numbers make the Red numbers look like pocket change.
posted by dejah420 at 5:42 PM on March 6, 2007


So let me get this clear: the perfect is the enemy of the good now?

Yeah, tough audience here - apparently Bono's failure to institute a "radically different world economy" lands him in the "yuppie scum" bucket.
posted by scheptech at 5:56 PM on March 6, 2007


The corporatized west is maintaining Africa's current miserable state: yes.

Therefore unless we break that system, they cannot truly develop: true.

Therefore unless we can do this, we shouldn't try to do anything to help those suffering now: Waaa?

You want to argue that the bandaid prevents the cure, go ahead and make that argument. But don't assume it. That corporate world structure is not going to dissolve any time soon. Do tell how many generations of Africans should suffer in the meantime.
posted by dreamsign at 6:51 PM on March 6, 2007


Rollins would rip the head off poverty, African debt, and AIDS and crush all the world's problems like an empty tallboy if he so chose.

Wow. What a man. Or you know -- what a man he could be, if he so chose.
posted by dreamsign at 6:56 PM on March 6, 2007


It looks like I'm late to the party...there have been some awesome comments here.

Product Red has co-opted the idea of social enterprise, and will milk every ounce of legitimacy out of the concept until they stop making money off of it. Then they'll drop it.

The concept of social enterprise is great. Used by well regulated non-profit organizations it could change the world.

People have to consume, and if a slice of all the money that trades hands everyday went to real social entrepreneurs this world could be much better off. As is the idea of funneling cash from the market to organizations trying to solve problems instead of just maximize profits is getting tarnished by this bloated joke of a pr stunt. If GAP Inc. or Converse (Nike) wants to 'save the world' why don't they start paying their third-world employees a living wage. What a joke.
posted by Servatron at 7:10 PM on March 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm such an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy that I don't think I own or want to buy anything that would be available in "Red". I'm one of those cheapskate Price-Sensitive Affluents, and I've send some of the money I save to certain well-known and reputable HIV/AIDS charities for years.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:59 PM on March 6, 2007


If you're going to be a highly visible advocate for an issue, and you want to rub shoulders with those with enough power to effect any kind of change, a vow of poverty coupled with a hard-line, vocal disdain for imperialistic governments and corporations isn't exactly an effective strategy.
posted by brundlefly at 2:19 PM PST on March 6 [+ 2 favorites]


Um.. if you're not being snarky or tongue in cheek and are serious then I point to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as the exception that breaks that rule.
posted by infini at 9:50 PM on March 6, 2007


oops should have previewed thoroughly

anyway, what gets my goat is the lack of attention to problems in NOLA right now, makes me ask if the poor in Africa and India are more glamourous somehow? thanks to these celebrities?
posted by infini at 10:06 PM on March 6, 2007


Um.. if you're not being snarky or tongue in cheek and are serious then I point to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as the exception that breaks that rule.

Gandhi was a smart man, and part of that was that he knew his audience. Had he tried exactly the same tactics in China he'd simply have ended up dead. What tactics are appropriate for modern America, I wonder?
posted by dreamsign at 11:56 PM on March 6, 2007


1) Lose national election to sub-lingual idiot.
2) Do not contest results.
3) Make an Oscar-winning documentary.
posted by Dizzy at 1:14 AM on March 7, 2007


Ouch, man. Ouch.

You're totally wrong, of course, and intentionally so I'm assuming, but I just want to make sure those of us that are following along at home hitting the bong a mite bit too hard caught that.

'Cause I'm sometimes one of them and I could use the reminder myself.
posted by loquacious at 2:58 AM on March 7, 2007


pinespree, yeah, I definitely get what you're saying about mental health vs pure-numbers prosperity. More money or more 'stuff' doesn't bring more happiness, that's definite—we know this in a sort of instinctive way through personal experience, others' anecdotes and commonly-known mores, and I'm pretty sure that thorough psychological study agrees (not necessarily that people struggling paycheck-to-paycheck are as 'content' as the rich, but that once you get beyond a certain plateau where certain needs are met, more money doesn't return more happiness ('hedonistic adaptation' is one phrase this notion goes by). And, indeed, just the process of trying to get more stuff can cause you harm in what you do to get it (workaholism), credit card debt, etc.

