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Live 8


Analysis > Live 8


In July 2005, I was at Live 8 in Hyde Park, London, rocking along to both the old-timers and their younger usurpers. A strange thing about it was that it was financed by a ticket lottery whereby you could see a veritable panoply of stars for potentially very little financial outlay. Like it's 1985 predecessor, Live Aid (which I missed by a whisker, but that's another story), Live 8 was built on high moral ambition with the third world, and particularly Africa, in mind. Even more than Live Aid, Live 8 sought to change minds: in particular the G8 countries who would soon be discussing third world debt. If they would cancel some of this crippling burden, argued Bob Geldof and his supporters (including UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) then the third world might find its way out of poverty.

So let's look at some of the things that were done to change a few minds.

Feeling good

What charity events do, from charity auctions to concerts such as Live 8, is to associate good feelings with good acts. You make a bid at a charity auction and are constantly told that this is a good thing (as you are admired and esteemed for doing so by everyone there). At the concert, good feelings were created first by the music and then associated with the cause both by being at the event and by the symbols and speeches.

Another effect of the associative good feelings is that whenever I hear the music again or think of the performers there, I will feel good and think of the cause again. Aside from the massive publicity, this is another reason why the stars appear for free at these events.

The symbol

The Live 8 logo is a guitar with the body in the shape of Africa and a number 8 woven around the neck. Like the name, it is an echo of the well-known Live Aid symbolism. It appears everywhere and cues nostalgic memories of feeling good and helping.

The celebrity speeches

Between each act, a celebrity came on to speak, ranging from comedians to world leaders. Kofi Anan makes a short speech of thanks. David Beckham, a footballer known more for his golden boots than his intellect speaks credibly from the heart (how could such a simple man lie?). Bill Gates, no less, adds brain power with a longer speech.

Even the singers (who again have very varying eloquence) often say a few words.

What's happening here? We want to be like celebrities, and so bond ourselves to them. When they speak, it is us speaking. When they associate themselves with a cause, we also associate like them.

The Geldof effect

Bob Geldof has an engaging combination of thoughtful concern and naive openness. He cares about the issues to do something about them. Like the Good Samaritan, he does not pass things by. This engenders trust as his care for the needy implies that he would care for us too.

Then he speaks with an open passion about the subject. Not a distant eloquence, but raw and from the heart. His simple phrasing also increases trust: he clearly has not thought before about what he is saying, and so cannot be trying to deceive or impress. And he prods us, saying clearly what we should do, like the Emperor's new clothes, there is no escaping our guilt. The only way to assuage our sins of omission is to act.

The survivor

One of the most emotional parts of the concert was when they showed distressing scenes of a dying girl in 1985. Geldof then railed at critics who said that his previous work was to no avail, and when a beautiful woman was brought on stage, he announced that this was that dying girl.

The effect was electrifying and was something that most people will remember more than most of the remarkable musicians.

In a stroke, Geldof had reduced the anonymity of starving millions to a single person, with whom it was very easy to relate.

The fact that she spoke clear words of thanks in her own language only added to the effect. To round it off, Madonna sung 'Like a prayer' to her, including a subtle positioning of the woman as the Christ-figure from the song. 'I hear your voice, it's like an angel sighing', she sang as she held the woman's hands and looked into her eyes.

With a song, Madonna had elevated her to sainthood. And elevated the cause and us with it, of course.


And so a billion or so people rocked on through the night as the concert and its images were televised to more people than any previous event. The reach of music is enormous and it was used to massive effect here. When billions pay attention, politicians take notice too. The G8 made concessions and other countries took note.

I told everyone I knew that I was there, cementing further my need to act and think consistently. And so the effect ripples on through time.

Was I changed? Yes. Could I see what was happening to me? Yes. Perhaps the cleverest thing of all was that I don't mind.

See also

Consistency, Association principle


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