Media, charity and the art of caring

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The problem with doing something for a good cause — say, releasing a charity single — is that any attack on the effort is automatically equated to an attack on the cause. Thanks, mainstream media.

The “Artists for Grenfell” cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water is shit.

There, I’ve said it. Said the unsaidable. And I know what you’re thinking: “You heartless bastard” or “I hope someone you love dies in a fire so you know what it feels like” and so on. And you know why I know you’re thinking that? Because the media stranglehold today has made it impossible to criticize anything, even something as noble as helping out people that our politicians have wilfully screwed.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy is a terrible thing to have happened. I don’t wish it upon anyone for a second. It sickens me that the people we empower to represent us — across all parties in the last twenty years — cut such massive corners in the name of aesthetics and safety. By law, I can’t buy a chair without three fire safety labels stuck to it. By law, I can’t buy two boxes of paracetamol in the same transaction from the chemist, for my own alleged safety. But by law, the government can buy in contractors that ignore manufacturers’ guidelines on the safe use of cladding, and surround thousands of people’s homes in a known flammable material. Hello double standards.

Politically, this is as flammable as the stuff itself. It sadly highlights what I’ve been saying for decades: that the people in Whitehall are only, and have always been, in it for themselves. Jeremy Corbyn had a lucky escape, narrowly losing the election a few days prior, otherwise he’d be getting it in the neck instead of Theresa May. All the people saying his initials imply he’s some descendant of God might be onto something. If only he’d fed a few loaves and fishes to the crowds at Glastonbury to convince the naysayers (let’s gloss over all the other people with the same initials, such as Jeremy Clarkson, Julius Caesar, Jasper Carrot, Julian Clary and Jacques Cousteau).

But for all JC’s predictable point-scoring, he seems to have conveniently forgotten that an equally huge chunk of the other buildings wrapped in this potentially dangerous substance were put up by Labour councils or under a Labour government. Sorry, but it doesn’t cut it: irrespective of party, you’re all culpable. Every last sodding one of you.

Music to heal

But back to the point of this post. The original Bridge Over Troubled Water is not a classic. It’s dreary. It’s depressing. Always has been, always will be. Employing vocals by Rita Ora, Robbie Williams, Liam Payne, Ella Eyre, Craig David and everybody’s favourite nobody-du-jour, Stormzy, doesn’t make it good.

Virtually all the media outlets are waxing lyrical over Stormzy’s intro. Why? It’s not touching, it’s embarrassing. He always sounds like he’s about to burst into tears anyway, even on the laughable overdub he did on Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You. His lack of talent knows no bounds, lest we forget that in another of his so-called remixes of Power by Little Mix, he rhymes ‘browsers’ with ‘houses’ and ‘trousers’. Lyrical gravy, right there.

Incidentally, in typical Grauniad fashion when covering the story about the Grenfell charity record, the paper labelled Stormzy a “Crime star” instead of “Grime star”, which is pretty damn funny:

Stormzy’s comical attempts at being relevant aside, the problem I have with the alleged free speech on this planet, is that everyone feels they have to fawn over crap like this just because it’s the right thing to do. Nobody dares say otherwise, because that is equated with not caring.

Newsflash: it’s not the same thing.

The merit (or otherwise) of this turd of a single in no way alters the scale of the event’s atrocity. Yet nobody dares imply that the reason Simon Cowell and most of these half stars (at best) have done this is not purely out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it massages their egos and boosts future sales. Nooooo, because anyone saying that would somehow be admitting they were glad people died in a tragic fire. Bonkers. It’s the whole “if you’re not with us, you must be against us” debacle.

Charity by proxy

Cowell boasted about how he put the record out in 48 hours. Yeah, it sounds like a rush job. The mix is lumpy, the production amateurish. It’s not rocket science to do it well, and I expect better from someone of his experience. But I guess the quality doesn’t matter when the media tell us ad nauseum to buy it. The majority of people who did are probably the same people who sent flowers to Kensington Palace after Diana was murdered so they could tell their friends ten years later how much they cared for a woman they never met or knew.

Although the media are largely to blame for the hype, I sort of get why people might turn to it as a beacon of hope. In the face of any disaster, we look to others, because taking stuff on alone is scary. It’s human. It’s part of what defines us as a race. Facebook wouldn’t be as popular if it weren’t for people complaining about their shitty day on their timeline, and seventy friends posting back “awww, thinking of you” and other banal digital hugs in support.

Rightly or wrongly, our journalists are seen as a trusted source. But why should we be told when to feel pity? When to react. How to care. Aren’t we capable of making up our own minds any more? When some low-life shoots an endangered Javan Rhino because some other low-life thinks that crushing its horn to powder will cure their ailments, the plight of the almost extinct species doesn’t trend on Twitter. When you buy a newspaper that’s cost an entire species its habitat, they don’t have Simon Cowell living round the corner to whip up a cover of Woody Guthrie’s Ain’t Got No Home to help them. Yet these atrocities happen on a daily basis and, largely, we don’t care. Not on our doorstep, not our species, not our problem.

Anyone who claimed they cared — really cared — about the families of people affected by the awful events in Grenfell should go down there. Spread some of the love for real. Offer support in a human way. Help people rebuild their lives. Connect. Campaign. Don’t just sit at home and throw money at Cowell’s ego to appease your conscience and say you’ve “done your bit”. That’s charity by proxy, and is the primary reason I don’t give my money away to high street tin shakers, let alone half-arsed pop stars.

Money for nothing (and your pricks for free)

Money only goes so far. Love lasts. If I want to help a cause, I’ll invest my time or skills directly. To be fair to Stormzy, using his questionable musical talents to send money is probably the best he can do, bless him. But I’d have more respect for him if he went down there and made bacon sandwiches for everyone, instead of standing behind a mic and spouting shallow words about being glad it’s not him, his mum or nephew that perished in the blaze.

My choice to not buy the record is based purely on the fact it’s utter bollocks. It’s not the same as not caring. My choice to not go down and offer assistance directly is more indicative. And here come the excuses. There are practical factors (distance, time, etc) but primarily I feel I have nothing relevant to offer that is commensurate to what the people affected are going through. My offer of support would be seen as ‘fake solidarity’ in the same way as if I’d sent flowers to Diana; cashing in on the zeitgeist. The equivalent of turning up, patting someone on the head and saying, “there there, it’ll be alright” then going home. Making myself feel better about having done something rather than contributing in a meaningful manner.

But my foibles don’t stop anyone else from helping out — those who do have something besides money to offer. The trouble is, we’ve been conditioned into thinking that money = helping, and more money = better, and that it’s the only way to contribute. Look at Children In Need and Comic Relief. More people than ever are pouring money into those causes, in greater quantities, but the number of people that actually do anything — those that directly help at the sharp end — isn’t increasing proportionally. Why not? The adage claims: more hands make light work.

Think of school fairs: there’s a pool of over a thousand parents, from which you’re lucky if a committee of twenty step forward to help co-ordinate events, from which maybe ten actually do the work on a regular basis because the rest wheel out the same excuses every time. The events are usually a runaway success, virtually every parent turns up and spends money, but the dedicated people that make them happen — those one percent that give a massive amount of their time and energy for free — rarely changes.

Is it a human trait to equate money with caring? I don’t think so. I believe it’s more a case that we’ve been manipulated to think that’s true. A lifetime of media bombardment can do that. Either way, we should seriously consider breaking the ‘only money helps a good cause’ mantra before it’s too late and we are all judged by the amount we give compared to other more valid, yet less quantifiable acts.

Type like the wind


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