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Some Thoughts on Idol Gives Back

By Brian | April 27, 2007 | Share on Facebook

OK, I’ll admit it – my wife and I are American Idol fans. For what it’s worth, we’re not Fanjaya fans; we’re the kind that actually looks for some high quality music from the contestants. So there’s that…

Anyway, last night’s show, Idol Gives Back, was clearly something special. It’s great to see a pop culture behemoth finally do something with it’s marketing potential other than just selling soap. And of course, when the show was over, they got some help from my family as well.

The show was obviously designed to make us think, but the thing it made me think about most rather surprised me.

We’ve all seen many (too many? not enough?) pictures of the African poor – the young mothers dying of AIDS, the children living in mosquito-ravaged conditions, dying of malaria, malnutrition, or just basic neglect. We’ve also seen many pictures of the American poor – particularly since Hurricane Katrina created so many more of them on a single day.

This is the first time in my memory, though, that these two sets of images were set side by side in this way. Watching it, I couldn’t help but notice how much better off the American poor were than the African poor.

The African children were dressed in rags. The American children were wearing clean clothes. The African children had crooked or missing teeth. One of the American children was wearing braces on his teeth, and several were wearing eyeglasses. The African food distribution center was a large room, empty except for a large table in the middle, where dozens of kids were each given what appeared to be a clear broth with some kind of meat in it (hard to tell exactly what it was). The American food distribution center was a modern warehouse with food stacked on palettes, literally reaching up to the ceiling. The facility was staffed by dozens of volunteers, who distributed nutritionally balanced grocery bags to hundreds of families at extremely low costs (e.g., $1/bag). The African school was a group of children in a relatively empty room with a few adults, sharing materials. The American school was well-lit, fully furnished with desks, bookshelves, educational materials on the walls, books, pencils, etc.

This is my third draft of this post, because I’m desperately trying to avoid minimizing the plight of the American poor. I realize that they’re struggling, and acknowledge that they need help to achieve the very basics of life (and, indeed, they received some of my help last evening). What I’m discussing here is the contrast between the two. When discussing the American poor, the goal is usually to elicit sympathy in some form or another, and so there’s never a mention of how much better off they are than those in other places. But the fact remains, each of the African kids in those film clips would trade places with any of the Americans in an instant, and consider themselves blessed to be living with so many riches.

One of the great things about America, I believe, is our insistence on raising the bar. We don’t compare our quality of life to other countries and then rest on our laurels because we’re so far ahead. We set high expectations of ourselves based on what the average American has achieved, and then strive to bring those below that average up to par. It’s an attitude that leads to constant improvement and constant growth.

Bashing America has become a bit of a sport lately. Despite this malaise, and despite that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach as I logged on to make my pledge, I must admit that I felt a bit of pride seeping in. Our poor have it rough, but not that rough. And yet still, we rally together to make their lives better. That’s an American ideal that seems to have thrived when many of the others have been so severely tested…

Topics: Money Talk, Primetime TV | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Idol Gives Back”

  1. jason says at April 27th, 2007 at 11:53 am :
    It is an interesting (and sobering) comparison, isn’t it? I would bet that all but the poorest of the poor Americans own television sets and telephones, and many of them probably have low-end game consoles and cheap DVD players, too. From what I’ve read, there are African entrepeneurs who make their living by investing in a cell phone — the only telephone in the entire village — and charging their neighbors for the “service” of using it.

    As you say, it’s not that American poor don’t have difficult lives. But everything is relative, and a good percentage of the earth’s population lives in conditions we in this country have a hard time even imagining. While you feel proud to be American, however, I feel mildly ashamed. What did I ever do to deserve to be so much better off, except have a lucky accident about where I was born?

  2. jason says at April 27th, 2007 at 11:54 am :
    Incidentally, good on you for contributing. I don’t watch Idol myself, so I had no idea the show was doing this. Good on its producers, too…

  3. Brian says at April 27th, 2007 at 6:29 pm :
    While you feel proud to be American, however, I feel mildly ashamed. What did I ever do to deserve to be so much better off, except have a lucky accident about where I was born?

    Entire psychology theses, written by people much smarter than both of us, could be written on this topic. Suffice to say I come down on the side of luck being karma neutral (not in my control), but all the things I’ve done to take advantage of my good luck (school, work, family, healthy living, etc.) as the reasons for the success I enjoy. And so I don’t feel superior to people who didn’t start with the same luck I started with, but I lack sympathy for people who had all the advantages and squandered them…(cf. the mega-rich celebrities who screw up their lives with drugs & alcohol, for example…)

  4. jason says at April 27th, 2007 at 7:20 pm :
    You speak wisely, my friend.

    Not to derail the topic by bringing up politics, but one of the personal issues I’ve long had with the current President Bush is that, according to accounts I’ve read, he neither appreciated nor fully took advantage of the educational possibilities a man from his background had. Yes, he went to Yale, but he coasted by on a minimal effort, preferring to party instead of learning. He’s hardly the first rich kid to do that, of course, but given that I, the son of a lowly diesel mechanic, had to work my butt off to maintain a scholarship, I find such behavior highly offensive.

    And then of course there are those silly, trampy Hilton sisters… arg. The less said about them, the better, I suppose…

  5. Brian says at April 29th, 2007 at 11:18 pm :
    His record at Yale is less than impressive:

    He was a C student, scoring 77% (with no As and one D, in astronomy) with a grade point average of 2.35 out of a possible 4.00.

    What’s hardly mentioned, though, is that he also went to Harvard Business School in 1973, earning his MBA in 1975 (first U.S. President to hold an MBA). I’m sure his upbringing helped him get into Harvard, but he wasn’t a legacy there like he was at Yale, and while Harvard students get a lot of support, you still need to do the work to get the MBA.

    Bush is by no means our smartest President, and is likely the dumbest in recent decades, but I firmly believe the whole “bumbling idiot” thing is a late-night talk show gag run amok. Just like it was with Dan Quayle.

    I consider myself a reasonably smart individual, but can only imagine what the press would do to me if they wanted me to look like a complete idiot…

    Now, the Hilton sisters – that’s another story. Did they even go to college? If so, why?

  6. Jason says at April 30th, 2007 at 12:00 pm :
    For the beer, of course…


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