Everybody Hurts?

This post was written by Richard on February 22, 2010
Posted Under: Charity,Music

The Haiti appeal song ‘Everybody Hurts’ is now the number one in the UK charts, and doubtless will be for a few more weeks at least, because that’s how number ones work now. So given that this is the most bought piece of music at the moment, I thought I’d give it a listen, along with the video.

The first thing is the choice of song. ‘Everybody Hurts’, as recorded by REM, was a vaguely moving song about the connection we can feel with each other as people all caught in the same mundane boring modern world. The moment in the original video of all the bored car drivers leaving their vehicles in the traffic jam in order to actually take a look at each other had a certain transcendentalism to it, an image of breaking through this dull suburban life, in the manner of American Beauty or Ian McEwan novels.

The use of the song to refer to Haiti, however, makes the gap between our dull suburbia and the terror of the earthquake situation so hideously obvious, that rather than being elated or dragged into a whirlwind of solidarity, I marvel at the crassness of the thing. “Everybody hurts sometimes” wail the richest-of-the-rich singers, as images of the true suffering of the Haitian people are projected before us. And of course, the singers then dispense advise to the victims – “when you feel you’ve had enough of his life… don’t throw your head in, take comfort from your friends.”

Then there’s the images – the usual war porn, the blood and the tears. But it’s all made worse by the skipping back and forth between these scenes of inexpressible tragedy in full colour and the Gucci style soft focus, black and white shots of the singers, blaring into their super-expensive recording equipment while a voice over complains about lack of medical equipment on the ground.

Finally, in the last scenes we have – in a moment reminiscent of that great spectacle of our era, 9/11 – the white firemen, digging and sweating and rescuing black children. As if the disempowerment weren’t complete, the closing shots show young Haitians smiling behind bars. Even their brief happiness has to be mediated through overtones of criminality and exclusion.

I could go on. (like trying to figure out what the editors thought they were doing when they spliced in the sounds of children screaming in time with the music.) But the real sharp point of this all is the fact that the ideological response of the ‘global community’ to the the Haitian people – which ignores the structural violence that has been committed for so long, proposing military intervention instead – not only has its politicians, financiers and activists. It also has an artistic creation which matches it moment for moment.

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Reader Comments

Point taken, but the desire to find something genuinely artistic amongst the bedraggled rags of popular culture is a trying call to arms at best. If you wanted sincerity, you probably need to look at something with less money thrown at it.

And at the end of the day, it’s one more way some very unfortunate people can be helped. The single is beyond rubbish, but that’s not really the point, it encourages people to help other people, you need to pick your battles.

PS: I still like most of what I read on here.

Written By Mark Anthony on February 22nd, 2010 @ 11:01 am

Thank you so much for this post. Finally a voice of reason about this song. You have given a voice to my own feelings of uncomfortableness with it all. Very well expressed. Nice one!

Written By Sara Hannam on February 22nd, 2010 @ 11:02 am

I haven’t seen the appeal in English but reading your description I cannot but fully agree with you.

Written By ALiCe__M on February 22nd, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

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