To end the 2014 on an incredibly dehumanizing note, CBS aired an episode of Undercover Boss that stirred up protests from all walks of life. Undercover Boss is usually a wonderful program that allows CEOs to see what is happening on the ground in their companies and reward hard workers accordingly. However, this particular episode profiled Doug Guller, the CEO of Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, who fired a bartender after she decided not to dehumanize herself by wearing a T-shirt instead of a bikini top on television and “rewarded” another employee for her loyalty by promising to pay for her breast enlargement surgery. (See videos below.)
The episode was so bad that Cosmopolitan released as scathing review saying, “what’s also crazy is that CBS aired all this as if it were good fun and zany reality TV, not horribly misogynistic workplace discrimination.” Writers like Rebecca Rose observed that Guller “has always been totally tone deaf about the sexism he enthusiastically promotes and frankly seems to enjoy having offending people with his business practices.” (more…)
Friedrich Hayek once called intellectuals “professional secondhand dealers in ideas.” And the Preacher proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when ideas, memes, and other cultural phenomena pop up again and again.
I first noticed the song, which heretofore had been background Christmas muzak, when we screened the new documentary Poverty, Inc. earlier this year at the Acton Institute offices. That film includes a section discussing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
When Christmas rolled around, I had the idea to write something about the song, and connected it with William Easterly’s analysis of the differing perspectives on development offered by Gunnar Myrdal and Hayek. But I now think that even though I hadn’t read Loftis’ piece, I had seen the title before I wrote my piece. In fact, I checked Ben Domenech’s excellent email newsletter The Transom, to which you should subscribe, and there on December 3 is the following: ‘“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is the worst Christmas song ever. http://vlt.tc/1qf7‘
No doubt I saw the link, and got the idea for calling it the “worst ever” into my head. Then some days later I connected it to the Poverty, Inc. clip and wrote my piece. So the idea for calling this the worst Christmas song ever must be credited to Loftis and The Federalist. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that Loftis’ piece had already appeared, or I would have pointed to it earlier, and given credit for the idea straight away. So in the interests of disclosure, I certainly haven’t been the only one to criticize this song or even to call it the “worst Christmas song ever.” I guess I’ve got egg(nog) on my face. The variety of voices that find the song problematic, however, should be a indication that there’s something rotten in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It is, after all, a song that includes a toast like this: “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.”
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is like a bad earworm that won’t go away. And now I really, really hate that song!
Ballor describes the context and some of the song’s lyrics:
The song describes Africa largely as a barren wasteland, ‘Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.’ It continues in this vein. Africa, the onetime breadbasket of the Roman Empire and home of the Nile River is a land ‘where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow.’ The title question likewise plays into the supposed desperation of the continent. The only ‘Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.’ The response to this call is supposed to be charity from the affluent West, to ‘feed the world’ and thereby ‘let them know it’s Christmastime again.’
The song perpetuates an image of Africans as helpless and dependent on outside assistance to support their well-being. It is true that dire situations exist and increased awareness and emergency aid is needed to prevent loss of life, outbreak of disease, and other severe conditions. But overall, do negative depictions serve to accurately portray people in the “developing world,” and their capacity for producing innovation and change in the areas in which they live?
I argue that depicting Africans as incapable and destitute ultimately neglects their true nature as human beings. Though it is true that poverty exists in some corners of Africa (and this should not be ignored), a vibrant, energized environment can be witnessed in many others. There are thousands of entrepreneurs like Senegalese entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, who are establishing creative solutions and finding new markets for business and trade.
At RealClearReligion, Rev. Robert A. Sirico offers an analysis of President Obama’s move to thaw relations with Cuba, a diplomatic opening that was supported by the Vatican. Citing Pope Francis’ appeals for “an economy of inclusion,” Rev. Sirico asks: “What, indeed, could be more inclusive than trade and travel?” More:
Free trade is not the solution to all economic, social and political problems. Nor does anyone expect it to be. That said, on my visits to Cuba and China, I have yet to meet anyone who thought restricting trade or travel helped, all of which will have to be negotiated once relations are normalized. Mutatis mutandis, those unfortunate to have to live under oppressive regimes are among the first to long for U.S. companies to setting up shop in their countries, gain new markets for their own products and will increase contact and opportunity for themselves. To have more exchanges with Americans at every level, whether it is through tourism, educational, trade or technological exchange, is what many Cubans want.
The open question is to see whether the Castro regime — which, after all, remains ideologically Marxist and viciously persecutes anyone who steps out of line — will use this thawing as a way of moving Cuba away from 50 years of one party rule and a top-down approach to the economy, and towards wider freedoms. Their track-record, to date, would not inspire confidence.
James K. A. Smith reviews Cass Sunstein’s Valuing Life over at the Comment magazine site. It’s a worthwhile read for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it should move Sunstein’s latest up in the queue.
It seems self-evident that everyone should favor “good” regulation, but the trick is getting some consensus on what defines “good” vs. “bad” regulation. A “people” or “person” centered regulation is a good starting place, perhaps. Or as Smith puts it nicely: “Regulation is made for people, not people for regulation.” Maybe what we need is a personalist revolution in regulation, to say nothing of governance more broadly. A political economy for the people? Yes!
I would insist on some clarifications, though, and note that regulators are often the ones most inclined to get that formula mixed up. Who, after all, will regulate the regulators? (I think the rapper Juvenile asked something like that.) So one distinction I would insist on is that the rule of law is not reducible to or coterminous with the minutiae of regulation. In fact, the latter can often conflict with, rather than support, the former. (more…)
The eyes of many in the world have turned to Cuba over the last day or so. A great deal has been made of the historic changes in the relationship between the US and Cuba and whether such changes fundamentally alter the situation of the political leaders and the elites in the island nation.
More interesting to me, however, are the personal stories of suffering and loss during the years of the Castro regime and the hope that dawns, however slight it may be, with the normalization of relations. Perhaps the changes will simply serve to prop up a tyrannical regime, but there is real possibility that the day-to-day existence for millions of people will improve with greater travel, access to markets, and communication.
One of the great tragedies of the Castro regime was its suppression of non-approved cultural artifacts and forms, including traditional Cuban music. The Buena Vista Social Club’s closure was representative of a larger tradition of cultural pluralism and civil society in Cuba that had no place in the communist regime.
The guitarist Ry Cooder visited Cuba in the 1990s, and was able to reunite many of the original members of the club. Cooder put together an international tour for these wonderful musicians, including a trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City. That created an album and later a documentary. Here’s a scene from the documentary where a couple of Cuban musicians are visiting New York City for the first time:
The audio cuts out a couple minutes in, but you can see the wonder and appreciation that is apparent in their reactions. They see immediately and instinctively that the vitality and vigor of the city, with its commerce, exchange, culture, and liberty, are a marked contrast to their experiences in Cuba. “Activity! Activity! Activity!” one of them celebrates.
“This is the life!” concludes the other. Let’s hope that increased liberalization of engagement between the US and Cuba can help unleash more of this kind of vibrant dynamism among a people that stand in so desperate need of it.