On Friday February 16, Drake delivered his highly anticipated "God's Plan" video, taking a nearly one million-dollar budget and giving it all to those in need in Miami. Nothing new, as we have seen how Good Guy Drake has performed numerous acts of kindness many times before, like when he bought a recording studio for an underserved school in Philadelphia. As a matter of fact, with his new music video for “God's Plan" Drake seems to try to achieve a new level of generosity. However, is it really kind-hearted charity or a humanitainment spectacle? Or, perhaps, both?
I am a lean mean social media machine
Making a list of all the ways that social media has transformed our world would take ages. From searching for the right angle to appear more attractive on Instagram or having it appear as if you're having more fun than you actually are, social media triggers the narcissist in almost everyone. While the original goal of social media was to socialize and to maintain contact with others, people nowadays are more concerned with competing with each other for followers, likes, and retweets (Maag, 2014).
Masses of people are exploiting generosity as a means to project an idealized version of themselves into the wide open. They create an alter ego, the person that they wish they were, rather than who they really are (Maag, 2014). Every life event, however irrelevant to their online audience, becomes a source of self-promoting content (Eror, 2017). Think of the bizarre phenomenon of people wishing their mom a happy Mother’s Day even though she isn’t on social media. It might be that social media, where people more and more often act and behave like they are celebrities, fulfill the job of humanitainment.
The term humanitainment is used to describe celebrities who perform attention-grabbing acts of generosity (Kapoor, 2012). Examples are George Clooney addressing the UN, Nicole Kidman who spoke to the US Congress and perhaps the most famous example, Bono in Glasgow, intriguing his audience on stage by repeatedly clapping his hands together between songs and stating how every time he claps his hands, “a child in Africa dies."
Recently, there’s been a new trend of social media users posting online how they’re performing good deeds. In these popular stories people who’ve met a person in need help them out but before they leave, take a selfie and post it online (Cummings, 2016). A well-known example of this is the ice-bucket challenge, where people had to nominate three of their friends to dump a bucket of ice-cold water on their heads and subsequently donate money and raise awareness for the ALS charity.
Another good example is this 3-minute video where a man gives the waiter a $300 tip, after he asked the waiter how he’s doing. What is common to these videos is that these people try to act humble whilst acting generously to those in need. However, in the ice-bucket challenge for instance, only one out of ten people actually donated to the ALS charity, even though all ten happily shared their bucket challenge on their Facebook walls. In other words, in a spectacle society, these good deeds that people have the need to tell about online, don’t look like acts of righteousness at all, but rather like acts of self-righteousness. But what has Drake got to do with this?
In the music video for God’s Plan, Drake surprised families with money, gave away toys to children, donated $25,000 to the Miami Senior High School and even a dazzling $50.000 to the University of Miami. He said on Instagram that the video was the most important thing he has done in his entire career. Millions of fans were moved by the rapper’s generosity. The main idea for the music video came from a good place, namely, instead of spending thousands of dollars on a music video featuring fast cars and hot chicks, spending this money on people who need it. However, it could be argued that Good Guy Drake wasn’t as sincere as he appeared to be, but just participated as a celebrity in doing some ‘humanitainment’ whilst working on his celebrity ‘brand’.
Drake giving away his money might seem like an act of generosity, but it also illustrates the limit of his ‘big-hearted’ act.
Watching the music video, it could be argued that Drake is more interested in what could be called temporary interventions. The rapper for example spent an entire day with Odelie Paret, a 62-year-old mother of five who works as a housekeeper at a hotel (for a lousy $15 per hour). He took her out for a day of shopping at one of the largest warehouses in the States and to visit a spa, and at the end of the day took her out for dinner at a restaurant that cannot be described as cheap. Paret at first made it clear how she was more than grateful for what happened that day (Kornhaber, 2018).
However, not much later, she also made it apparent how ‘work was still on her mind’ when she finally arrived home late at night at around 1:30, her alarm going off three hours later at 4:30 in order for her to arrive at work on time. This shows how Drake might have relieved Paret of her daily concerns for one good day, but did little to have her overcome some of her struggles on a longer term. Drake spent a good $10,000 on the day which is a sum of money that might just as well have been spent on a car so that Paret wouldn’t have to take the bus every day, or to pay tuition for one of her children.
The problem with humanitainment
Drake giving away his money might seem like an act of generosity, but it also illustrates the limit of his ‘big-hearted’ act. Drake doesn’t actually address a more serious and structural problem in society, nor does he contribute to a solution to it. The video contributes to the wide gap that exists between the ‘elite’ and the ‘poor’, today more than ever. By donating money to individuals and helping some people with his money, he doesn’t actually invest in reducing the enormous wealth gap. Some people benefit from Drake paying for their groceries or their tuition, but a larger group still remains helpless. It could be argued that it would be much more fruitful to challenge the capitalist system that contributes to inequality structurally, and thus invest in the larger cause of overcoming poverty.
Tweeting about paying more taxes will probably not get you a lot of likes, but perhaps it will help to create a more just society?
Also, it can be argued that this form of giving is most comparable to humanitainment. Drake, in God’s Plan, can be described as the self-made celebrity he claims to be, helping others in need, but when you take a deeper look, the person that perhaps is helped the most is Drake himself. Humanitainment here covers up the wrongs of capitalism, therefore arguably enhancing them, and eventually making the circle of injustice complete, as the wealthy seem to profit once more (Kapoor, 2012). The music video that came along with Drake’s act of generosity came across as so self-promotional that the whole world started liking Drake more than ever, resulting in an increase in followers and streams of his other songs.
As God intended?
Just as the ice bucket challenge or the guy who gave a 300 dollar tip, Drake’s video exploits only the short-term positive effects of charity. Even more worrying is that not only celebrities are engaging in this form of humanitainment, but in some way, as a result of social media, the public is doing this as well. Instead of acting like generous celebrities on social media, we should think about the consequences humanitainment has for us as a society.
Also, we need to ask ourselves what the best way is to help the poor. Is it through philanthropy, where programs are designed to give poor people the skills they need to advance in life? Will charity reduce the gap between the elite and the poor? Or is the old-school concept of redistribution of wealth through taxes, where the rich structurally contribute to an equal society, still the preferred way to help those in need? What is clear, is that tweeting about paying more taxes will probably not get you a lot of likes, but perhaps it will help to create a more just society?
Cummings, P. (2016, March 4). One good reason to stop posting your good deeds on Facebook.
Eror, A. (2017, March 14). Social Media has Created a Generation of Self-obsessed Narcissists.
Kapoor, I. (2012). Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity. London, England: Routledge
Kornhaber, S. (2018, February 22). Drake and the Strange Spectacle of Charity.
Maag, A. (2014). Social Media Isn't Social; Rediscovering the Lost Art of Face-To-Face Communication. Phoenix, US: Sparkpress.