comic relief | conscience relief

14 03 2015

At face-value, Comic Relief is A Good Thing. I’ve supported it since the first one, although being 11 in 1988 I gloriously missed the point and made my own red nose for free. Comic Relief has moved on since those early days… or has it?

Back then the passive telethon-style fund-raising – entertain me, show me a heart-rending film, I give money – was all the rage. It worked. And it still works. But should it?

There’s something missing from Comic Relief. It isn’t comedy, or relief, that’s missing. It is a sense of social justice, corporate responsibility; currently it’s the perfect consumer-poverty experience. It demands nothing from us, the viewer, other than the simple text donation. £5 text sent, 2 mosquito nets bought, job done. Conscience relief.

Particularly for the African segments, the presented narrative is very old-school: terrible poverty, money needed, problem solved. There’s little mention of long-running projects, usually run by churches or Christian charities (never mentioned in Comic Relief, except to poke fun at); and there’s no mention of the underlying causes of the poverty.

These days we know the world is interconnected. We know about Fair Trade, trade justice; we  know about multinationals exploiting local labour and dodging taxes. Comic Relief, for all its good points, and there are many, I think could take a much stronger line on this. We, the public, need to be reminded that every time we shop, we contribute, positively or negatively, to poverty. Challenging poverty is more than buying a red nose. Sainsbury’s take note. Challenging poverty involves challenging my lifestyle. 

This is where we the church are way ahead, and can show the way. We’ve been involved in trade-justice, in micro-finance, in child-sponsorship, in medical provision for decades. And lifestyle challenge forever. Comic Relief doesn’t seem to have realised.

I love Comic Relief. This is constructive-criticism from a friend, not cheap shots from an enemy. But it’s time for the BBC, so often accused of being lefty, to change their approach. Children – and adults – need to recognise our responsibility for poverty, our contribution to global injustice. It’s not as straightforward as the tried and tested method. It is political – but not more than the old-school generous-but-disconnected philanthropy it currently is, in which we (the wealthy) give hand-outs to them (the helpless poor).

78 million changed lives would make even more difference than the (frankly amazing) £78 million. Challenging our lifestyle would treat us like adults, the recipients like equals not underlings, and then will actually be Comic Relief, not just conscience relief. 

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