Why I Won’t Be Watching Children In Noses Day

If you want to give to charity, good for you, go ahead and do it, but you don’t need a massive forced-fun day of torture to do good.

Every year, we have “Children in Need” and every couple of years “Comic Relief”, big telethons which raise millions of pounds for “charity”. These events have become bigger and bigger, with participation practically mandatory in some places as a day of sponsored “fun” raises sums to “do good”.

I hate them. Let me tell you why.

If you want to give money or time to charity, go ahead and do it. Nobody’s stopping you. Go on, go and make a contribution. Do it without drawing attention to yourself. Do it without turning it into a massive self-publicity drive.

But when you do something for one of the Big Two, you’re getting your name associated with a high profile event. Nobody sane would ordinarily sit in foodstuffs, but when there’s a chance you could feature on BBC Look Into Your Navel and (even!!!) get interviewed by some desperate reporter trying to seek meaning in the caustic foam of reality, then people are positively queuing up to shower in beans, swim in custard and scrub their arm pits with rice pudding. Or shave their heads. “Look at me, I’m a good person!”

If you don’t want to give money, but are persuaded to part with your hard-earned cash because some person you’ve never heard of takes child abuse and poverty so seriously that they’re willing to sacrifice themselves by dressing as a clown for the day or going for a run or baking some substandard fairy cakes then I question whether we’ll ever get rid of child abuse and poverty and exploitation and bullying and bigotry. And I wonder what sort of person you are if you insist someone makes a tit of themselves before you consider helping those who are vulnerable in society.

What I basically see at each of these events is a series of celebrities – some of whom I’ve even heard of! – queuing up to be associated with Something Good. And on prime time! You can’t buy that sort of publicity. Except by whoring yourself out to be a bit silly or by, basically, doing what you normally do but because it’s for charity it’s somehow better than when you normally do it.

One Direction, for example, are only funny when there’s a chance they might actually die. Let’s set them loose in Afghanistan where angry warlords can hunt the tuneless, talentless teenagers down and make fine handbags out of their flawless skins.

I didn’t like David Brent the first time around, and it strikes me bizarre that a campaign which makes a point of challenging bullying would resurrect a bully to raise money for it. The same goes for Alan “You’re Fired, But It’s Funny” Sugar. Or Red Nose Bake Off. Or Strictly Come on Pudsey.

Or the Grate Brutish Menu (where the premise is that the food has to have a punchline, which apparently doesn’t include anyone punching the comedy guest judge who adds nothing at all to the show except for the way they hoover up the food). Or anyone of fifty million other “for charity” spin offs which absolutely aren’t produced on the predicate they will result in an increased viewership for their actual show. You know, the one which doesn’t have a ridiculous reference to the charity du jour tacked on to it like a pimple on a fat arse.

Then there’s the fact that both of these events are corporate PR stunts. The BBC is associating itself with a charity in order to engender a sense of common values with its viewers and to extend it’s social licence. This is like BP sponsoring cultural so that people who go to the opera think “oh, BP like Tosca too, so killing millions of birds and fish in the Gulf of Mexico is OK!” or McDonald’s and Coca-Cola sponsoring the worlds biggest sports day so they can crush local competitors.

What’s worse is that they don’t even have to spend much to get the PR return. The work is done, on the ground, by schools and shops all hoping to cash in so that some of the social cachet rubs off on them like a pervert on the underground at rush hour. Hint: schools are for learning, not for doing the BBC’s marketing for them.

Here’s an actual conversation which might not have happened in a local shop recently:

Shop assistant: “Would you like to buy a raffle ticket for this hamper?”

Me: “Not really.”

SA: “It’s for Children in Need.”

Me: “Looks like they’ll still be needy then.”

SA: “You could sponsor our manager who is going to dress up as Pudsey for the day!”

Me: “I’m here to buy lunch, not see someone embarassing themselves.”

SA: “But you’ve seen him now, you’ve got to pay.”

Me: “What, are you going to hold me hostage?”

Possibly more important is the fact that as grant-giving bodies, both Comic Relief and Children in Need pay for their own administrative overheads (Children in Need spent £4.4 million of a total of a total income of £46.1 million in 2009/10), to give money to charities which also have to pay for their administrative overheads (generally also around 10% of revenues). “All funds raised go to grants” may be true, but what that actually means is that your donations are invested (ie. given to the banks) and that the interest your money earns goes to administration costs.

It’s not like the money is likely to be spent locally. Little Jimmy might be selling stale rice crispie cakes in his local school, but even if your local community raises a decent amount of money, there’s no guarantee that the money is spent locally. Instead of spreading the money around the country, why not focus it on local projects and reduce the expenditure on admin costs in the process?

And what if they spend the money on something you don’t want to spend your money on? Children in Need gave a grant to the charity which sued the government because they wanted children to have the right to wear a hijab in school, by which I mean “who’s parents wanted the right to force their children to wear sexist clothes which they claim are supported by their religion”. Regardless of your view on this topic, there’s bound to be something they’ve given money to which gets your back up.

If you want to give money to charity, by all means do so. Choose a local charity which makes a difference where you live. Even better, contribute your time to help improve your area, make new friends. It’ll do a hell of a lot more good than these massive telethons.

But don’t turn it into a self-serving PR stunt.


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About David Waldock

Open University graduate, health and life science at undergraduate level, science and society at post-graduate. Interested in how the Internet is transforming the ways in which the public(s) engage with science(s). Also interested in "the skeptical movement" as a form of science activism and it's effectiveness in achieving its goals. Interested in the representation of LGB types in science and in the periscience communities. Work for a well known and loved public institution. Views are mine and not necessarily my employers.

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