Global Citizen Festival validates slacktivismPosted on October 3, 2013 | by Omar Etman
The Global Citizen Festival returned to New York City for a second time last Saturday to much fanfare and acclaim. And why not? An opportunity to enjoy Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Kings of Leon free of charge, and help eradicate poverty, is worthy of excitement, right?
Not so fast.
The lure of the heavily publicized Central Park concert is understandable, but it also undermines the intrinsic rewards and extrinsic impacts that comes from substantive humanitarian work. Winning tickets to last weekend’s show involved entering a lottery, but this process was not simple. After registration, potential concert attendees are encouraged to watch videos, sign petitions and share posts on social networking sites to earn points. Eight points guaranteed one entry in the lottery. Such a system demands feigned interest and an inordinate amount of free time to watch long videos and read insubstantial articles about improving maternal health.
During the daylong event, speakers and musicians echoed sentiments touted on the website. Concertgoers were repeatedly told that they were saving the world. Really? Being drunk on the Great Lawn and humping a nearby audience member to the tune of “If I Ain’t Got You” is saving the world? The problem with negligible participation in humanitarian causes, and being wrongly told again and again that it is impactful, is that it weakens the necessity for active involvement. Why donate further when it takes minimal effort to save the world? While the Global Citizen Festival is a profitable event and raises considerable funds for worthy causes, it discourages contribution past the most basic level.
In the Oxford Dictionary, slacktivism is defined as “actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement.” The Kony 2012 movement was slacktivism, a feel-good undertaking with little practical impact, and so is Global Citizen’s effort. But this is not to say that slacktivism should end. Slacktivists have ignited important conversations that have the potential to blossom into meaningful change. The Global Citizen Festival has brought needed exposure to issues, such as poverty, gender inequality and child mortality, that are resolvable, but the commercial altruism the concert engenders makes few strides toward finding legitimate solutions. It serves the charity’s operators more than the struggling children on the other end. Saving the world isn’t easy, and Global Citizen shouldn’t trick people into thinking it is.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 3 print edition. Omar Etman is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.