Bono, Band Aid, and Before: Celebrity Humanitarianism, Music, and the Objects of its Action
In the wake of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, the Irish musician Bob Geldof created Band Aid, an organization of pop music stars eager to aid the needy through the production and sales of a record, “Do they know it’s Christmas?”. With the refrain, “Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmastime,” Band Aid propelled the singers into the realms of politics, international affairs, economic policy, and disaster relief. Through its explicit use of celebrities and wide appeal, Band Aid seemed to herald a new era of celebrity humanitarianism, which has since been replicated and expanded, most notably by the anti-poverty activism of Bono (see Andrews et al. 2011), the calls for an end to conflict in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo by George Clooney, and through similar musical projects such as Live 8 and “We are the World 25 for Haiti.” In this chapter, we argue that these various initiatives are not novel at all; instead, they follow long-standing celebrity humanitarian trajectories that can be traced back at least to the eighteenth century. Since that time, celebrity activists have repeatedly pushed for solutions based on direct Western intervention in what we now think of as the developing world. Whether demanding direct colonial intervention as the only effective means of ending slavery in Africa during the nineteenth century, or blaming the failures of twenty-first-century development on a lack of political will and adequate funding, celebrity humanitarians often reinforce stereotypes of the global poor as helpless, which reinforces and reproduces the highly unequal structures of power that characterize our world. In arguing that modern celebrity humanitarianism is nothing new, our intent is not to criticize the words and deeds of particular celebrities; rather, we seek to highlight the ways in which celebrity humanitarianism itself leads to misunderstandings of the Global South, which enable particular kinds of interventions that work against the libratory goals that celebrities espouse.