I just bought my first iPod, a tiny iPod Shuffle. Since I bought it online, I was able to get a pretty dark red one instead of silver or pastel. It was a web exclusive. A red iPod doesn't really seem remarkable, but this wasn't just a red iPod: it was a Product (RED) iPod.
Product (RED) (hereafter PR, as the full name is hard to type) was conceived by such luminaries as Oprah and Bono as a way to raise funds for AIDS treatment in Africa. The PR website features a "manifesto" that talks about choice, as in, we all have a choice whether to help poor AIDS sufferers in poor dark backward Africa.
Forgive my cynicism. I'm idealistic. I always thought donating was something you did to help others, not to brag about helping others by flaunting your PR products. Actually, I wonder how much "help" really goes to the AIDS relief effort. A dollar per product? A penny?
PR is an overt marketing ploy. It's brilliant, really: it feeds on Western consumer culture by making the purchase of unnecessary stuff -- already a noble pursuit -- into a bona fide virtue. No sacrifice necessary! Just buy the stuff you would already buy, except you get the privilege of imagining that you are actually making a donation -- although you don't pay any extra for the product you buy. Of course not -- remember, there's no sacrifice necessary! And you get to feel like such a generous, righteous soul without slowing down your material lifestyle.
Yes, I bought a PR iPod. As I said, I liked the color. Yes, I hope some of the purchase price actually helps someone. But no, the availability of PR did not make me buy the player -- I already planned on it -- and emphatically no, I don't think I did any great or generous thing by buying it.
Coming soon: Organs -- they're not just for donating anymore!