Paul Hewson, a.ka. Bono, is back in the news this week with more of his misguided philanthropy. He's re-recording the humanitarian "hit" song, Do They Know It's Christmas?, which has a wonderful hints of charity, love, racism, geographic illiteracy, and colonialism. Why this song is still around and why it's worth re-recording, I do not know, but this year's theme is (surprise!) ebola.
Check out the original "catchy" lyrics that paint Africa (a diverse, multifaceted continent with 54 countries) as a war-torn, drought-ridden hellhole in need of some Christian, white saviors.
It's Christmastime; there's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
Sure the Western world has plenty in comparison to some of the world's most underdeveloped nations. But at least in the United States, the health care system is one of the shittiest, women can't be assured they maintain control of their bodies, the economy still hasn't recovered, minorities can't even walk the streets without getting frisked, and accurate Congressional representation is a joke. Glass houses and all that.
Maybe that lyric should read, "My life might be terrible, but at least it beats being you. Want a hug?"
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
It's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
Bitter sting of tear is the only precipitation, eh? I realize that many African countries are known for widespread drought, but it's hardly void of water. Sure it may be void of snow and rain during the times of year the Westerners are accustomed to it, but parts of Africa still get precipitation.
Yes, I understand it's not supposed to be taken literally, but it's hard to take this song seriously when the Nile River, Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, and Lake Albert come to mind. (Wikipedia lists several more major bodies of water!) Those are some of the largest bodies of water in the world.
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
Again with the precipitation! It may shock songwriters Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to know this, but you can go skiing in Morocco.
And the Christmas bells are ringing in some place on this continent? The bottom of half the continent is predominantly Christian so...yes I'd say "they" know it's Christmastime. The entire upper half of Africa and the Horn of Africa are Muslim countries. They might be aware it's Christmastime, but chances are high those residents don't give a shit. Is there a reason the song is so adamant about reminding non-Christians of a Christian holiday?
I was really looking forward to snarking on the "...thank God it's them instead of you" lyric, but Bono changed it to "...we're reaching out and touching you." I guess that's not as psychotic as the original, but this version is more creepy and has left me with Sweet Caroline in my head.
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
Do they know it's Christmastime? Nothing ever grows? See above.
As for the greatest gift "they" could ever get? I'd suggest better foreign policies, less corruption and bribery, free (and I really do mean free) democratic elections for all who are of voting age, closing the gap between the rich and the poor, better international trade regulations, halting the brain drain, holding megalomaniacal dictators responsible for their crimes, and stopping Western countries from robbing struggling nations' of their natural resources. Nothing rhymes with any of those.
Here's to you, raise a glass for ev'ryone
Here's to them, underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
Feed the world [repeat]
Let them know it's Christmastime again [repeat]
Considering that companies like Monsanto and Cargill dump their ag surpluses into local markets, which drives down the price of food and makes farming a worthless profession for the people that actually live there, I'd say we've done enough on the feeding request. (Seriously, never send food to developed countries! That screws up the economy.)
Maybe Russell Brand should just re-release this song instead?