Celebrity Geopolitics and Live Aid

Live Aid reunited the top Rock and Pop artists of the time which is indubitably what gave the event such an outreach. Celebrity geopolitics are very useful in examining this phenomenon.

Celebrity geopolitics treats of the impact that the involvement of celebrities in geopolitical issues can have. It triggers the population’s interest on a specific issue and reaches a broader audience  when such issues are vehiculed by celebrities themselves without the bias of competent politicians. Indeed, celebrities that take action for geopolitical issues tend to raise awareness to these questions in an unprecedented manner. Dittmer and Grey argue that this is key especially since it allows such issues to be discussed and understood outside of the political or academic sphere. Celebrities tend to create a feeling of proximity that everyday people don’t necessarily find with politicians, notably because of the complexity of the political discourse compared to how easy it is for celebrities to communicate with their fans through tools such as shows, magazines and above all social media.

In the case of Live Aid, the large audience of both shows as well as the home viewers allowed a broader awareness of the situation in Ethiopia and the money raised by the concerts and donations show the reach of celebrities compared to political/media discourse that never had the same result, even though the issues in Ethiopia were discussed in the political sphere and experienced media coverage.

On the other hand, the use of celebrities that were actually mainly celebrities in the Western world is symptomatic of the western-centred view of humanitarian aid: it is understood that money can be raised in the West because this is the most developed part of the world and thus where the population actually has the ability to aid. But that also means that it creates a one-sided channel of humanitarian aid where the flow is from the West towards Africa. As a result, it is Western money raised by Western organisms that goes towards Africa.

The channels of normative spreading.

Colonialism and the division of the world between the West and the Rest has been the common representation in geopolitics from the Discovery of Americas and, arguably, still continues today even though it has encountered some changes. The traditional representation of established countries and their colonies is visible in a number if manifestation such as, but not limited to, colonial exhibitions, the work of missionaries or development and humanitarian aid.

There are a number of scholars who have investigated such channels of normative spreading.

Edward Said, says that Orientalism is about the West’s discourse about the rest of the world (Orient). ‘European culture was able to manage and even produce the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically and imaginatively…’ (Said, 1979 p.3). Highly influential for colonial geopolitics and history of empires. Broader than military and diplomacy→ culture.

Samuel Huntington, Clash of Civilizations. He foresaw that the wars to come were to be fought between civilizations (cultural and religious identities). A cultural war: “The West and the rest”. Threats and dangers identified according to particular interests → the West has interests in the Rest.

Antonio Gramsci and his theory of hegemony: cultural hegemony applies between the West and the rest in the same way than between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat/ its normalizes a view of the world to maintain said hegemony.

James Derrick Sidaway, on popular representation of a land that leads to an overall view of a part of the world. Africa is brittle and desertic which has become synonym of hunger and poverty.

When money comes with strings attached -> spreading of normative values through humanitarian aid

Was live aid meant to bring development aid to Africa or was it just another case of covered up spreading of western normative values ?

Not a new phenomenon: colonial history is the history of spreading values through soft power. Crusades, Christian missionaries in the New World, war in Viêt-Nam, those are all examples of western values projected towards the West following the vision that these values should prevail. This is a pattern in World History and is thus an indicator of the direction of development in the world: from West to East.

For instance, the world-system theory illustrates this with the model of centre, semi-periphery and periphery: this sharing of the world has relevance in economics, politics, culture, etc. It is particularly relevant when it comes to humanitarian and development aid as, typically, aid follows the wealth gaps, coming from richer countries towards poorer ones. As a result, aid and notably money raised bears the vision of its senders, and usually comes with strings attached.

What does that mean? It means that, when money is raised in the West, whether it is through charities and individual donors or through international organisations which use countries’ contributions (IMF, World Bank), it is up to the West what this money is used for. Typically, this means that it is used as a spreading for normative values.

I will post later on the channels of such spreading

How effective was Live Aid?

Necessity to look at the money raised

  • Donations: reports + investigations, do they contredict each other? What is the percentage of donations that actually went to charity?
  • Other types of income from LA: tickets, merch, TV rights, TV advertisement income… also inquire about the percentage that actually went to Ethiopia vs the costs of putting LA together.

Consequences on African Politics

Where did the money go, through which channels (NGOs?). What were the infrastructures used to handle the money? LA money given to the governement of Ethiopia later revealed to be violating international law (mass murder, repression etc). Were NGOs aware?

Consequences on World Politics

Western led charity concert means western money going to Africa. Normative spreading? Soviet concern. Spheres of influence in Africa. Role of development aid in spreading values.

People’s opinions

  • people of Ethiopia
  • people attending the concert
  • people organising the concert
  • volunteers/heads of NGOs

Looking at this through interviews.

A few relevant articles

Here are some more useful material on live aid and its consequences.

Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid, By Peter Gill

Who Is the World?: Reflections on Music and Politics Twenty Years after Live Aid, by Reebee Garofalo

  • https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1524-2226.2005.00048.x

It could also be interesting to think about Live 8 as an attempt to recreate Live Aid. Why hasn’t there been anything similar since? Thinking about the social media era and its implications, as well as the diversification of music genres.