Twenty years after the original debuted, a new crop of British pop stars has re-recorded “Sir” Bob Geldof’s 1984 hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and the pro-Africa relief song once again sits atop the British charts.
The news surrounding the song’s re-release, which American Adult Contemporary radio stations have already begun to play ad nauseam, calls to mind some old frustrations I harbor over the lyrics, not to mention the motives of the artists who sing them.
Make no mistake, I believe strongly in the idea behind the song. There is no better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than to help the less fortunate around the world. But “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is perhaps the least culturally literate tune in memory. Moreover, dripping with indignation, it comes off like a John Kerry for President speech put to music, all designed to make regular Americans feel bad so uppity British pop stars can feel good.
First, let us consider the lyrics. The second stanza reads:
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom.
A heart-rending sentiment at first glance, but only if one has never been to Africa. My wife spent two-and-a-half years in Chad. With a per capita income of 1,100 per year, Chad is one of the most impoverished countries on the Dark Continent. Her experience leads her to share my frustration with these puerile lyrics. To begin with, folks like the people in Chad have never lived in the West or in America and therefore have developed a completely different value system than we have. For example, not having a Christmas goose to dig into every 25th day of December would not constitute “a world of dread and fear” in Africa the way it would in, say, Tiny Tim’s London circa 1843.
Nor does the lack of a Christmas celebration bring “the bitter sting of tears.” In fact, my wife’s Chadian friends dressed in their best clothes at Christmas, attended church and then danced to American music until sun up. So while they celebrated differently — their mud walls were not decked, and no visions of sugar plums danced — it would be inaccurate to say they clang “chimes of doom.”
Of course, this is only how my wife’s Christian friends in Chad celebrated. But 51% of all Chadians are Muslims and no they don’t “know it’s Christmastime at all,” thank you. Nor do they care. They don’t worship Christ. They believe one of His disciples was crucified in his stead and that He moved to India to father a large brood. That doesn’t mean they are less deserving of Christian love, of course. But it is either the height of cultural arrogance to expect Christian reverence from Muslims or it is the final act of the secularization of Christmas to insist that they feel and emote and celebrate and cheer the way we do on December 25th.
Then comes the most tasteless lyric of them all:
Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.
In no way do I speak for the Lord, but I’m reasonably certain the above verse does not reflect the true spirit of Christmas. As incompletely as these folks understand Africa, they are even more ignorant about the nature of Christian prayer.
It goes on like this:
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime.
Is there usually? Are Africans living in “a world of dread and fear” and feeling “the bitter sting of tears” because they are left but to dream of a white Christmas? If so, then we have millions of Americans in the Southeast and West Coast who are in need of melodic treacle, as well. But that’s not the point, is it? This is just a silly, thoughtless string of words to fill space on the radio.
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life.
Which — and I know this point is eternally lost on the likes of Bob Geldof and Bono — is the greatest gift of all.
But the lyrics are only a symptom of the real problem, which is the entertainment media’s belief that they can wish away global problems. The song’s very essence reeks of misplaced sanctimony. The brand of celebrity activist this song has lured into the recording studio during each of its three manifestations is from the same ilk as those who scream “Bush is Hitler” and decry “American hyper-power.” And yet if these folks truly care about suffering in the third world — and I imagine at some level they really do — then they should put their star power behind U.S. efforts to foster democracy around the world, end the sprawl of militant Islam and encourage free trade across the globe.
Patrick Hynes is a senior account executive and for the Republican consulting firm Marsh Copsey + Scott and the proprietor of CrushKerry.com.
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