Awhile back I posted on a Wired article featuring the ‘New Environmentalists’ who were selling conern about the environment as a fashion accesory.
Today on Kester Brewin’s blog, I found a May 16 post on Bono’s ‘Brand Red’ label, which deals with many of the same issues. Kester called it the ‘commodification of poverty.’ A couple quotes:
As you know, I’m a fan of the concept of ‘gift’, and this idea seems to
me to be anti-gift. We buy the phone because we are buying into a
brand. Not because we really care. If the only way we can get people to
help those in dire need is to have to offer them something cool in
return for their pennies, then I think there’s something very wrong.
If environmentalism, or aid, is simply a fashion statement, it will go
out of fashion like bell bottoms and floral shirts. And this is the
problem. Brand Red is a brand. And the companies involved are involved
to make money, not to give it away. The want to align themselves to
something that is ‘cool’.
There are a few comments on the post, too, that are helpful. What do you think? Is this the commodification of poverty? Is buying a new ‘Brand Red’ shirt the best way to fight poverty, or should we perhaps instead spend the $20 on fighting poverty, and skip the fashion statement? Or is Bono just being a realist, realizing that people won’t fight poverty unless it’s fashionable and they can buy into the brand?
UPDATE: There are some more perspectives on this at Jonny Baker’s blog.
I pretty much agree with Christy’s comments. It’s easy to ‘philosophize’ in this new question-everything culture we live in…as if there were some ‘perfect way’ to be like Jesus. Painting with broad brushstrokes, even if one is feeding the poor with horrid motivations, as least they eat.
Off to read the Baker blog….
Yeah, I’m all over jonny’s perspective. It reminds me of that scripture somewhere or other about the riches of the unrighteous being stored up for the poor…or something like that. It all belongs to God, afterall, and if the only way we can peel the greenbacks out of our culture’s greedy fingers is to give them a t-shirt or a phone and a promise of being ‘cool’, then hey, I’d say we were gentle as doves, cunning as wolves. Everybody wins, so to speak.
But that doesn’t mean we also don’t continue to beat the drum of ‘use less, give more’….doing it ourselves and encouraging others to do the same. Spending time analyzing what the most holy way of taking care of the poor is energy better spent just doing it….either buy the phone/shirt/coolness or send cash or castoffs. Just participate in bringing God’s justice to this world in whatever way you can, with whatever light you have. Let’s just start there, eh?
That’s a good perspective. We have to engage people where they are and take baby steps instead of berate people for not being in a different place, or able to take bigger steps.
Before you can speak to a culture, you first learn the language of the culture, and like it or not, commodity is the current language of the culture.
How do we live our lives in addressing this subtle strategy, and it is very subtle. For example, where I work, a co-worker is selling candles to raise funds for the family of an infant with critical medical problems. I don’t need more candles, and the family has things that are more important on their mind than my creature comforts. Maybe we speak to the issue using the language of consumerism by saying I am ‘…going to have to buy less, and give away more…’ The next time someone is fund-raising, what if we say, ‘no thanks, but here is some money because I want to support what you’re doing.’
Bob Harvey says
Another positive thing that can come from a “Brand Red” move is to spark visibility and conversation about a need. Even getting people educated and engaged in a cause and motivating some to say “this so far is lame, we can do better than this” can have a mobilizing impact.
It seems that in the lame stage we take on only the outward form of Christ-likeness, we buy and wear the tee shirt. Others will go farther and catch the Vision (purpose), get Intentional (decide) and follow thru to the Means (implement, displace, deliver). (VIM is a model that Dallas Willard uses to disect personal growth/transformation into meaningful steps that also seems to have application in the community as the discussion takes on traction.)
Bono seems to be occupied with marketing/vision casting to multiple communities and calling others to decide, implement and deliver. I bet he would be delighted if some would come along and do the whole thing bigger and better.