Monday, November 29, 2010


On Wednesday, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys and Kim Kardashian are going to "kill" their social media selves for charity.

Well, it's actually more of a kidnapping. And the ransom, to bring back Tweets like "It is a promising morning when your eyelash falls in your Folgers" is one MEEELION dollars!

But they're not asking corporations or governments for this ransom. They're asking you. And the proceeds go to Keep a Child Alive - an AIDS charity that provides life-giving medicines to afflicted kids in the Third World.

Wednesday, you see, is World AIDS Day. And this "Digital Life Sacrifice" is a way of doing something important.

Let's put the importance of the cause aside for a moment. (Don't worry - we'll come back to it with all due respect.)

I'd like to take you back 25 years, to a charity concert for African food relief called Live Aid. Remember that? It was cool.

But I also remember being struck by a article later written by American conservative humourist PJ O'Rourke, which was published in his 1992 book Give War a Chance. Ever since, it has popped up in my mind whenever I am trying to grapple with my cynicism over certain celebrity acts of charity:

"As an example of charity, Live Aid couldn't be worse. Charity entails sacrifice. Yet Live Aid performers are sacrificing nothing. Indeed, they're gaining public adulation and a thoroughly unmerited good opinion of themselves. Plus, it's free advertising. These LPs, performances, and multiform by-products have nothing in common with charity. Instead they levy a sort of regressive alms tax on the befuddled millions. The performers donate their time, which is wholly worthless. Big corporations donate their services, which are worth little enough. Then the poor audience pledges all the contributions and buys all the trash with money it can ill afford. The worst nineteenth-century robber barons wouldn't have had the cheek to put forward such a bunco scheme. They may have given away tainted money, but at least they didn't ask you to give away yours."

It's hilarious, brutal, and insightful. (Remember when right-wingers were actually smart and self-deprecatingly funny?)

I've written before about my skepticism around celebrity campaigns, and this is where it comes from. While not of PJ's political persuasion, I still wonder why celebrities don't just cut a big fat cheque to the charity of their choice, rather than telling their fans to do it for them - occasionally through questionable organizations.

"Stick it Where The Streets Have No Name, bub!"

But as someone who has worked on a couple of "celebrity" PSAs, I know that there is another side to this. Cynicism aside, celebrities' time is valuable. And that value depreciates. Fast.

Unless you're Mick Jagger, or the late great Leslie Nielsen, you can expect your star to start fading within a few years at most. You have a hit, or do something grand, and the world is your oyster. But almost immediately, your clock starts ticking. And the further you get away from your last hit or moment of excellence, the less people care.

The less people care, the less celebrity you have. So you are under pressure to spend your diminishing capital as wisely as possible, and just as quickly. Your agent manages your public time to the minute, squeezing every last penny out of it. And what you give to charity? He or she can't really get paid on commission for that. So your charitable time becomes even more valuable when you give it away.

And there you have it. Gaga is giving away a precious piece of her fame so that kids in Africa can get well. Sure it would be more impressive if she actually went over there on her own dime and distributed the drugs out of pocket rather than pledging to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING online for a few days, but at the bottom line people still get what they need.

The remaining problem, however, is that fans do not have deep pockets. Whatever they give to this charity represents money they won't give to another. It's a sad thing to talk about in the cause marketing world, but the fact is they're all in competition for whatever you're willing and able to tithe yourself.

At least the Keep a Child Alive kids have this kind of fame monster on their side:

You'd hate to have it against you.

1 comment:

  1. *sigh* I'd be more apt to donate if it meant Lady Gaga, Kim Karwhosherface et al stayed off social media indefinitely.

    But that's just me.