Commoditizing charity


Giving to have neat little trinkets or pink clothes is not giving for the right reasons

My dad’s a pretty big sports fan. Since we’re dealing with another NHL lockout, there’s been a lot of football on in my house. And, if you’ve even glimpsed at a football game this month –whether you’re into sports or not – you’ve probably noticed the players donning pink gloves, shoes, and armbands. Even the TSN logo in the corner of the screen is pink. There is a reason for this (other than creating an aesthetic nightmare) – that reason being October is breast cancer awareness month.

As well, you can buy all the traditional CFL gear, but now in pink. However, the pink CFL merchandise does not symbolize breast cancer awareness; it symbolizes selfishness and the need to brazenly display one’s implied nobility. Buying these products shows you care.

Two words in the last sentence are the crux of this issue, “buying” and “show”. Caring is done so in the quintessential capitalist action and made effortless. It is now a commodity. Caring about a cause is now something you can purchase, and it’s as easy as buying groceries. “Virtues are in aisle twelve, just next to the baking items,” says the store clerk. Effort is erased from this issue and replaced with western society is best at – consuming.

Furthermore is the issue with “show” – the need to advertise the good in oneself.

This creates a false sense of nobility. The colours on the screen grab you and say, “Look at me. Look at the good I’m doing. What a good organization the CFL is”. The qualm here is not with the CFL or TSN specifically as I’m simply using them as examples, but rather the issue is with the larger idea of creating a public exhibition of one’s virtues.

You don’t buy an “I Love Boobies” bracelet because you give a shit about cancer research. You buy an I Love Boobies bracelet because it says, “Look at how much I care!” with the minimal (and I argue insufficient) amount of actual caring. And, conveniently, when someone questions your bracelet, the accusation is easily deflected with, “It’s for cancer awareness, bro”.

If this weren’t the case, what would the point of creating something that says you contributed to such and such organization? If you truly cared, the necessity of gaining something that says you donated would be superfluous. The requirement for this type of merchandise campaign would not exist if people actually cared about giving.

Being a “good person” means doing noble actions because they are inherently good – not because of how said actions reflect on one’s person. Giving to charities is possible without receiving something that declares what a swell person you are. No charity will turn down your generosity if you fail to publicly display it. Only in some strange, bizarro world would the following conversation unfold:

“Hi, here’s a cheque I’d like to donate to your charity.”

“Great! Here’s your neon sign of altruism.”

“I really don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

“Well, then we cannot accept your donation.”

You don’t have to hide noble actions, but you shouldn’t be flaunting them either. Denying the fact that you’ve donated to a charity is absurd, but so is advertising your donation.

This issue is illustrated nicely in one of the oldest pieces of western literature: “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them … do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do … to win the praise of others” (Matthew 6: 1-2). The validity of this passage arises not because some feel it’s the supposed word of God; its validity come from the illustration that “blow[ing] a trumpet before you … to win the praise of others” makes you an asshole. Doing a good deed in order to win the praise of others negates the nobility of the action because the action is done not because it’s seen as inherently good; the action is done out of selfishness. It’s done to further one’s own social prestige and polish the outward image of oneself.

Concern for the sick has morphed into something tangible, which is infused with two aspects that are permeated throughout western society: consumerism and appearance. And, I hope you can excuse me now; I’ve got to go tweet some pictures of me in my new pink Rider toque.

Paul Bogdan
A&C Editor

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