Sally Hall: Why Geldof’s charity classic is jarringly misinformed rhetoric

Have your say

Orwell’s 1984. Whatever he had to say on the matter, it now seems a more innocent world. At least, I think it must have been more innocent.

Otherwise, there’s really no excuse for the lyrics of Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Over the years I must have heard Band Aid’s smash-hit Number One hundreds of times. But I’m not sure I’ve ever really listened to the lyrics – until last week.

Aged 10 when the single first stormed the charts in December 1984, I felt a hazy glow whenever I heard it, assured in the sense that ‘we’ were doing something good for ‘them’. It was also a great anthem to sing along to at the school Christmas disco.

But this year it suddenly struck me how Eurocentric (and blatantly inaccurate) the lyrics are.

I guess in this more innocent world, global relations were still viewed by our nation’s pop stars from a quasi-colonial perspective, and our ideas of charity were delineated by images of the bountiful privileged passing down handouts to the ignorant hordes.

Even so, referring to Africa as a single entity throughout is a bit of a shocker. At the time, people were starving in Ethiopia in their hundreds of thousands.

But Morocco was experiencing a period of rapid economic growth, South Africa was moving towards the overthrow of apartheid, and Madagascar was embracing eco-tourism.

Africa is probably the most diverse continent on Earth, in terms of climate, topography, wildlife and even people.

As a continent, it boasts the highest global rate of human genetic diversity, with more diverse genealogies than the rest of the world combined.

This makes it hard to agree that ‘nothing ever grows/no rain or river flows’.

Indeed, for those living in the flood-prone Nile delta, the claim that ‘the only water flowing/is the bitter sting of tears’ must carry its own sense of painful irony.

Perhaps all that diversity makes it hard to spread the word about a Christian holiday that isn’t even celebrated universally across the European continent, never mind the world as a whole (the Russian Orthodox Church holds its religious festival in January rather than December, for example).

People in South Africa probably didn’t need Bob Geldof’s Eighties memo to remember to hang up their stockings…December 25 is already a public holiday.

Nigeria also has its own festive traditions, with families throwing big parties and cooking dishes such as Tuwon Shinkafa, a rice pudding served with various meat stews.

Festivities are often held outdoors, or - in the words of Band Aid – ‘Underneath that burning sun’. As I sit shivering underneath a sky of unremitting gloominess, I have to ask - jealous, much?

Having said that, Muslims in Tunisia , Morocco and Algeria are much less likely to have the date inscribed on their calendar.

Perhaps they would find the insistent reminder to ‘Let them know it’s Christmas time again’ an irritating command?

In criticising the lyrics (not the tune – which I still find pleasingly rousing. Unlike Morrissey, whose aversion led him to quip: ‘One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of Great Britain.’), I don’t wish to be accused of Scroogery.

The single sold over six million copies worldwide and must have brought millions of dollars of aid to drought-stricken parts of Ethiopia .

But almost 20 years later, and devoid of its context, the song is a jarring reminder that globalisation has altered our approach to charity.

Those ‘pesky’ Americans have created a new festive fad

So as the dust settles on Christmas and before the new year slams into us like a wrecking ball with Miley Cyrus clinging to it, let’s talk about perfect ‘man’ presents.

According to a New Zealand study, it seems that one of the best things a woman can give a man is the right to continue holding a dissenting opinion (rather than agreeing with her when he secretly thinks she’s wrong).

So difficult is it for men to agree with their wives, that the study had to be cut short because of the impact it was having on the men’s mental health.

In a paper published last week in the British Medical Journal, the researchers outlined how they asked a group of men to agree with every idea expressed, and complete every task requested, by their wives - without dissent or complaint.

After only 12 days of saying ‘yes, ma’am’, the participants reported their mood had plummeted from a usual average of 7/10 to 3/10.

Ethics dictated that the University of Auckland study stop because the experience was harming the men’s mental health.

‘Men need to rebel against women to stay sane’

They already seem like a hilarious relic from the past.

Those round-robin letters that you receive at the end of the year boasting about the children’s achievements at school and the parents’ stratospheric rise up the greasy pole.

I still remember poring over the typed photocopies my mum received in her annual correspondence from friends she hadn’t seen for decades, looking for hidden scandal.

The sudden, lurching shift from ‘We’ to ‘I’. The failure to mention a child who’d been lauded as a prodigy the year before. The upbeat description of a spouse as ‘going freelance’.

Now Facebook renders such missives almost entirely obsolete. And we’ve become such masters at the semblance of success that we each act as our own on-line spin doctor.

But thanks to the Holderness family in America, the ‘round-robin video’ is now also a thing.

Mr and Mrs strut around their (very posh looking) neighbourhood wearing seasonal ‘jammies’ rapping about the year’s achievements.

It’s kind of horrible – what with all their triathlon-running, piano-playing, interior-decorating talents on display (and that’s just the seven-year-old girl).

But despite the dizzying extent of their achievements (dad is a TV news anchor and mum appears to be in the movie business), the family seem charming and don’t mind laughing at themselves.

Watch carefully though, and it’s apparent this is actually a clever promotional ad for the couple’s new audiovisual ho, ho, ho on us for helping it go viral.


Caroline Verdon: Nothing quenches your soul like the taste of a great cuppa