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.