People in matching shirts collecting supplies to send overseas. Attractive singers coming together to perform a song with patronizing lyrics. Various shots of forlorn people.
It’s all in the 2012 music video “Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway,” encouraging Africans to collect radiators to send to sad, freezing Norwegians. It’s a spot-on parody of the most cringe-inducing aspects of fundraising appeals. (Sample lyric: “In Norway kids are freezing./It’s time for us to care./There’s heat enough for Norway/If Africans would share.”)
This year’s ceremony, held Tuesday, was preceded by the first Radiator Conference, which brought together academics, journalists and representatives from NGOs to explore the consequences of the stereotypes often seen in these videos.
Many cliched images — like the common ones of Africa, showing children with flies buzzing in their eyes and helpless women balancing bundles on their heads — were created with good intentions, says SAIH Vice President Martine Jahre.
And they’ve had some positive effects. She notes that studies have shown people will give more when faced with a caricature of a charity case rather than a human being. “We feel good when it’s us and them, and we can help them,” she says.
But there’s a danger in trying to raise money at the expense of someone’s dignity, Jahre adds, “and if we see these images over and over again, our expectation becomes that.”
Here’s her take on the nominees for this year’s prizes: The Golden Radiator (for videos that avoid stereotypes) and The Rusty Radiator (for the ones that rely on them).
GOLDEN RADIATOR WINNERS
White Helmets in Syria: The Heroes and the Miracle Baby
“We read a lot about Syria, hear a lot about it and the countries trying to fix the crisis. But it’s mostly Syrians doing the everyday work,” Jahre says. In this video, you get to meet one of them, Khaled Farah, and see the conflict from his perspective as someone who races toward danger to save lives. Standing in front of a plain wall, he matter-of-factly tells of pulling a two-week-old baby from under the rubble of a bombed-out building. The video cuts to a snippet from the rescue, then returns to Farah’s face and his explanation for why he hasn’t had a chance to visit the child since that fateful day: “The shelling doesn’t stop.”
WaterAid: If Men Had Periods — Manpons
Toilet behavior is a topic that’s “kind of a taboo,” Jahre says. So how did this group take a topic no one wants to talk about and create a video everyone wants to share? With humor. Envisioning a world where men have periods, it shows a dude strut into a bathroom all sweaty after a workout. After he slams the stall door clutching his box of “Manpons,” a graphic flashes on the screen, touting the high-tech engineering behind the product. While you’re still smiling, text pops up to remind you that “1.25 billion women don’t have access to a toilet during their period.” Jahre appreciates that it’s funny while retaining a serious undertone.
Kinderpostzegels: Zalissa’s Choice
At almost 7 minutes long, this video is a mini-documentary on the issue of child marriage as told through one girl’s story. Although it tests a viewer’s attention span, the length allows for a nuanced approach — there are interviews with Zalissa, her father and her teacher. “You hear a lot of narratives, which we love,” Jahre says.
RUSTY RADIATOR WINNERS
Band Aid 30: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
“Here is where you get the dilemma between raising money and keeping dignity,” Jahre says. The 30th anniversary version of this celeb-studded song — this time, targeted to fight Ebola — was a top single during the 2014 holiday season. “But the video is absolutely terrible,” says Jahre, who can’t believe it opens with a creepy scene of a woman’s body being lifted out of a blood-stained bed, then quickly cuts to famous people — Bono! Members of One Direction! — smiling for the paparazzi before entering a recording studio. Even if the imagery were better, the words would still be problematic to Jahre. “It gives the impression that all of Africa has Ebola,” she says. “The melody is catchy, but fix the lyrics.” Also, given the number of Christians who live in Africa, “yes, they know it’s Christmas,” Jahre adds.
Feed a Child: One World Campaign
Yep, another music video. (Spoiler alert: the third nominee is also a music video.) Are these just a bad idea? “Not necessarily. You can do it in a good way, but we haven’t seen any good examples yet,” Jahre says. Her description of this one pretty much says all you need to know: “It’s African children that need to be fed. Then you have this white artist with a guitar feeding the children. It’s just like, no. And it’s so staged. Who are these children? What is this project?”
Humanitarian Aid Foundation: Aid for African Children
The video is a montage of children from Ghana: serious, happy, eating food, holding up a sign that says “Thank you for supporting us.” And there’s one random well-fed white guy embracing a child. “It’s just classic, takes me back to the ’90s,” Jahre says. This fundraising appeal is from a smaller organization, and she says it’s worth noting that SAIH had to broaden its search to find a third nominee for this year’s Rusty. “Organizations were very much aware they were nominated last year, and we’ve seen a big change in direction,” she says.
If groups continue to pay attention, she adds, the Radiator Awards might not need to give out the Rusty much longer.
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