Sunday, February 18, 2007

Op-Ed: The Dish: Righteous or Dubious? Students Debate the Value of RED's Charity Work

Liz Garber-Paul and Najva Soleimani discuss the commercialization of activism in preparation for Inprint’s activism issue.

LGP: I think that contemporary activism has become too focused on marketing. The object of activism has always been to create change. I think that goal is still the same, but the method has shifted. What used to be grassroots organizing and marching on Washington has become big business, like the Gap RED campaign. It’s all about what kind of marketing ploy will get your cause in front of the most people without anyone actually committing to the cause.

NS: I disagree. Most people today are not personally affected by world events. They can’t care because war or AIDS in Africa do not change their daily lives. We are isolated from these issues in such a cursory way that they aren’t real to us. Maybe having celebrities talk about issues is what it takes to make people listen. Corporations that support causes help to make important issues visible in our daily lives.

LGP: But, by buying into the media and using marketing as our main platform, we believe that it’s all about the glitz and who can stay in the spotlight longer. The only people who are actually heard are celebrities trying to get people to support large media campaigns, rather than actually go out there and do something to cause a change. It doesn’t seem like anyone is really dedicated anymore.

NS: I think there are a lot of people out there who care. The people who go out and buy the RED shirts at Gap are not necessarily the people who care, but at least they’re supporting a valid cause that may be lacking funds. These big businesses are the money behind the people who care.

LGP: I think that one human voice will make a greater difference than that many people buying RED cell phones. The problem isn’t that people are giving money to these causes. I think buying a cell phone that gives proceeds to fight AIDS in Africa is definitely a good thing. The problem is when people think that’s enough. Some people say, “Ok, I went out, I bought a RED t-shirt, I bought a RED cell phone, I did what Brad Pitt told me to do and now I’m a good person and I can go back to living my life.” Maybe if those people didn’t feel like buying a t-shirt was enough they would actually have gone out there to do something. Before there were marketing campaigns, people who wanted to make a change went out and did something. It’s not that the activists stopped caring, but the public will only listen to large corporations. There isn’t any attention given to individual voices.

NS: Certain people do think buying a t-shirt is enough, but would those people have done anything otherwise? At least by buying a t-shirt they are partially contributing to something.

LGP: But people only pay attention to the campaigns. They aren’t interested in the actual issues.

NS: They can’t be interested because the issues don’t affect them. During the Vietnam War people were in danger of being drafted. They were aware of it every day. Because there are no consequences of war for most people unless they are connected to someone in the military, national activism campaigns are now the only things that keep people aware of what’s going on in the world.

LGP: But why, in a world where we’re supposedly so connected, where we can see what’s going on all over as it happens, do we feel connected only to the causes that have the most media attention? At what point can the branding and marketing of causes end? When will we stop throwing catchphrase activism around and actually do something?

NS: When we are personally affected. When people feel that their own safe lives are invaded. But some people are still acting; there was a huge march two weeks ago with thousands of people saying they’d had enough.

LGP: Marching for peace is only going to get you so far.

NS: Do you honestly expect every person to get up and personally fight for a cause? A lot of people give whatever they can. You go about your life and if you have extra time or money to spare you move and make things happen, but sometimes you only do it on a small scale. Protesting is a huge commitment that most people can’t afford, but they can buy a special cell phone or t-shirt.

LGP: It reminds me of the early 90s when activism got really fashionable. It’s like the Seinfeld episode when Kramer was walking for AIDS but he wouldn’t wear the ribbon. They were actually raising an interesting point, as if to say, “I’m walking, I’m doing something, I’m not just going to wear the ribbon.” It’s better to do something than make a fashion statement about doing something. At what point are people going to say, “I’m not going to wear the Gap RED t-shirt or use the RED cell phone because what does it actually accomplish?” When will the activists actually act?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear LGP

I wish more of our young people would think like you do. It is a pitty that we feel so isolated in the world of borderless conncetions that we have the most tools to communicate and stay connected.
What is missing is a sense of unity in humanity.
good work keep it up