Harnessing Excess

Abby Zimet

For the skeptical or cynical, it was remarkable to see the
skillfully - and quickly - orchestrated star power that was last
night's Hope for Haiti Benefit. Almost 150 of the glitziest celebrities
of our glitz-soaked culture turned out to perform, answer phones, help
however they could – be, in short, mensches.

Between somber
performances by the biggest stars of the day - Springsteen, Bono, Mary
Bilge, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Jay-Z, etc etc - cameras panned over
all the likewise big, and often unlikely names, answering phones: Look,
there's Jack Nicholson! Reese Witherspoon! Robin Williams! Whoah,
what's that sleazebag Mel Gibson doing there? etc. Other big stars
awkwardly but good-heartedly told moving stories of great need,
children saved, acts of grace. Haitian-born rapper Wyclef Jean
insisted, "From the ashes we shall rise.''

Even before the
event - organized by Jean and George Clooney, clearly already a mensch
- Hollywood's biggest names had stepped forward. Pitt and Jolie gave a
million dollars to Doctors Without Borders. Leonardo Dicaprio and Julia
Roberts also donated a million. So okay: We inhabit a profoundly silly
and excessive celebrity culture obscenely out of sync with the rest of
the world. How refreshing, for once, to see the power of that excess
used for good.  

Last night's benefit is expected to raise over
$150 million. It is a drop in the bucket in the need of Haiti, to be
sure, but it helps. It also inevitably raises the painful question: If
this can be done for Haiti, why not Darfur, Congo, Sierra
Leone, all the suffering and little-noticed peoples in all the war-and-disaster-ravaged
places of the world? If a bunch of rich individuals can pull this off, why can't a group of rich countries do it?

is not a matter of resources; it is a matter of will, or lack of same.
And that's almost as much of a tragedy as an earthquake. What Clooney said
of Haiti could be said, in varying degrees, of anywhere: "This reaches across all borders,
all boundaries. It demands our attention, our help and our compassion."


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