Live8 message: We care!

Posted: Jul 06, 2005 12:00 AM

According to Bob Geldof, 2 billion people watched his snazzy Live8 concert thingamajig. Therefore, he declared, "It's now for the leaders to act." He also added, "Now feel the force of the gale that's hit you." At the top of Geldof's gale-force demands: debt relief for African nations.

OK, so here's what I'm confused about. People watched a concert, which was chockablock with acts supposedly popular with the young 'uns and old 'uns alike. From Snoop Dogg, Will Smith and Coldplay to the more aged likes of Madonna, Sting and Bono. There were even a few troubadours with last names (or at least two first names), such as Elton John.

And the spectacle was impressive, so much so that Chris Martin of Coldplay declared it "the greatest thing that's ever been organized probably in the history of the world." (You've heard of the Normandy invasion, the Manhattan Project, the Marshall Plan, various moon landings, the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church? Impromptu flea markets! We've got a major-league telecast here.) Passing over Mr. Martin's slight overstatement, no harm will come from conceding that it was a very nice concert for those interested in such things.

But tell me, how exactly was Live8 a monumental demonstration of support for helping Africa?

Perhaps we could organize an ice cream and candy giveaway at the local mall to show that children are against the deficit? Anyone who shows up is for raising taxes. Or, hey - and I'm just thinking out loud now - maybe Madonna could invite everybody to show their concern about global warming by coming to her mansion (pick one) and helping themselves to whatever's in her fridge.

You see my point? Presumably this was a concert most of the attendees wanted to go to anyway. To say that 2 billion people favor debt relief for Africa is akin to saying that everyone who watches "Desperate Housewives" is pro-choice because the producers are.

You may be wondering how much money this intercontinental jam session raised for the sick and dying of Africa. Alas, not a farthing. Sir Bob Geldof was very explicit about this point. Live8 was intended to raise consciousness and exert political pressure on the G8 summiteers. No one was allowed to actually raise money for the masses of starving people in Africa. None of the dollars spent on the concert by fans, corporate sponsors, or television networks will reach Africa. Charities couldn't rattle tin cups outside the porta-potties and concession stands. This was solely an effort to prod the West to get behind the slogan, "Make Poverty History."

Nice line. But, uh, how? I'm sure Geldof, Bono and a few others have some ideas worth listening to. But I somehow doubt the Madonna and Snoop Dogg fans in the audience had formed a particularly cogent consensus on how to "Make Poverty History." In fact, I doubt you could get even a fraction of them to agree on a recipe for apple brown betty.

Very smart people have been trying really, really hard to make poverty history for a long time. Heck, they've been working very hard to make Africa just ever-so-slightly less hellish for a very long time. Debt relief is probably part of a potential solution, but without ending Africa's tendency to produce horrible, greedy dictatorships, debt relief is more akin to paying off a drug addict's credit cards.

Even if the concert-goers were speaking with a single voice, they weren't saying anything of much use, except "we care" - and aren't we special people for it? Geldof summed up the attitude perfectly when he said, "Something must be done, even if it doesn't work."

This concert was an exercise in boosting the self-esteem of the audience. Included in the ticket price was grace on the cheap. T-shirts cost extra. Live8 was an appeal to the vanity of people who collectively aren't concerned enough about Africa to watch a classical music concert.

Geldof's heart is in the right place, I'm sure. But what he really did was successfully bribe a bunch of people to be props in a publicity stunt. And I somehow suspect that the G8 leaders do feel the force of the gale that's hit them - and it feels a lot like a gust of hot air.