Much to the dismay of modern and old-fashioned feminists everywhere (ditto fatwa-minded Nigerians), the beauty pageant is alive and well. Sure, it is sometimes called Ms. America and sometimes even disguised in Survivor loincloths. But don’t kid yourself kid, there is still fully-blown superficiality in them thar hills. Yet, inevitably tucked between the bikini walks and talent shows still exists the speech, sometimes referred to as the “community service platform” but really it is the pledge: to bring about world peace; to find a cure for AIDS, for cancer, for…obesity; to end discrimination, and so on. But usually, and more earnestly, is it simply to eliminate world hunger. Or to, as it is known in music circles, feeeeeed theeeee woooorld. Let them know it’s Christmas time.
The trick with the pageant platform, as in life (dinner table chatter: tragic what’s been happening in _________; doesn’t make sense in this day and age; pass the salt please) is that it is that first paving stone, one heap of asphalt, on the road to hell. Because Miss Vermont, or Miss New Brunswick, for that matter, is no closer to feeding the world than my dinner companions and I are, her good intentions are worse than apathy. And just ask six million Jews about apathy. Or roughly one million Rwandans. Or the Sudanese. Or poor people, anywhere. Or…oh, geez. Pass the salt.
Isn’t it funny how apathy seems such a sophisticated, complex word? Actually apathy is commonly defined as “emotional indifference” or “lack of interest or concern” (sociopath, in the briefest of definitions, refers to “individuals with little regard for the feeling or welfare of others...yikes, that’s tight). Therefore, technically, our dinner conversations are a moral loophole, and it seems that my little guilt burst is about inaction, not apathy. Yet and yet, how to quantify interest and concern in the parameters of a spoken sentence? Do-gooder. Now that’s a clean, straight-as-Stephen Harper word. No debate as to its meaning (and it is just your imagination that it is uttered on the edge of a snarl).
Worse than apathy is even merely hinting that you are doing some pro-active to solve the world’s problems. Why? ‘Cause if you say you are busy building communities and trucking grain to sustainable markets than I get to…well, be apathetic. Of course Miss Kentucky is not packing rice and petitioning corporations and aid groups to reconsider their food drops, so actually nothing is getting done. This is why Bono should be Miss America or Miss U.K.. Heck, he should have one big fat tiara on his head and some lovely long stems in his arms. And while we’re handing out tiaras, I fancy Jamie Oliver as Bono’s runner-up. As Doug Saunders reminds us, the “dirt-eating and nothing-eating poor” are sometimes no further than down your block. Oliver rolls up his sleeves, slaps flour with the lunch ladies and wham! bam! thousands of council children in Britain are eating better and the school lunch program gets a boost. Wow.
And it’s not just famous people: Joe Kloete, Paul Forman, Eugenia Muhayimana, Bob Geldof…oops, he is famous. Respectively, these do-gooders have rescued a young girl from a burning car, stood up to the Darfur regime while medically treating victims of various war-horrors, and become the loving mother of a ten-year old son, a boy who may or may not resemble his Hutu rapist father, un enfant de mauvais souvenir. Do-good does not cover such love. Do-god more like. Sir Bob, well, he gets enough publicity.
You see, I have done nothing, big fat zero. Even, or especially, writing about apathy is an exercise in self-flagellation that buys me more time in the do-nothing chair. I feel like Suess’ Bofa on the Sofa, but at least he acted as if he didn’t care. Remember that road to hell. My private embarrassment is that I would rather be able to plead ignorance than apathy. I could protest that Bono has the resources and the connections. Because, naturally, a rock star understands the economics of regionalized starvation and the logistics of humanitarian aid. No, it’s simply this: I am lame and Bono and Jamie, well, they are not. Watch out Miss Ireland; Bono puts his mouth where his bikini is… or something like that.
From New Orleans to Vancouver’s East End, all news is bad news these days as we head into the North American season of cold and wanting. The food drives begin some time around the candy-collecting time of All Hallow’s Eve. The fallacy being, of course, that people are hungrier ‘round Christmas than say……today. This year, I do, I really do, want to feed the world, but I am ignorant. I don’t know where to start. And as soon as the rest of those do-gooders call it quits, I’ll be off the sofa. Right with the rest of you lot.