Because temporary pity doesn’t bring security for the future
by Whitney McGuire
December 1st, 2006 was an overcast day, but that didn’t deter me from venturing across campus to see famed rapper Ludacris speak to the GW community about the AIDS pandemic. I made my way across campus skipping one class, I must admit, to hear what Ludacris could possibly say about such a pressing issue. I admit I was skeptical. Aside from getting an HIV test the day before, I decided to wear my overpriced “INSPI(RED)” t-shirt from the (PRODUCT)RED line begun by U2’s Bono as an attempt to show my support for the AIDS pandemic and to vainly draw attention from Luda to myself. I entertained the latter thought very briefly. I digress.
Well I certainly didn’t get attention from Ludacris, but what I got was an increase in my initial skepticism about this visit in general. Prior to attending this event, I laughed candidly with friends about the notion of Ludacris giving a speech about AIDS. I even dissuaded my boss, involuntarily, from going to the event by telling her that he was not coming to perform, but he was in fact coming to talk to us. I couldn’t help but think to myself after these incidents, “really, why was Ludacris coming to speak to us (read: seemingly health savvy/ able to afford HIV and AIDS drugs- college students) about the pandemic”?
My thoughts stayed with me as the lights in the theater dimmed. Flash bulbs from area newspapers and magazines sporadically illuminated the darkness. The clapping of the audience subsided as the likes of Charlize Theron, Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child, Ashley Judd, and of course Ludacris graced a projection screen in front of us imitating the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” gestures that made three monkeys famous at one point. I digress once more. These A-list celebrities urged us (once again, seemingly health savvy/ able to afford HIV and AIDS drugs) college students to become aware of the AIDS pandemic and to give — the optimal word here– to a worthy cause by purchasing a trinket, a necklace of some sort (which was probably made in China, but that’s an unfair assumption) at your nearest ALDO shoe store for only $5.00! I along with other audience members became increasingly uncomfortable as the faces appeared more frequently and everything else they were saying seemed to be edited to repeat the optimal word give or better yet, buy. At this point, my INSPI(RED) shirt became less and less appealing.
From this event I learned that Ludacris became aware of the sense of urgency to educate others about the AIDS pandemic while filming his “Pimpin’ all Over the World” video in South Africa (The irony is just too overwhelming right now. Hopefully he was prophylactic-ally protected while he was doing all of that “pimpin!’” I digress once again.) He mentioned that DC was one of the most infected cities in North America (1 out of 20 DC residents is infected with the virus according to the Center for Disease Control); therefore his visit to GW was somewhat warranted, aside from Sigma Phi Epsilon’s push to showcase this event as a philanthropic effort (Kudos to them by the way for raising over 30,000 dollars for this cause. Trust me we were reminded quite often of their generous donation).
The audience was quite receptive. No one heckled Ludacris about his promiscuous lyrics, partially because he forewarned the audience that he practices safe sex and that his lyrics such as “shake your money maker” are about having fun, and partially because we didn’t really care about the speaker’s image– that’s more for universities like Northwestern and Harvard. We just wanted to know what more we could do to increase the education about this pandemic in our own city. Several statements were made that seemed to follow the same grain: “GW students are typically not from DC, able to afford health care, and are extremely educated about the risk of contracting HIV and AIDS. The majority of people mentioned in the former statistic are not here at GW, but in the greater DC community.” These statements were ignored by the expert from Youthaids.org sitting to Ludacris’s left.
The commercialization of the AIDS pandemic has become a temporary attempt to garner attention to a permanent—although, hopefully, a weakening—problem. Julie Potyraj, a sophomore here at GW, says that these A-Listers might think that “it’s cool to help [the poor]” but this fad “only helps as long as people are interested. The fate of impoverished children lies at the mercy of the Hollywood A-List and commodity hungry spenders.”
What I couldn’t get out of my mind was this internal dilemma; I don’t believe that these marketing campaigns make me feel any more secure about the future of this pandemic. I would have been more moved by hearing a testimony from an actual HIV/ AIDS survivor than celebrities. But on the other hand, I’m so glad that these proceeds are going towards this cause. It seems, however, that that is where it stops. What is the cause? Is it AIDS education within the inner city, the city in which we undeniably reside? Is it pressuring various African governments to start instituting AIDS awareness programs? I am not sure. The various non-profit organizations that were present that day seemed to offer more suggestions as to treatment, prevention and volunteer opportunities than the “expert” and rapper on the stage. The popularization of this pandemic has become, as Julie stated, cool. Let’s face it, sex sells, even if it kills you. I, like Julie, just hope that people will still care “after Madonna stops adopting African Children” and after ALDO finds something else to market. The fate of this pandemic should not lie at the mercy of Hollywood’s A-List.