Le Scarabée
Masquer la pub

Three penny Opera

par Eric Cotte
mise en ligne : 2 January 1999

"Wee aaaare the Wooorld, we aaaare the children"

That’s it, it’s over. Over, o-ver ! We’re fine until next year now. We can put our good feelings, our compassion and our charity back in our pockets, because we won’t be needing them for a good few months. I don’t know why, but December is a disgusting month, with all the pity it carries. Is it the imminent approach of the birth of little baby Jesus, the culpability brought about by the excess of good food eaten during the holidays? It don’t know, but the thing is that Christmas stinks of so-called well-meaning charity.

I won’t talk again about the good conscience we try to buy ourselves by quickly shedding a tear before we push hobos away from our sunny beaches. Or before we refuse rights to domestic partners, or before kicking illegal aliens out of the country, or before comparing prices in Euros to see where child labor is the cheapest. By suspecting people of not being well-meaning, I’m being more cynical than those who give their pennies to the needy.

What strikes me is the professional (or planned) aspect that now accompanies good sentiments. Brecht’s "King of the thieves" gave away a lot of the recipes, but I think that they’ve been applied on a large and industrial scale only recently.

When I was young, the charity that surrounded Christmas was charming in its naivete. During a great show full of popular music, animated by famous TV hosts and singers, a unique leitmotiv was stressed: "tonight, I’d like all the children of the world to hold hands." Having said that, they executed (in the sense of massacre, torture) a song, which totally annihilated the will to love your fellow citizens...

Everything changed at the end of the 80’s, with that amazing thing: USA for Africa. That was something we had never heard of: the thirty wealthiest Americans singing a terrible tune to raise money for a continent that most Americans could not find on a map. Instead of showing little kids from some - unknown - country full of - how disgusting - black people and where - shame on them - they don’t even try to find a job in a McDonald’s, they showed glitter. First rule of the charity business: even a talent-less star conveys the message better than a kid with his belly swollen by starvation, and his eyes eaten by flies.

A few years later, it was the turn of the "Restaurants of the Heart". One human component was added to the usual stars and their annoying hit song: volunteers. Poor people and hobos are not cute: they stink of misery, small-mindedness, meanness, and alcohol. The poor don’t convey the message too well on TV. Second rule: show a maximum of volunteers.

At the beginning of this decade was born the epitome of charity business: the "Telethon". A good cause (children in wheelchairs fighting illness and death), stars and volunteers. One new aspect: national momentum. There, it really became something! Associations of "public utility" were not good enough and were replaced by some dealing with "national issues". We all "mobilize", "everyone together against" illness. Everyone feels himself, the time of a "Telethon", invested with a sacred mission. Third rule: you ain’t got nothing for a penny, but you can save the world with a buck.

At that point, I’m already disgusted. Blackmailing people with pain, being insulted by a dork trying to sell me giant paper-birds, that I refuse to buy, for a good. Industries bolstering their own image for the tenth of the cost of a commercial by giving a puny little sum, boy-scouts reciting their lessons. Idiotic feats of strength and the world record of the biggest regional useless challenge.... That’s too much for me to bear. And what about politicians who arrive with their fake smiles: when you’re unable to deal with inequalities, misery, exclusion (that is, when you’re unable to do your job), you’d better hide from the spotlight!

Then there were "slips". The "ARC" (cancer research association who diverted its funds directly in the pocket of its founder) and the contaminated blood scandal. You give money to fight cancer, you make the most symbolic gift, that of your blood, and it all disappears in pork barrels and ends up propagating AIDS among people you were trying to cure from something else (hemophiliacs). That had the effect of a cold shower in the charity business. Since then, people had to start making the precision that "it all goes directly towards helping children", "it’s managed with total transparency", "money is not thrown out the window"... Fourth rule: expect from those organizations what you can’t ask of a firm or a Swiss bank, profit and transparency.

Finally, the slip of "ActionIDS" showed the limit of the genre: the manager of an association lets his anger show and insults the health department secretary. Therefore the show goes bust and the manager mentioned is accused of sabotage. This person had forgotten the last rule: a victim shuts up and opens his mouth only to say "thank you".

That’s the hidden, ugly face of charity: dignity.

Like a mix of the resigned Christ and the untouchable, the victim must not revolt, the left-apart must not fight, the poor must wait for the dollar bill like a redemption. The manager of Act-Up airs his anger at seeing his friends die, that’s human! Well, no, he’s wrong: he should keep a dignified air and smile at the TV host.

Thus, a few causes do not gain any momentum because their victims are not dignified, presentable, humble... The poor of eastern countries are not presentable because the Romanians on the Champs Elysees are too active beggars. They’re poor, but not dignified. Algerians are being slaughtered, but they’re not innocent enough. Hey, they’re Arab and Muslim, how could they be innocent?

The victim status we’re coming up with is the basis of all revisionism: a victim has to be totally innocent (a white dove), and that’s the first step towards the inversion of roles. Saying the many Jews were rich and capitalists (which we now hear when dealing with the disappearance of Jewish possessions during WWII), and therefore not totally innocent, is an extreme left-wing revisionism. Saying that AIDS victims pay for their "deviance" and "sexual wanderings" (the media come up with some expressions!), calling young people "youths from the bad parts of town" instead of hoodlums, tagging the poor as "willingly unemployed", belongs to the same intellectual perversion. Selecting victims according to standards of perfection, as in the charity business, implies that an non-innocent victim is not really a victim. "He asked for it...", goes popular common sense.

Let this be clear: I admire volunteers, associations, all those (professional or not) who help others. Faced with an emergency, I agree that all means are equally good (even the "telethon". What shocks me deeply, is this perverse effect of the charity business that wants victims to be innocent. By definition, misery is dirty, pain is unbearable, exclusion renders ugly. Christ bearing all the misery and sins of the world is utter bullshit. Human grandeur is not akin to accepting inequities without saying a word, on the contrary...

See, I was finishing this article when Jacques came to speak to me. Jacques is a beggar who goes to the bars as me. He settles down at a table that’s kind of out-of-sight and orders a glass of wine that he refills with his own bad wine that’s hidden in a plastic bag. "So, what you’re writing, son?", he asks every time. And then he starts talking about his life, his plight. It’s funny, Jacques is exactly what I’ve been trying to describe: he stinks, he’s always drunk, his face is ravaged by red wine, he’s racist, and sometimes violent. Clearly, this guy is everything except a white dove, and he doesn’t draw charity when he pukes at the bottom of the counter. He’s a bad ’victim’ for the charity business, Jacques. He’s not a poor guy full of merit. His story doesn’t exactly draw pity. He’s not young, he’s not beautiful. He mutters against the system, he can’t stand the bourgeois (but he wouldn’t mind their wives), "all those assholes", "I don’t need anyone, I’m my own master", and after a while it becomes impossible to comprehend what he says. The only moment when he’s presentable, Jacques, is when he arrives with a puffed-up face from having been mugged. Then, he truly looks like a victim.

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