Comic Relief (Or the Poverty Zoo)

Much too cheerful. Not to sound self-righteous.

At least Comic Relief did its magic, I suppose: I still hate the world.

For me it was, unsurprisingly, those images of Rob Brydon and David Tennant in an African hospital stuffed to the limits with malaria children. There was the inevitable contrast of colours: the white Westerner, come to inspect the black child shaking into deathly stillness. And then this absurd parody of a nature programme, this zoo of poverty, was confirmed with the short clip of David Attenborough prodding towards a village in his pillow-plush voice as though it were two obscure animals mating their way to extinction.

But it wasn’t the fault of Comic Relief. It wasn’t the fault of the celebrities. It’s fact that, in that hospital, we were watching the victims of poverty stare bleakly at its success stories – helpless comics who could just stand there, idly. If the world is a global city then African slums are the homeless littering the East End; there is no moral argument against pushing our resources to the absolute limit to sort the problem out.

And yet, somehow, I suspect nothing will change. I wonder: will I die 70 years from now with my finger on the TV remote watching that year’s “annual” charity awareness programme?


12 Comments on “Comic Relief (Or the Poverty Zoo)”

  1. kirstyelgar says:

    Please read my blog about caring for my nan with dementia. Todays post is about red nose day and the issues it raised for me

  2. […] Last night’s post on the BBC’s Red Nose Day (Comic Relief) reminded me of this Philip Larkin poem, The Importance of Elsewhere: […]

  3. luke says:

    I think that yes, you will, unfortunately. I just don’t believe we have it in ourselves as a species to suddenly care more for far away dying children than we do about our own snappy happy lives. We’ll forever bitch about the potholes in our street and demand action from the local government when a few thousand miles away children die of malnutrition. There was a great piece written about some abandoned ship on which a kitty was left and thousands of people came out of the woodwork and were willing to pay to help the kitty. Meanwhile…

    • Mark says:

      Thank you for the comment – it’s too true! It’s terrifying, I think, just how desensitised we have become to cruelty and violence. It’s depressing that Stalin put it better than anyone: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

  4. saigonsays says:

    Thanks for the follow, Mark.

    Enjoyed this post. I think you are right to worry about change happening promptly – in terms of the global inequality narrative – but I also commend you for continuing to pose questions and a line of enquiry about this. All of which, in time and en masse, can make a difference.

    I will endeavour to keep up with your musings, in between your late night essay commitments. I suspect the two are interlinked anyway.

    Good luck!

    • Mark says:

      Hi! Thank you for dropping by and your thoughts – I definitely think that, if nothing else, talking about the issues can go a long way, if not to remedying them, then to working out how they might be corrected. I hope to see you around again soon! 🙂

  5. beluga53 says:

    The way to start changing the world is to start changing the world. If you think about how big the problem is you will be paralyzed by its scope. It is okay to think globally, but start by acting locally to fix what is fixable by you today. Why wait? Why think someone else will take care of the little problems that are the underpinning of the big problems. Go solve the solvable. Best of luck to you.

    • Mark says:

      That is very true, thank you – I’ve always thought that if were to divide our time well between local and global then the world could solve its problems together; and that’s a mentality which itself must begin with local people.

  6. Steve Morris says:

    I’m sure that in 100 years time, there will still be charities trying to solve problems. But I’m more optimistic than many here. 100 years ago there were no charities working to alleviate the effects of poverty in Africa. Poverty existed in the West. And 200 years ago there weren’t even any charities. So I think that progress is happening, and actually not so slowly.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah, I do agree – it’s easy to lose perspective. Absolute poverty, we think, will be gone in 2-3 decades (according to a recent study in Oxford – might write a post about it); but relative poverty we might say is ineradicable insofar as some equality is almost certain to exist. I suppose it’s positive, though, that every generation finds some hostility to the poverty they see – even if it’s not as bad as the last generation’s. Maybe. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  7. […] I stand by my criticisms of BBC Comic Relief’s embarrassing superficiality, here is some positive news from Oxford […]

  8. ivojara says:

    Hello Mark: I understand your despair, but it’s a fact you will die without seeing a solution, but unfortunately the problem is not poverty, it’s our “do gooder” approach, to go there and build things for poor countries just keeps encvouraging their governments to waste their resources in Wars and to steal these countries blind. Do you know that People starve in Angola while the government exports diamonds ? It is useless to give things without conditions, these corrupt and inefficient governemnts rely on international organizatiosn to heal and feed their people so they can abuse them even further. It is really inspiring to see people doing something about it, but I’ve Been there, I’ve seen the religious establishment and the governments fight schooling, I honestly believe that most of the “do gooders” really should visit this places and see what the real problems are, maybe then we could aim the resources at solving their real problems and maybe in that way you might live to see a solution, Great Blog BTW. Keep up the good work !

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