Do They Know Its Christmas Pt. 2 – The Controversies

Now that you have the history behind the making of the song (which was totally not my original reason for blogging yesterday), let me start talking about a few of the controversies caused by the song (which was my original reason for blogging yesterday).*

I rarely post anything political on this blog with good reason. I am not a political person, but I felt that one particular controversy, relating to the lyrics, was more of an artistic than political decision that was one I wanted to address. (Why? Because it's my blog and I can talk about whatever I want!)

But first, here are the political controversies I brought up in yesterday's post that may/may not be relevant to today's post:

1. Was the 1984 Ethiopian famine caused by African leaders (as opposed to the natural, biblical famine suggested by news reports of the time)?
2. Did Bob Geldof choose to create "Do They Know Its Christmas" for publicity reasons as opposed to actual concern for the African people? Was he trying to create interest in himself or his dying band, the Boomtown Rats?
3. Why is Midge Ure frequently forgotten as co-writer and producer of the song? Why did Bob Geldof take over during award ceremonies when accepting awards for this song (and other charitable events related to the two men)?
4. Did all of the money from the Band Aid fund go strictly to providing food for those who needed it most or did it go to African leaders? Was the money used to fight possible oppression felt by the Ethiopians of the time? And if so, was the funding clear to donors about where their money was going?
5. Was the visit to Ethiopia made by Bob Geldof for publicity reasons? Was the argument with his publicist a way to make him seem more charitable?
6. Were future fundraising efforts by Bob Geldof also for publicity reasons including the LiveAid concert and "We Are the World" song creation?
7. Why were the lyrics so badly written? Did Geldof really believe there were no rivers, rains, or crops in Africa? What about the lasting effect that has created on the Western civilizations that now hear the song on the radio? Did he really want the people that heard the song to "thank God" that it wasn't them suffering? … Are the people in Africa always afraid? And what about Christmas? Do they celebrate?
8. Why did Geldof feel the need to create a song to make money for the cause? Why didn't he just donate his own money to said cause?

I don't have answers to most of these questions, and I imagine it would take a lot more research looking back through historical evidence and possibly some time speaking to Geldof and the celebrities involved to discover what was really happening during the winter of 1984 and spring of 1985. It would require resources and time that I simply don't have. Having not even been born at the time all of this was occurring, I can't even really speak from the point of view of someone that was there. Nevertheless, I do feel that the lyrics, while not exactly poignant, should be considered for what they were and not what they ought to be… mostly from a non-musician artistic point of view that is the only one I have to offer.

My first assertion is that Geldof wrote this song within a month's time. He wanted to do something about the famine in Africa. Granted he could have contributed his own money, which as a singer and musician I'm sure he had plenty; however, if you think about it as I'm sure he did, having a lot of people donate to a cause that will get it much further along and provide more money than a one time large contribution. Unfortunately, merely asking people to donate to a cause is like pulling teeth. We all have causes we feel strongly about, but sometimes it's hard to give money when there is so much more that you want. You want a house in a subdivision with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids a'la the American dream, and the one thing getting in your way is money. Can you afford to give to a charity and send your kids to college? And if you don't have to see the starving people in Africa or wherever, even if the thought of giving crosses your mind for a mere second, you may get busy and forget that you ever even considered giving. Thus, I believe, one of the best ways to obtain money for a charity is to provide something in return. By giving of their time, I feel that these artists were doing something greater than anyone could or has given them credit for.

I'm a member of a number of photography support groups on Facebook and I constantly see these issues being tackled on a day-to-day basis. For example, you have this great photographer friend and you invite them to your child's birthday party and say "bring your camera". You want the photographer to come and take pictures at the party for free because "its easy" and "why should you pay them for shooting when its something they enjoy doing?" So, let's say the photographer comes and does this: shoots your child for free, then spends hours afterwards editing the images and sharing them with you. Who is paying for this photographer's livelihood? Maybe you paid for their piece of pizza and birthday cake, but how will they afford groceries? Can they afford rent?

So when I think about all of these artists flying in to Notting Hill on a cold November day for something they would not be paid for, I don't really consider the publicity that they will get from doing this. It is time spent away from their family and friends to do something that they usually get paid for (and need to get paid for in order to live comfortably).

But back to Geldof… His lyrics had to be something that all of these artists would agree to sing. It would be a complete waste of time to bring all of these artists in to sing a song that was too political (or not political enough) that either made the artists feel discontent or the possible future listeners too depressed at Christmas time to buy. If no one bought the album, then the time the artists spent recording would be a complete waste. I'm going to give Geldof a bit of credit here, because I imagine this was an incredibly difficult task. How do you tell the masses that there are starving people in Africa without belittling the artists or being overly political? You graze the topic.

