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Friday, October 13, 2006


Wake up

Inspiration: new colonialism
Images: fadedyouth, perezhilton, and yahoo

From the villages of Malawi and Uganda to the streets of LA, no child is safe. Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Reese Witherspoon are the latest celebrities joining the new Hollywood cult of charity. Hitting up the last few places that haven't been touched by an angel(ina), these stars are surely making a difference in children's lives.

Though I have no problem with celebrities donating their money and time to raise awareness about the plight of the world's children, something about their charitable efforts leaves an unsavory colonial aftertaste. The bandwagon effect Angelina started leaves me doubting the sincerity of these photo-op visits and the level of understanding these celebrities have regarding the political and social histories of the places they are visiting. These charitable interventions are representative of the postcolonial dilemma of finding ways to help impoverished communities without exploiting or oppressing them.

The study that the international development charity VSO did on British gap year programs (like when Prince Harry took a year off to visit various African nations), had insights that are also applicable to celebrity do-gooders embarking upon such trips. VSO found that these programs have an "all about us attitude," in which Westerners come to 'help' rather than to learn from others. These programs have short-term goals, like building a house, and pay little attention to long-term economic and social problems. Foreign adoption too is one of these short-term fixes. Though adoption is normally a good idea for very young children, it does little to uplift the community as a whole.

The problems of international charity work are also present domestically. As annoying as this picture is, I am pleased that Reese Witherspoon has avoided the exotic lure of Africa by remembering that Malawi is not the only place where children are struggling. After all, there are plenty of children in America who need celebrity visits and adoptions, possibly now more than ever.

The rich-poor gap in this country has always been high compared to that in other industrialized nations, but has gotten worse in the past 6 years. The Bush administration will be remembered not only for its incompetent 'war on terror' and loss of America's credibility, but it will also be remembered for its negligent domestic policies. Bush and Congress are willing to bend over backwards to fund the war, but not education programs, and who can forget the ongoing Katrina fiasco!

If any of these things bothers you, please remember to vote in the midterm elections on Nov. 7. Then, take the $200 you were going to spend on tickets for Madonna's inevitable 50th birthday concert tour, and give it to Katrina orphans instead.

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