I’ll admit it. One of my weaknesses in life is reality TV. Most of it’s awful, brain-numbing material, yet, there’s something about it that I find highly entertaining. So I watch it, show after show, year after year. Such is the case with American Idol, which I devote some 2-3 hours to a week, though I’ll admit I’ve begun fast-forwarding through more and more of these shows, especially the results shows.
Such was my plan when I turned on American Idol last night, only to realize that it was “Idol Gives Back,” a telethon type show that raises money for a variety of domestic and international causes. In the past, I’ve really appreciated this show because of its ability to engage the masses in financially supporting worthy charities. As I watched the show last night (and somehow couldn’t tear myself away from it), I found myself becoming more and more disturbed by it.
Midway through the show, host Ryan Seacrest interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates, people who at least from afar, I genuinely respect for their philanthropic efforts. Yet, something Melinda said caught my attention, summing up my angst about the entire show and its approach to giving.
When Ryan asked, “After this program, for people who have watched, what’s the one thing that you want them to think about, to remember, to get up tomorrow and say, ‘Here’s what I got out of this’”? Melinda responded, “I hope people wake up tomorrow and say, ‘I as an American made a difference in the developing world and I feel great about that.’”
In a nutshell, that’s what bothered me about last night’s Idol Gives Back. It was far more about us than it was about those that the show was supposed to be helping. But charity isn’t supposed to be about us; It’s supposed to be about them. Throughout the show, we saw clip after clip of beautifully produced videos depicting (and I might add, objectifying) starving black babies and cute Appalachian children. The videos were designed to guilt us into giving so that in the morning, we could wake up and pat ourselves on the back, satisfied that we’d done our part in changing the world by contributing $10 to Idol Gives Back.
The problem, however, is that while that kind of giving can make a temporary difference in someone’s life, I doubt its long-term impact – on us or those it’s supposed to help. So many of last night’s solutions seemed to be band-aids capable of covering a wound, but incapable of addressing its roots. We saw clips of kids in Appalachia who because of America’s generosity had books, but not adequate shelter, food, or heat. We saw kids in Africa who because of our money, were given mosquito nets to protect them from malaria. Never mind what the video didn’t show: The contaminated water sources that so many in Africa drink from; And the roads incapable of transporting aid from one village to the next. We saw girls in Ethiopia being educated by our money while nothing was being done to fight the system that’s allowing them to be sold to sex traffickers in the first place. The list goes on and on.
It’s true that with giving, you’ve got to start somewhere. And it’s also true that the money raised yesterday will help some people. But ultimately, last night’s “Idol Gives Back” was about eliminating guilty consciences; Creating pity for “poor people”; And making us feel good about ourselves.
I lost track of how frequently I heard phrases with the word “change” in it last night. Stuff like “Change the world” and “Be the change.” And I want desperately for us – for our generation & for the youth that I work with – to be able to do that: To Change the World.
But we’re not going to change the world by sitting on our couches and texting $10 to “Idol Gives Back.”
Until we’re willing to go, get dirty, break a sweat, and come into contact with someone different enough to make us uncomfortable, we’re going to be putting band-aids on problems rather than affecting real and lasting change in our world. It’s only by coming into contact with people who’s stories deeply move us that we’ll be motivated enough to make lifestyle changes and to get involved in ways that have the power to affect systemic and lasting changes in the world. When that happens, when we’re committed and convicted enough to change how we live in order to change how someone else lives, then we might just be able to really change the world.