Over the past week I’ve been feeling increasingly uneasy. Last week Haiti, one of the poorest areas of the world, was hit by a horrific natural disaster. There were plenty of people there to witness, record, capture and report on the awful things that were happening, news and images quickly spread across the world, and many people did not hesitate to generously dig deep into their pockets – it didn’t take long before millions upon millions of dollars had been donated towards relief efforts.
What happened next is where my feelings of unease started. Although the world wasn’t short of information from Haiti, media outlets deemed it necessary to each send in their own teams of reporters, photographers/cameramen and behind-the-scenes operatives to report on events. Was that necessary? Would it help? I don’t think so.
Generally speaking I have the greatest of respect for those risking their lives to report from war-torn or disaster-hit areas, because otherwise the world wouldn’t know what might be going on. But like I said, it wasn’t like we were short of information and images already, and applying common sense one would think that too many people going there to ‘report’ could in fact frustrate the actual relief efforts, because media folk need accommodation, water, food and other infrastructure, too – why put unnecessary pressure on a system and infrastructure already unable to cope with demand? And when those reporters there came back with stories of planes filled with aid for the people of Haiti hovering around the area because they couldn’t come into land, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was because of all the press gangs being flown in. Because the impression I got was that members of the press on the scene were starting to outnumber aid workers and possibly even survivors.
So there was no shortage of news, nor was there shortage of donations – as said, the money was flooding in.
As days progressed, however, there was a shift from people caring, to people (wanting to be?) seen to care. You see, most people who care will have by now seen enough dreadful images to make up their minds. They have already dug into their purses and bank accounts and made their donations. You won’t know exactly who these people are, because they only show in the sense of the vast amounts of money collected for charity so far. At best, they may have passed you a message calling on you to give, too, but don’t dwell on their good deeds because they have their own lives to get on with and the people in those lives to care for.
By now we’re left with the people that are (or want to be) seen to care. Celebrities out of a job who can do with some exposure for themselves, grabbing disaster by the hands as a PR opportunity, for instance. Non-celebrities who genuinely and strongly care about the people of Haiti but who need some form of acknowledgement for their deeply felt emotions in order to be able to deal with those sentiments themselves (we’re only human). And of course the celebs and non-celebs who will jump at any opportunity to get out of it for themselves what they can if there’s something to be had, regardless of any deeper (charitable) cause.
Whatever anyone’s motivation may be to be seen to care, there is an army of facilitators at the ready for them. People currently going to great lengths to facilitate events and other initiatives to generate further donations for the cause, working tirelessly and relentlessly to make it possible. Personally I cherish great respect and admiration for these people, even if I feel uncomfortable or even disagree with their charitable initiatives.
Still, I think I should be allowed to personally feel uneasy with some of the people (attentionseekers, self-promotors) being facilitated through charitable events. And I think I should be allowed to not take part or to even turn my back on any form of happy, smiley entertainment ‘for the good cause’ or whatever, when I can’t see anything to be happy, smiley or entertaining about in Haiti. This is not a PR exercise, it’s a disaster.
I wish everyone taking part in any charitable event for Haiti the best of luck, but I don’t have time for anyone trying to make me feel guilty for not wanting to partake. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about the cause, it just means I don’t support the means used to support the cause. Whether I’ve actually done or will be doing anything to support that cause is nobody else’s business but mine.
[EDIT: This morning Haiti was hit by another substantial earthquake, and I notice the media coverage is different to what it was last week. It now appears to be less about what’s happening to the people of Haiti and more about who is covering; which network was the first to report from the scene, what’s the name of their reporter on the ground, how long has (s)he been there and how dire are conditions (by Western standards) that (s)he has had to stay there. It makes me sick.]
I wonder if it would make those particularly self-centered members of the press corps present in Haiti and the most attention-craving members of the seen-to-care crowds feel guilty if I said their repulsive self-centered composure (and possible interference with the people of and aid workers in Haiti) was starting to turn me against wanting to do anything for the people of Haiti (at least while they’re involved). Nah, probably not; it’s clear the only cause they are in it for is their own. In fact, they’d almost benefit from prolonged disaster. Best give for Haiti, then… the sooner Western showbiz attitude moves away from there, the better.