Rich people’s shit and other fun things in humanitarian pop culture

A few years ago, I wrote a paper about the brouhaha over Salma Hayek’s breastfeeding a Sierra Leonean baby. I delivered that paper a few places and it started a relatively long and fairly complicated relationship with what I’ve been calling “humanitarian popular culture.” Into this category, many things fit: the satirical Matt Damon’s Children ad on House of Lies; those episodes of “Will and Grace” where Grace’s boyfriend, Leo, works for MSF in Cambodia; and those ethically suspect ads on television that ask you to give 10 cents a day — or whatever they say the price of coffee is these days –to save the life of a sick, too-tired-to-swat-flies child. And let’s not forget Product (RED).

Each time I gave Salma Hayek boob talk, someone would ask me, usually once the crowd had dissipated, “Have you seen this?” followed by a description of some version of the white savior narrative in popular form. The last time I gave the talk, 2012, “this” was this. (Hint: It’s Kony 2012, for readers who really don’t want to give that thing any more clicks). And we all know how that one ended.

When I was preparing an early version of the talk, a close friend asked me whether I had heard about Salma Hayek’s involvement with the partnership between Pampers and UNICEF. Yes, of course there is an ad:

In the ad, we learn that for every time a (presumably white-ish, Western-ish) woman buys a pack of Pampers, a (presumably brown-ish) child in a poor country receives a vaccine. Or as my friend put it, “Basically some rich person’s shit is being transformed into lifesaving technology for poor people.” By the laws of syllogistic inference and transitivity: I buy this; I buy this precisely to shit in it; my buying this provides you a vaccine; a vaccine prevents your premature death; therefore, my shit saves your life.

Frankly: Here’s my shit; you’re welcome.

But wait: there’s more. American Standard’s Flush for Good campaign:


Oh, that Kevin!




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