Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Madonna In the Slums

Am I the only one who feel conflicted about celebrities doing this sort of thing?

Madonna, Ritchie visit slums of Mumbai

My first reaction is always, "that's cool, she's dragging the press to a place that needs help." My second is always: what about the slums in the U.S.? My third: are celebrities genuinely interested in change, or do they want the world to see them in their beneficent glory?

I remember when Angelina Jolie did an interview from Africa when she was pregnant with her daughter. They made it out to seem like Angelina was using her celebrity to shed light on a third-world country in crisis when she could've been ensconced in her luxurious Malibu residence. And yet, she and Brad were holed up in a five-star resort in a country where they essentially ended freedom of the press for their own privacy.

I wonder if celebrities think about the poor struggling to survive in the U.S.? Do they not know that there are poor families and slums in the shadow of Hollywood and Beverly Hills? When I was at USC, all you had to was drive a few blocks south east and you'd see families with children living in primitive conditions, if not on the street. There were kids who didn't go to school or get health care or a meal before they went to sleep. And not all of those kids had parents who were druggies.

Now I'm not one of those uber patriotic types. But I think we have to clean up our own backyard before we go solve everyone else's problems.

Or is it just me who feels that way?


Erica Orloff said...

Hi Mary:
Well . . .

I spent years working with unwed teens mothers and their babies in one of the grimmest slums/housing projects you could ever visit. (I won a national Jefferson Award for my work . . ., my proudest achievement). I worked with mothers as young as 12 having baby #2! And I wasn't afraid to get involved in some very ugly situations. So I believe in BEING the change you want to see. I also worked, years ago, for years with Cambodian and Vietnamese war refugees, teaching ESL.

But I sincerely feel that it doesn't matter where a person chooses to do good--Africa, India, in the slums here . . . because these are CHILDREN suffering, and they are the WORLD'S children, and they belong to the human race. I dislike, even though I did all my work in America, it being politicized in a sense, where people judge a celebrity going to Darfur, for example. We belong to the human race, and to me, boundaries are illusions and lines on a map drawn by men, not by God or the universe. Some people are "called" to Africa, or see the plight of children somewhere else, and I would never suppose to know what's in someone else's heart.


Alyson Noel said...

I'm with Erica- we're all connected. . .

J.K. Mahal said...

Having been to India just last year and seen children starving, without any access to social programs, school, or even crummy housing... I agree with Erica.

People should do what they can where they can. And though I too have seen the poor, the ill and the hungry here, we at least have a social welfare system... maybe not a good one, but it exists. It doesn't exist there.

Poverty is on a completely different level there. And the net that catches people when they fall? It's not broken there like in the U.S. There is no net. At all. No public schools. No effective police service. No social workers. No 911. No school lunch programs. No Section 8 housing. No soup kitchens. No Second Harvest.

Being in India for a month, unable to do more than give a few dollars here and there, broke my heart. Going there, you want to save everyone.

I just attended a volunteer meeting for a local cause I believe in, and hopefully will start giving back in my community. I plan to vote for candidates that put issues of economic class and the disenfranchisement of the poor at the top of their list. I will try to be some that the change I want to see.

But I can't get angry at celebrities trying to shine a light in the dark. The darkness is pitch black and there's enough if it to go around.

Unknown said...

Points taken. I should just get my ass back to work and do what I'm called to do!


Dana Diamond said...

Actually, I'm with Mary.

I'm all for doing what calls to you and that we're all in the same boat...


I liken US citizens magnanimously assisting third world countries to Moms I know who are always on the go.

They take their kids to every class imaginable intending to create some kind of wunderkind.

Then they are perplexed to find their homes in complete disarrays and that they are physically, emotionally, and financially exhausted because they over-spent on these classes and haven't been home to clean, organize, or connect with their children.

And in spite of all their soccer, karate and ballet, their kids are at unhealthy weights anyway because they're constantly eating McDonald's in the car because they are never home to cook. And their kids are cranky and withdrawn because they never have any down time to reflect and communicate/bond with their parents.

Not that I don’t feel for our brothers and sisters in other countries. On the contrary, as our industries fall like dominoes and rising food and gas costs force more hardworking citizens into foreclosure I feel for third world countries now more than ever.

But even in airplanes you are told to put your yellow oxygen mask on first before you even think about putting it on someone who can’t help themselves.

The reason?

You can’t help someone else if you’re unconscious.

I would love it if a celebrity stayed in the US and took a stand against gang warfare and then donated their time (and high profile) to volunteering at a phenomenal non-profit like THINK Together instead of hosting another over-the-top fundraiser.

Furthermore, I would’ve been far more impressed had Madonna visited the little-known shanty town recently erected in our very own Southern California and shed light on the US’ very own growing third world.


Nadine said...

Oh Mary... that's a can of worms of such gigantic proportions, it's hard to wrap our head around!

There's a reason we don't hear much of the third world conditions that exist in the US (and increasingly in Canada). It's because it's very essential for the survival of capitalism and our way of life to believe in the illusion that everyone who tries hard enough can make it. So you're poor in the US? That's YOUR fault! certainly not the system's. New Orleans was a flicker in the right direction, but it died out very fast as the media, politicians, and everyone with a vested interest in taking the attention away from the failings of our own systems. That's why you hear a lot about race issues in the US... it's much easier to talk about our problems as black vs white (or Hispanic)in the US as opposed to expanding poor and lower middle class vs enormous wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. It's almost like a magic trick - distract the audience with what one hand is doing so they don't look as the other hand. I'm not saying that Angelina Jolie is in on this - she and Brad do a lot in New Orleans too (but I'm not altogether convinced that she isn't cultivating a 'brand' either, and that her international trysts are a part of it).

I'm saying the media wouldn't highlight it nearly as much (e.g New Orleans) if she were building shelters in New York rather than in Darfur.

Think about it... what would it do to your own core values if a barrage of media images showing the extent of poverty in the States, then the ensuing thought that the declining value of the dollar, the Iraq war, the credit crisis, supposed GDP "growth" in the news but lay-offs and declining quality-of-life on the ground... might all be related events? Many people, especially among those who are eating it from our wonderful capitalist system, might be inclined to think our system isn't so good after all.

This is what happened after the Great Depression, back when Communism was still an option. The social benefits we enjoy today are a direct result of the uber-rich class fearing an all-out revolt, so they tempered capitalism, swinging it closer to the middle. As the pendulum swings back to capitalism's more merciless extreme, it serves the purposes of some that you keep looking at the problems of others in far away places, and thanking God and Walmart that you weren't born Pakistani, or Iraqi, or Honduran, or pretty much anywhere East of Italy or South of El Paso.

Dana Diamond said...

I have thought about it...which is why I'm alarmed so few of my peers seem to notice. Or if they do, seem to do nothing about it.

Unfortunately, I agree with some of what you said.

Soon, though, no amount of sleight of hand is going to distract us from our woes.

And much as I celebrate any kind of humanitarian act, as more of us face those woes, it’s going to be harder and harder for the average US citizen to applaud elite celebs for pointing out another country’s hardships when we need hope and solutions here.

But I suspect you know that.

And while I don’t thank G-d for Wal-mart, I do thank G-d that my grandparents had the good sense and good fortune to escape from Russia when they did so an extremely grateful granddaughter like me could be born on US soil.