Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Charity Stunts

An angry Dutch lady emails to complain about my article on crap TV. The Big Donor Show on Dutch TV, you will recall, seemed to be about finding a recipient for the kidney of a dying woman. It was, however, a hoax designed to encourage people to become organ donors. The lady spoils her main point by devoting most of her email to her irritation with British anti-Dutch feeling. 'Why is it that the British feel they have to axe the Dutch down, when the opportunity presents itself?' (Dunno, we just do; also, I'm afraid, don't care. The British often express fellow-feeling through mild mockery and abuse.) But her real point is that the show was solely designed to encourage organ donation and, apparently, it has worked. This, in her eyes, seems to put the entire project beyond criticism. Such charity stunts are, of course, everywhere. From Live Aid to your local fun-run, everybody raises money by doing something more than just asking for it. And, whatever they do, their goodness cannot be questioned. Not long ago policemen forced me to crawl for an hour through some Sussex lanes behind a man running more slowly than I walk. He was the tail-ender in some charity half-marathon. Everybody else had finished hours before, but the inane sanctity of the event could not be challenged. The police would not even listen when we pointed out we were hurrying to the house of a dying friend. There is something distinctly creepy and selfish about all this. Most people seem to be taking part for themselves rather than the cause and sponsored bike riders or runners now simply take your money in advance making the actual physical effort pointless. My new policy is to offer money to people not to do the stunt. The truth is that charity stunts are all about the priggish self-satisfaction of public caring, of flaunting your goodness in the market place. They subvert the morality of giving. The donor is cajoled and coerced and is assumed not to be able to make the decision and the sacrifice of his own accord. So, angry Dutch lady, pick the bones out of that.

18 comments:

  1. Bryan I'm with you.

    There's only one thing that ranks up there with your points and that's the charity survey information that somehow becomes undeniable fact as it is used to underpin a news item. Surveys are not science (if they were we wouldn't bother with elections we'd just do an opinion poll and have the govt. selected in the basis of the results) and yet hardly a news bulletin goes by without the results of a charity survey being included. The news item is often run all the way through before there's mention that it is generated off the back of a survey (to be fair it's not just charities, but they've cottoned onto the technique big time to give their cause a voice.)

    I refuse to take part in any surveys

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  2. This is a cranky one, Bryan. The counter-argument is that people don't give the money of their own accord, without the stunt. Therefore, the stunts work. Therefore, they are justified.

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  3. I agree I am being cranky, Brit. But, over and above my prejudices, I have a feeling that stunt charity is not, in the long run, that much more effective. It will obviously lead to the sucking up of the most money by the charities with the most flamboyant stunts. Furthrmore it will produce one-off, special event giving, not ideal for, say, Oxfam. And, finally, I'm not sure it has increased the total sums given.

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  4. I don't know the stats either, but the charity stunt is the norm in offices. Every couple of weeks some colleague is walking or abseiling or some such.

    You're right about the selfish aspect. Some people use it as an excuse to do a parachute jump for kicks, others use it as an opportunity for a personal challenge with genuine pain and effort involved - ever witnessed the Race for Life? It's humanity in a nutshell: bizarre, defiant, life-affirming and deeply sad.

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  5. Most of the places i've worked have a strict dress code; but to show how 'fun' and 'caring' the Man really is, we're allowed to 'dress down' on Fridays - so long as we pay, usually £2 each Friday. The money supposedly goes to charity, though one bank i worked at allegedly kept half 'for administrative costs'.

    Another temp told me one place he'd worked had a 'silly hat day' - where if you didn't come in wearing a silly hat, you had to pay a fiver - all for charity, of course.

    i never paid, preferring to stick it out for another day of suit misery. i'd then be challenged. i'd explain that i was trying to spend less than £3/day on food, so could hardly afford £2 just to wear jeans for a day. They'd then hiss accusingly, "But it's for CHARITY!"

    It's bad enough that the Man makes me pay to wear comfortable clothes: to claim he's doing so for 'charity' makes it all the more sickening. People collecting for 'charity' are filthy gouchers who should be lined up and shot. i was accosted by two grimy peasants who tried to take my money for a non-existent children's charity. When i demurred, they spat "oh, so you don't want to help the kiddies!"

    Frigging goucher scum.

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  6. The idea of vicious and voyeuristic entertainment is hardly a new one (the Flavian Amphitheater). At its base, it creates a clear separation between the viewer and the viewed, an Us and the animals. While,the excuse of 'giving the people what they want', is a very dangerous license to hand out.
    The chap/girl standing with a bucket, asking all passing for cash, is an honest and forward method. And hides the fact from the people, that he/she had stood on that spot for eight to ten hours.
    While that policeman, would most likely be held personally liable, had he allowed you through. Had you went without his permission, any liability would revert to you.

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  7. I can't put my finger on it squarely, but I sense some connection between all this and the growing, quite neurotic popularity of endurance "sports". Marathoners, long-distance bikers, one-legged Everest climbers, etc. seem to live in a world that celebrates funless pain, which dovetails quite nicely with the sacrifice that comes from raising money for the wretched of the earth. Number one son is into this stuff and, proud (and puzzled) as I am, I can't help noticing what a different breed these folks are from traditional and team sports participants. They are the Calvinists of the sporting world and maybe they think raising money is a sign of Grace. Besides, deep down, we and they know anyone who isn't from a remote Kenyan village and whose idea of a good time is running for twenty-six miles and then collapsing in dehydrated agony has "issues". Who has ever heard of anyone playing tennis or a team sport to raise money? That presumably wouldn't work because they are assumed to enjoy it. But hey, one has to keep up with the times, so I'm opening a good Burgundy for breast cancer this Saturday and invite you all to pledge your support.

    As to elberry's dress up/down/sideways days, that's just an incident of the rule of Peter Pan.

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  8. Elberry - great post, but just out of interest, what's a 'goucher'?

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  9. Perhaps that was a typo by Elberry. The word 'gouger' is in common usage in my part of the world, referring to someone of low morals who might possible do you some harm or rip you off if you turned your back.

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  10. And don't forget Chugger - charity mugger.

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  11. a goucher, according to another temp (who regularly does marathon style runs, and accumulates broken rips & black eyes from boxing) is a filthy chav who lives in a council flat, lives on benefits, probably earns more than the average temp, and spends all day wandering round town begging for money.

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  12. Will anyone sponsor me for Peter's Wine-a-thon? $5 a glass goes to the Human Fund.

    Personally, I blame the culture. All this idealistic talk about "making a difference" and "changing the world", blah blah. Now everyone is looking for some cause through which to leave their mark on society, like shaming respectable middle aged drinkers into sobriety. Didn't the Bible teach us to all mind our own friggin business?

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  13. The most annoying are those people who try to get you to sponsor their holiday in some glamorous location under the cloak of charitable intent. I'd only be semi-insolvent if I had a pound for every time someone has asked me to sponsor their 'climb' of Mount Kilimanjaro, etc.. And, goddammit, they have the audacity to look virtuous while pulling off this con.

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  14. Susan B., etymologist,June 06, 2007 5:30 pm

    "Chugger" in U.S. parlance is the language of college drinkers. It means someone who can drink an entire mug of beer in one long swallow. The verb is "to chug."

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  15. I particularly loathe the chuggers who come to your door.

    Churglers, perhaps. There, I've coined it.

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