When John Lennon wrote "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" he said that the best way to be political was to add a bit of honey to it. The Vietnam war was not even over when this song came out (a surprise to me). I think the same is true with Geldof and "Do They Know Its Christmas".  He was political without actually claiming that African leaders were to blame. It was merely a case of "look this is what's going on; let's do something" as opposed to him actually meaning that "no water, crops, snow, or rain exists in Africa".

The thing is, as gracious and honey-coated as Geldof was trying to be by not blaming African rulers, he also had to make a point to the people he was trying to reach (i.e. Western civilization, the people who supposedly had money). I think that's where "pray for the others" and "thank God it's them not you" came from. Is that anything like Mary Poppins wherein "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"? If nothing at all is wrong in Africa, why should people donate? … Why was this song even made?

Of course, many people say that if Geldof was trying to make money for the cause why would he forever instill in our brains the impoverished nation of Africa? Why not give the lyrics a time frame, so that we don't constantly look at Africa as a society that needs help since they don't have food or water? Inevitably, that's exactly what this song does when it's played year-after-year. I'm not sure how long the famine lasted, but I can guarantee you that nearly 10 years later when I was just a child, I was still hearing ideas in the Christian community about how Africa needed food, water, and money. The general idea was that, as children we were told that when we got old enough we could go to Africa as missionaries and help others, because that's all Africa was. (Well, that and lions.)

While I do think Geldof could have provided a time frame for his song, I also approach this issue knowing that he wasn't even expecting this song to sell as well as it did or continue to be played on the radio for years afterward. How was he to know that we would still be playing the song on the radio in 2013? It was written to aid a small portion of a country during a specific time period before the collapse of the American economy. (In other words, Americans and Europeans had a lot of money, and needed causes to spend their money on.)

I do disagree with the newer (later) recordings of the song, though, and that may be where the real controversy with this idea lies. Should this song have been rerecorded not once but twice using the same lyrics and ideas as the first song conveyed? Were they trying to make money for charity off of the already popular lyrics? Would a newer, more updated version raising money to feed people in all areas of the world have sold as well or better than the 1984 version of this song? There's no telling. But I do not feel that this song should be recorded by other artists to make a profit or even sung as if it is a choral song from church. This song has only been around for 30 years and was made for a reason. By taking it out of that context, of course you are going to suggest things that aren't true and abuse the meaning behind the message this song was trying to convey.

Finally (or at least my last topic of this post) is that of Christmas. Do Africans celebrate? Are they Christians? Was this song written for Christians?


My viewpoint is that the song was meant to be a Christmas song. It doesn't really matter what viewpoints Africans or any other listeners have. Christmas, in today's society as much as Christians don't want to believe it, is about a way of life during a specific time of year. Maybe it's a feeling… or merely a state of mind? Or maybe Geldof was referring to the overwhelming number of Christians one finds in the Western nations? Either way, Christmas is typically a time of giving and caring about others. It's the time of year when we are most likely to attend church, spend time with our family and friends, and do something charitable. This made it an ideal time for Geldof to record and sell this song/album. Referring to Christmas was a great reminder and invitation to those listening to go out and spend money on others during the holiday season.

And there you have it: my viewpoint on the history and controversies of the hit Band Aid song "Do They Know It's Christmas". I'm sure, as I said before, with more time and resources I could probably write a whole thesis on this song, why I think it is appropriate, how happy I am that it made people think about being charitable and feeding the poor, and how upset I am that others would ever try to re-record this song destroying the meaning behind it. I realize I didn't cover all of the controversies or answer all of the questions I've posed, but I'm hoping that you have at least learned a little something about this song and perhaps decided how you feel knowing what I've mentioned (even if you disagree with my opinions). Maybe you weren't aware of all of the controversies behind it? Or perhaps the artistic decisions behind the lyrics were something you hadn't considered before now?

Ahh… well! Tomorrow's post will be back to normal! Aren't you relieved?!

Have a fantastic Thursday! :)

*See yesterday's blog post here.
** Yesterday's and today's blog posts were written as a free-flowing thought process that was not meant to be a dissertation or thesis in any way. If I have misrepresented any facts, people, or moments in the song's history, feel free to let me know. I am not perfect and given that these were written over the course of two days, neither is my writing or research.

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