28 November 2010

Buying Life? Heaven? A T-Shirt?

Alicia KeysWednesday, December 1 is World AIDS Day and Alisha Keys, Usher, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Seacrest and Kim Kardashian will all die…..or so they are saying for the Keep a Child Alive campaign. 

By death, they mean that they will all bless us by refraining from using social media until they have been brought back to life by a donation of $1 million from their fans.  So, they will be sending out their farewell videos this week and remaining silent until the goal is met.
This has been picked up by the New York Times today as it discusses the effort saying:
It’s all part of the latest gambit by the singer-songwriterAlicia Keys to raise money for her charity, Keep a Child Alive (KCA), which finances medical care and support services for children and families affected by H.I.V. and AIDS in Africa and India.
And gives it further praise in the next paragraph:
It’s rare that the Prototype column pays attention to celebrities, but Ms. Keys is the second one who has caught our attention by harnessing fame to philanthropy in an innovative way. The actor Ed Norton, who was featured in the September column, created a Web site that makes it easy to rally people to your cause.
I agree with the article giving Keys credit for being innovative.  She is using her star power to create action by utilizing her network to reach out to their respective fans and give a call to action.  With millions of collective fans and the ease of contributing via text message, I am going to be bold to say that this campaign will easily exceed the goal of $1 million.

Buy LifeHowever, with all of this praise, there is little room to actually look at the programs that will be supported by Keys and co.  There is something that rubs me the wrong way with the phrase, “buy life.”
When you buy life, you give life to millions of people affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India by providing the medicine, food and shelter needed to fight this awful disease  
By turning a life into a commodity and by making a text message or a t-shirt with a bar code the currency, it seems a bit demeaning to the people who the campaign is trying to serve.  Yes, there is a reflexivity to the campaign, but it also seems to be tied to the people that it intends to serve/help/save/affect.  The NYT misses the easiest point of praise here; “Buy a Life” brilliant embodies every aspect of ‘cultural capitalism.’  The campaign tells people to spend money and feel good about it in their mission statement:
Because KCA believes we can do something far bigger and better than buy the ability to live.
We can buy the dignity that is life.
We can buy compassion.
Buy love.
Buy the cure.
Buy life.
Because the more you buy, the more you save.
A fair evaluation of KCA is hard to make since they provide little actual information about their programs.  However, they do mention orphanages, which does raise a small red flag. Despite that, it would not be fair to entirely criticize the entire campaign.  It is encouraging that the language about HIV/AIDS invokes the need to address issues such as nutrition and education along with providing anti-retrovirals.  All in all, I would like to encourage KCA to provide more information to the people it is hoping to make donations.  The campaign is very clever and will be successful, but it is hard to know if the actual services are providing “rights based” solutions rather than “doing something.”

They do provide some anecdotal videos (such as the one from Uganda below) that tug on the heart strings, but they do little to illuminate what KCA actually does.  So, keep an eye as to how this campaign progresses, enjoy some time without tweets from the Kardashians, and wait to make a donation until learning more about what services KCA provides.
Pictures from the KCA site.