[Correction, 11/2/06: The percentage that AmEx Red donates to the Global Fund was incorrectly reported. See my note in paragraph 8.]
Africa’s poor had, like, the best week ever. Not since the days of khaki colonialism has buying Africa been so sexy, so fashionable. Early last week, Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie swooped into the village of Mphandula in Malawi and adopted 13-month old David Banda. Price tag for this celebrity accessory du jour: $3 million to anti-poverty programs and $1 million to produce a documentary on the plight of Malawi’s children, one million of whom are AIDS orphans (though little David is not, his father is very much alive and planned to reclaim the child until the Material Girl made an offer).
But don’t worry, if an African baby is too pricey for you (and conjures up undesirable associations to Angelina Jolie or slavery), then you can buy Red instead. Launched this week in North America, Bono’s campaign re-brands Motorola Rzr phones, Gap t-shirts, Armani sunglasses and Converse sneakers with the Product Red logo. Up to half of all profits will go to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS; a $199 Red Ipod Nano will, for example, lead to a $10 donation by Apple. Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Penelope Cruz, Christy Turlington, Chris Rock, Mary J. Blige and other celebrities have all endorsed the campaign. “Can a tank top change the world?” asks one Gap ad. In the UK, where AmEx Red donates 1% of all purchases to The Global Fund, the question was simply “Has there ever been a better reason to shop?”
Call me a curmudgeon but…Hello, hello? I’m at a place called vertigo. It’s not that I think Bono’s crusade has had a negative net impact on the fight against AIDS (though one could certainly make the case a la George Monbiot). And I’m not discouraging anyone who was already in the market for a $150 Gap denim jacket or Apple Ipod from buying Red. If you really need one, you might as well kick back a few bucks so that someone in Africa can live. But spare me the fantasy that shopping till you drop somehow affects radical change.