I don't think that the 'hole in the soul' we try to fill by getting more stuff is necessarily a creation of marketing... as you know the sort of 'unfulfilled desire' that Buddha was talking about remains in human beings independently of whether they're being marketed stuff or general societal expectations. I'm getting far out of my fields of knowledge with this next statement, but I'd suggest that stoicism is alien to innate human behavior... I mean, isn't the flipside of 'I need nothing, I owe nothing, I'm not struggling for anything' just the slacker instinct?

There are two sides here, I guess, the people building the business (which is what I'm talking about, commerce) and the people buying from the business (which is what you're talking about, consumerism). My main argument is against hating on for-profit businesses that end up effecting things in a positive way. I'm all for enforcing corporate social responsiblity through laws and consumer taste, etc, but my main point is that commerce, business transactions, people paying for things can help build sustainable solutions for human problems where other sorts of actions can't. These things will spring up regardless, and instead of boycotting them we should build partnerships with them and cheerlead the ones that we like.
posted by Firas at 8:35 AM on March 7, 2007


Buying lots of cheap crap isn't doing much for poor people in Africa. But poor people in China will have grandchildren richer than you.

Africa needs more sweatshops.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 10:13 AM on March 7, 2007


No, consumer desire certainly wasn't born with marketing. I dislike marketing because it takes advantage of that innate tendency and fuels the fire as much as it can. It's very, very effective at what it does. As for the slacker instinct, I think it's a very different thing. Not struggling for purchases is different than not struggling for causes or trying to live a worthwhile life.

My main argument is against hating on for-profit businesses that end up effecting things in a positive way.
I agree with you on that. However, in this case, from my perspective I see several for-profit businesses that have a net negative effect having a positive effect in this circumstance. I dislike them because of everything else they do, not because of this. There are a lot of for-profit businesses that do get my approval, but none of them were mentioned in this article.

It's pleasant to have such a nice, civil conversation with someone when we have such different views on this. In the end, I'd like to see more people pursuing either of the forms of change we've talked about.
posted by pinespree at 2:15 PM on March 7, 2007


reading pinespree, loquacious and most recently firas on this subject compels me to add my 2 paise worth here.

1. we have the classic rock vs the hard place problem here viz., the wish to maximize revenue/profit generation that running a sustainable enterprise requires and a simultaneous wish to maximize the benefits to the community at large [which conventionally has meant to minimize profits but is not always the obvious answer]

2. so, if we were to take these to conditions as constraints on a design problem, whether the end result be a product, a service or even, in some cases, forms of visual communication [blog??] we could say that we need to solve for the optimal solution with constraints such that

a) maximize benefits to the world and community at large

and

b) maximise revenue potential in order to sustain enterprise and grow

could this struggle to find the best solutions always balancing these two constraints in mind possibly point the way to a sustainable solution for both sides of the table?

just pondering.
posted by infini at 8:25 PM on March 7, 2007


infini, I think most enterprises would lean heavily towards the (b) clause (ie. it's not a 50/50 motive split in a for-profit environment) because profits deliver more than sustainability, they also deliver reward/attractiveness. If I'm offered $40k/year in one job and $120k/yr in another (other things being equal, eg. the latter is not engaged in an activity I find loathable), god knows I'm jumping ship.

But yeah, in a non-profit or 'not just for-profit' sort of enterprise, my argument would be to not universally hate on services that require minimal payments because they help sustain the beneficial infrastructure.

It's an interesting dance between societal tastes, legal penalties and consumer behavior that ends up aligning commerce to better ends. I do realize that 'just' waiting for people to change their spending habits doesn't help if you don't educate people about why their current spending is causing harm.
posted by Firas at 3:24 AM on March 10, 2007


firas, what you say makes sense, but in this context of Corporate social opportunity or responsiblity [I find CSR more passive charity type thing] you need to keep [a] else there's no point is there? just a quick thought, more later
posted by infini at 7:49 AM on March 10, 2007


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