artists and a corporate sponsor, VISA, the credit card company to which
so many Americans are in hock. No one can quibble with the intent of
this feel-good act of musical solidarity, or the obvious need it
This is the third big star-studded help Haiti salute--MTV's telethon
shown on every channel, BET's Miami-based largely black music salute and
now this, the mega enchilada of big time charity fundraising events.
It is star studded and sentimental, conjuring up memories, and echoing a
mission that matters. An attempt was made this time to highlight the
issue in the video itself--or at least the need--with photographs and
images of the catastrophe and the children from Haiti, as well as upbeat
cutaways of people in the rubble singing along. Haitian editors were
flown in to work on it, and Quincy Jones and Lionel Ritchie stayed true
to the original, even including creator Michael Jackson's 1985
Music critics are not all wowed with the Washington Post taking a whack
in its review: "The updated take was horribly oversung".save for the
21st-century rap verses added toward the end of the track. One group
rap-along, penned by Will.I.Am
and led by LL Cool J, ends with a particularly platitudinous couplet:
"We are the world connected by a common bond: Love! The whole planet is
Unfortunately, unlike the Olympics, this is not a really global
initiative with "the whole planet singing along." It is an A-list
Hollywood happening. Where are the musical representatives of the world?
There are few artists from Haiti beyond the omnipresent Wyclef Jean,
who has lived in America since he was 9. Why no musicians from Asia, The
Middle East, Africa, or closer to home, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic
This is not just an entertainment or celebrity story. These artists are
helping, perhaps the only way they know how by raising money. Some film
stars have gone there and already contributed millions and, like Sean
Penn, their time, to organizations that are on the ground.
The danger is that we believe that's somehow the money and the good
intentions will solve all the problems there. Millions have already been
raised but the aid program has been flawed, uncoordinated, and even
now, a month after the earthquake, not moving fast enough with rain on
the way, inadequate shelter and the dangerous spread of infectious
diseases like TB and typhus.
The disaster is actually deepening, leaving a suffering if strong people
traumatized emotionally as well as physically.
Only 7% of the needed tents arrived as of last week. The UN's appeal for
agricultural/food help had a poor response. More than a million people
are still sleeping in the streets and many who have had amputations or
operations do not have adequate aftercare. You could feel the agony of
committed TV journalists like Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta of CNN,
who to their credit, went back to Haiti, but even their upbeat rescue
stories often had depressing endings.
We saw a young girl saved by doctors from a brain injury. The operation
was successful but her family has nowhere for her to stay and cannot
afford the medicines she needs. Will she survive? Where will she
recover? How will we know?
Reuters reports: "" a month later, the recovery is still largely in
emergency response mode.
With the rainy season about to start, planning for shelters and new
homes is not far along. There are now nearly 500 spontaneous tent
encampments around the capital Port-au-Prince where most live under
plastic tarps or cloth bedsheets."
And that's in the Capital which has received most of the aid while those
in other cities or the countryside have not.
I know these multi-artist sing-alongs can have an impact. I have worked
closely on three--Sun City, the anti-apartheid record and video that
promoted change, not charity; a remake of John Lennon's, "Give Peace A
Chance,' that tried but failed to stop the Gulf War, which most of our
media supported; and then a remake of the classic hit, We Are Family,
with 200 artists, that appealed for tolerance and an end of hate crimes
after 9/11. Its concerns were considered "off message" and controversial
at a time when the networks beat the drums for war and "payback."
There is nothing controversial or angry about the new We Are The World,
and that may be one off its problems because syrupy high profile
celebrity events are now co-opted corporate-embraced commodities in our
commercial culture. They are almost an expected Made in the USA genre,
slick and all too often self-congratulatory commercials for compassion.
They are effusively praised by the powers that be who pat all the
high-profile artists on their heads, and then, in the end, ignore their
passion. They also become one-shot stories and marketing vehicles.
Entertainment and popular culture are moving and valuable but ongoing
popular education on the issues is more important. As the news cameras
pack up, why can't some money be set aside to back the independent
website Relief and Reconstruction Watch which is monitoring what is
being done in Haiti.