Skip to content

(cause)

The third pillar of Brand Aid is the cause. A spate of recent books examines the possibilities of whether a form of capitalism that is more creative and to scale, termed “philanthrocapitalism,” can solve both global and local problems that historically were subjected to political debate in democratic societies.

Brand Aid is predicated upon the notion that business can work effectively to promote international causes. Philanthrocapitalism, “creative capitalism” (as termed by Bill Gates), social entrepreneurship, and Brand Aid all work on solving existing problems—how “we” (in the West) mobilize resources to solve a problem instead of asking questions about how the problem came to be. In Brand Aid, we argue that Product (RED) enacts the myth of “just capitalism” to reconcile the contradictions of global wealth and poverty. It does so by portraying the idea that capitalism can be fixed to rein in its excesses and target its creativity and resources to help groups of “deserving others” (Africans suffering from AIDS). And in a period of economic crisis and financial insecurity, RED can still exploit the myth of just capitalism by portraying itself as a workable alternative to “casino capitalism” and as a modality where consumption and cool can be channelled toward a good cause.

Brand Aid and other forms of creative capitalism may be useful for solving existing problems when these are not acknowledged to be explicitly linked to the normal functioning of capitalism or the companies themselves. These sorts of initiatives will not be able to tackle problems to which businesses are closely linked. And the more resources go to ameliorating the symptoms, the less likely resources will go to examining the root causes of existing problems. Problems are created and understood only in the way that allows them to be solved by these interventions. Thus, in the RED example, AIDS in Africa can be thought of in no other way outside of the primacy of drugs.

The ‘Lazarus Effect’ campaign

RED weds a Western faith in science as it focuses on treatment technologies with a religious understanding of the burden of caring for deserving others.  RED relies on a non-sectarian, cultural Christianity, which is fundamental for much of the engagement of international development by non-Africans to fight AIDS in Africa. Drawing on Treichler’s work that the representations of AIDS are critical to shaping the possibilities for understanding, intervening and living with the disease, this chapter suggests that explicitly Christian referencing throughout the campaign is used as a foil, and perhaps a distraction, for the promotion of material values and perpetuation of stereotypes of African AIDS.  By pulling together the understandings of Western consumers that draw on cultural Christianity and the faith that Africans need their help, allows the possibility of believing that conscious consumption and ARV pills will save Africa.

We are also left somehow with visual finality, a sense of completion and closure that the domestic transformation is finished. Of course all of these Zambians live in a culture that values childbearing and fertility and would be likely to want to have more children when they are returned to health, but that would open up a difficult and complicated story about the possibility of reproducing while on AIDS treatment. (See, for example, “Gendering the Therapeutic Citizen: A View from South Africa” in Reproduction, Globalization and the State. Carole H. Browner and Carolyn F. Sargent, eds. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2011).

%d bloggers like this: