The Live8 Debate

1 July 2005

The Live8 concert series starts tomorrow (July 2) and the media frenzy is in full swing. The concert is represented publicly by Sir Bob Geldof, the rock star who brought us LiveAid in 1985. Behind the scenes are "unsung heroes" Kevin Wall (producer) and Harvey Goldsmith (promoter) whose media angle, it seems, is “superlatives, superlatives, superlatives.” And a lot of figures, mostly really big ones.

“Every single day, 30,000 children die, needlessly, of extreme poverty” laments the Live8 site. “On July 6th, we finally have the opportunity to stop that shameful statistic.” Let’s throw in some more numbers, shall we? There will be 8 men at the G8 conference. There will be 10 Live8 concerts in 10 different countries: the UK, Edinburgh, France, Germany, Italy, the US, Canada, Japan, South Africa, and Russia. The concerts will feature (all together) 100 artists, with live audiences of 1,000,000 and an estimated 2 billion viewers throughout the world. Broadcasts will apparently be accessible to a potential audience of 5.5 billion people, or 85 percent of the world's population. Live 8 is, in the words of the site, “attract: The largest ever TV audience; The busiest website in the world; The largest ever online petition - The Live 8 list; The largest ever text petition; The largest ever response to a TV show”.

Those who are feeling dizzy needn’t worry: Live8 proclaims that there is just one message: “to get those 8 men, in that 1 room, to stop 30,000 children dying every single day of extreme poverty.” Did we mention 30,000 children die daily of extreme poverty?

The Live8 is a high-rolling affair whose aim is not fundraising – all concerts are free – but astronomical audience numbers, which will ostensibly send a strong message. Acts like U2, Madonna and Coldplay can hardly fail to attract their share of fans – many non-political and unaware of the G8 itself.

Media outlets have jumped on the chance to bump up their numbers (or, less cynically, to contribute to the anti-poverty campaign); AOL has announced that they will stream the concert live, Technorati has initiated a central Live 8 blog site, and MTV and VH1 have announced they will telecast eight hours of tomorrow’s concerts live. MTV did the same for LiveAid in 1985, and has said they have not gone live for this long since Woodstock 99.

Religious audiences are not safe from the deluge either; Bob Geldof has approached Pope Benedict XVI to ask his support for the concert; in America, Pat Robertson recently appeared on Nightline to push for the Make Poverty History campaign.

Perhaps all these big numbers are responsible for the disdainful and skeptical responses of commentators, many of whom have criticized the campaign for not pushing for direct giving and for providing musicians with unneeded publicity. Big numbers and big names divert attention, it is argued, from the issues at hand. The chumminess of Geldof and Blair is disparaged by opposition groups (like Dissent) who would like everyone to wake up and protest the Summit.

Live 8’s organizers have also faced criticism for the lack of diversity of their performers, causing them to add Johannesburg as a concert site with African musicians (perhaps an unsatisfying solution).

Is the Live 8 (and the G8 itself) an imperialist project? Read this openDemocracy forum post by Courtney Hamilton for that argument.

I suppose we can at least hope the Live 8 can provide some respite from the summit itself: "G-8 summits are mind-numbingly boring," Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, said at an event last week. "Nothing happens at them by and large."

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