It was January 16, 2010, and eight of the roughly 17 channels I receive on my 13-inch TV/VCR combo were tuned to Kid Rock (Alright Detroit!) mouthing a rendition of “One Love.” Four days prior, a titanic 7.0 magnitude earthquake rumbled outside Port au Prince, Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands dead, millions homeless, scores wounded, and me with nothing to watch on basic cable.
The Haitian earthquake is the most extreme recent example of a Fad Cause, that is, a time-sensitive period of reaction to a horrific event that permeates American popular culture. The reaction to an event such as an earthquake, a flood, or a epidemic disease is considered to be a “fad” simply for the fact at the end of the day, the earth keeps turning, and life goes on for the rest of us. The human consciousness is not vast enough, nor are their enough hours in the course of a day to warrant giving all the causes out there in the world (or beyond) the amount of attention those closest to their wake feel they demand. Our limited capacity to consciously care is what allows us to function with some level of sanity. If we cared about everything there is to care about, we’d all go mad.
“Fads” come and go based on two factors, the first being the initial catalyst, and the second being what happens in the world immediately following the event. Take the 2005 flooding of New Orleans. The tragedy captured the hearts and minds of millions, and immediately following the hurricane, no major event occurred on a scale large enough to cause Katrina’s relevance to dip in popularity. The storm gave liberals something else to use against an already-despised president, it facilitated a dialogue on still-pressing concerns in American social relations, and it gave the media something other than the two wars to talk about. Yet with such phenomena as the economic downturn, swine flu, the events leading up to Obama’s election, the death of Michael Jackson, and the Olympics, Katrina has steadily migrated from the forethought to being an afterthought of the collective American consciousness. Though the city is still in the process of recovering to a pre-flood status, one would be hard-pressed to find a headline or featured story recently published regarding continued efforts in the Bayou. While the rehabilitation of New Orleans could benefit from a return to its past perch atop US collective consciousness, it is simply old news. Other examples of past fads are abound: The memorial at Ground Zero? Everyone dying of pig flu? Even Gorean global warming seems to have dropped off the populous map.
While it is inevitable for the public to pack up their populous interest bags and move on down to the next station (take the earthquake in Chile), this migration is even better reflected in the lives of actual survivors. While the fascination of the public may shift from one circumstance to another (hello, coup d’etat in Kyrgyzstan!), an effected population is temporarily removed from this vicious cycle of interest, instead centered on a return to normalcy. A former resident of Port au Prince, for example, is probably more concerned about adequate food, water, and healthcare for their children than they are with the revelation that the main departure point for the American war in Afghanistan is now an anarchist state.
One can only care about so much, and so the key is choose about what one is going to care and why. This is why Lespwa Fè Viv: A Benefit for Haiti is so important. The fundraising event, presented tonight, Thursday April 8 at Stetson Chapel, challenges the notion of the Fad Cause in a bold statement that there is no time like the present to rekindle compassion about an unresolved conflict, regardless of whether or not celebrities are still tweeting about it. Wonderfully timed not quite three months after the initial catastrophe, Lespwa Fè Viv (“Hope Makes One Live”) will use a combination of song, poetry, and cultural story to paint a picture of a Haiti still deserving of respectful foreign financial and moral compassion.
“It’s amazing that they still exist, [when considering] the things they’ve overcome as a nation,” says Amelia Liang, K ’10, a founding organizer of the event.
Liang rejects the popular viewpoint that Haiti’s condition prior to the earthquake was strictly a result of domestic turbulence and political corruption. “A reoccurring theme in US [media] coverage of Haiti is seeing Haiti as an isolated nation, a static, unchanging nation,” Liang said. “These articles speak of the poverty of Haiti, the mortality of Haiti, etc., etc., but they don’t consider the US government’s role in it. A lot of the articles I read didn’t even mention that we occupied their country for 19 years and rewrote their constitution. A lot of them don’t mention the fact that we were responsible for the ousting of one of their only democratically elected presidents in the ’90s and again in the 2000s. They don’t mention that we funded the Duvalier dictatorship for 30 years. I find that problematic.”
While maintaining popular concern for Haiti has been a key struggle for Lespwa Fè Viv, their 138 group members on Facebook points to a positive reception. They hope for the benefit to use cultural understanding in order to reinvigorate awareness of the need of continued support for our rebuilding neighbor to the South. “My biggest hope is to make a lot of money, quite frankly,” Liang said, “but my second hope is to make people think about Haiti, and to spark an interest in some of the audience so they continue to know more about Haiti. It’s a fascinating country that showcases so many of the problems we have today with a global economy. [I hope for them] just to think about Haiti and why it is the way it is today.”
It is April 8, 2010. I turn on the TV, and there is nothing whatsoever on about Haiti. And that’s OK. What is not OK is to forget about the people there whose lives Mother Earth forever altered three months ago. Lespwa Fè Viv shows our ability as a community to transcend society’s constant influx of new Fad Causes and revisit an old friend in the name of a global community.