The Benefit of Benefits
“Guinnessport,” is not a British drinking game. It’s a new sport/lifestyle choice that fetishizes (and glorifies) obsessive-compulsive behavior. Guinnessport contestants compete to hold the most certified records in the Guinness Book of World Records, including the record for holding the most records (367, at present). Activities like cycling underwater. Carrying a brick in one hand at waist level. Standing on one foot. Clapping.
The top Guinnessport athletes hold more than 100 of these records simultaneously. To accomplish serially and consistently such arduous feats usually requires extensive training periods. As with most athletic pursuits, to be a successful Guinnessportsman means devoting most of your waking hours to nothing but Guinnessport. Your life’s work is to set soon-to-be-broken records.
The cynics among us might be tempted to point out that Guinnessport is a colossal waste of time and energy, and that this maniacal (and egocentric) pursuit of trivial glory is the perfect symbol of Modern Life. We toil, we acquire, we consume – and it accomplishes what? The optimists among us will say that it’s a testament to the Human Spirit and the power of will. Others will simply shrug and say, “I don’t get it.”
What and what isn’t a colossal waste of time and energy will always be a subjective judgment call. One thing we can agree on, though, is that time and energy are indeed being used inefficiently (and thus wastefully) when we make the mistake of calling something what it isn’t instead of what it really is.
NASCAR auto racing is an excellent platform on which corporations interested in selling things can advertise their products. But it would be wrong to call NASCAR “a progressive communications medium.” If, for instance, the message you wished to communicate was environmental sensitivity, frugal consumption of vanishing natural resources, and social justice, sponsoring a NASCAR race car would involve an unfortunate collision of philosophical underpinnings.
Likewise, if what you’re trying to do is quickly raise money for disaster victims, money with which they ostensibly can buy food, clothing and shelter, it appears antithetical to your intended mission if you’re simultaneously spending large amounts of money – money with which they can buy food, clothing…
Unfortunately, this is how benefit concerts work. As a talent manager with my little record label, I’m asked on a weekly basis to provide artists for a variety of benefits. While everyone certainly starts with his heart in the right place – wanting to help fellow human beings in need – what actually happens with most benefit concerts is that an enormous amount of money is spent to raise a proportionally small amount of money. The intended recipients of the charity funds would be far better off if the GDP of the miniature economy that sprouts around a benefit concert were directed directly to their bank accounts, with numerous layers of bureaucracy cut out of the game.
They’d also be far better off if the rest of the world considered what social responsibility we bear for forcing our fellow human beings to live in areas prone to mudslides, hurricanes, and other predictable calamities. But that’s another essay altogether…
Normally, producers of benefit concerts request that performers waive or greatly reduce their performance fees. (This is considered a kind of charitable donation of the star’s time and talent.) If they properly sell the benefit of doing the benefit — giving back to the community; doing something constructive for those in need; helping – the producers can often assemble a cast of stars on one sensational bill, and at cost that’s a fraction of the retail talent fee. This is beneficial – to the producers and their resumes.
It can be beneficial for the performers, too. Especially those seeking positive publicity for their good deeds. Sure, they often don’t get paid, or get paid an “honorarium.” But their image is nicely burnished in that unique way that charitable donations do their burnishing.
So even though most everyone involved in producing the benefit concert is working at a steeply reduced rate, tickets still cost what they normally cost, and sometime more. Patrons who would like to see the stars the producer has assembled to aid their charity of choice buy tickets, sometimes very expensive tickets. Some of that money goes to the intended charity. Some of it goes to cover the expenses (travel, lodging) of the performers. Some of it goes to pay musicians and other support staff. Some of it offsets production expenses. After all the necessary and proper deductions, what’s left is often a small percentage of the gross. By any measure, benefit concerts are not an efficient way to deliver charitable donations to those in need.
That doesn’t mean benefit concerts aren’t beneficial. Nearly everyone involved benefits in some way. Everyone donating benefits: the producers, the performers, and even the audience, who often get their picture taken on red carpets with stars, and who get the added value of “doing something supportive” with their money while getting to see a concert to which they would have otherwise bought a ticket with no altruistic added value. And even if money doesn’t flow to typhoon and earthquake victims efficiently, at least the suffering beneficiaries learn that they’re being thought about with an intensity of care that’s almost never directed their way in less disastrous times.
So, yes, benefit concerts are nice. They feel good. But if it’s results you’re after, benefit concerts are somewhat like the performing arts equivalent of Guinnessport, in which a colossal amount of time and energy are applied toward esoteric pursuits, for reasons that aren’t altogether clear.