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They Aren’t the World

Having survived the past 25 years without ever having written the words “we,” “are,” “the,” and “world” in that sequence in a sentence, I am bringing up the oppressively overhyped Haiti-earthquake version of that anthem of superstar piety only because it connects to some of the issues I’ve started to discuss here over the past few weeks. There is not much to say that’s worth saying about the recent video, which brings Quincy Jones together with a digitally generated avatar of Michael Jackson and a surgically generated facsimile of Lionel Richie. All the singers Jones had rounded up in the Eighties—then-hot names such as Huey Lewis and Cyndi Lauper, along with some who were already veterans (Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, and Stevie Wonder)—have been replaced by iTunes-era people such as Justin Bieber, Jennifer Hudson, and Lil Wayne, along with old-timers who hadn’t made it to the studio the first time around (Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett). The song, updated by Richie and to name-check the Haiti crisis, is as awful as ever—unctuous sloganeering unenhanced, aesthetically, by nostalgia for the original or due empathy for the tragedy in Haiti. It is less a song, really, than a jingle for the product of pop star sanctimony. I am not going to provide a link to the video, because I don’t want to enable this sort of thing. (Contributions to the ongoing relief efforts can be made at I would like to point out with some video evidence that neither the recent update of “We Are the World” nor the version from 1985 qualifies as the first or the most unfortunate mash-up of the celebrity culture and social consciousness. Behold, from a miraculous evening in the mid-Sixties, how Debbie Reynolds rang out love between the brothers and the sisters in her dance team, all over TV land.

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