Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Curse of Bono

'Every time I clap, a child dies in Africa,' Bono intoned. 'So stop clapping,' yelled a voice. (Sunday Telegraph, 19 November 2006).

Ever since Live Aid back in the 1980s during the Ethiopian famine, there has been more and more involvement by celebrities in charity campaigns and non-party political campaigning, especially around third world issues and the green movement. Although it rises and falls in the "cool" ratings, the environment remains a favourite for many of these characters.

Yet their relationship with those genuinely engaged long term in their campaigns of choice is often, to say the least, uncomfortable and often counter-productive.

Bob Geldof, washed up on the far shores of has-been pop stardom, was an undoubted power in conceiving and driving Band Aid forward to what was a generally successful programme (though not without some qualification - but it is too easy to snipe sometimes). Band Aid and Live Aid saved lives and at least temporarily raised awareness of the issues around Third World poverty. That was the good side.

The down side was that it presented an easy solution.
"Never mind the address, just send the f***ing money!" Saint Bob urged BBC viewers at one stage of Live Aid. And many did, including myself. And that was both the success and the problem. It was nice and easy. A simple solution to a huge problem.

So when famine again raised its head in the Horn of Africa, some people talked about "where did the money go?". As appeal followed appeal for famines there and elsewhere, some talked of the phenomenon of "compassion fatigue". Helping your fellow humans has its limits, it seems, especially if it means thinking about more than tossing a few quid in a bucket at a pop concert.

In the last few years, Saint Bob has been far eclipsed by Bono, or Bono H. Christ, as some know him. Bono, lead singer with Irish rock group U2, is often to be seen lecturing audiences about how appalling the world is, how they all have to change, and then jets off in his plane to the next harangue, sorry, concert.

Not only have Bono and his mates in the band gone offshore to avoid paying their taxes, his "save the planet" concerts come at a high price to poor old Mother Earth - last year's tour produced enough carbon to have sent the boys all the way to Mars (unfortunately on a return-journey!). One reviewer did suggest all this damage was worth the "spiritual uplift" to be had a U2 gathering, perhaps adding to Bono's evidently messianic worldview, but maybe of little comfort to unbelievers.

The curse of celebrities' adoption of just causes goes beyond the hypocrisy and fakery of their narcissistic self-promotion. With many political leaders, Blair being the most obvious, slipping away from ideological politics into the numb consensus of market capitalism, some celebs have been granted wisdom and influence far beyond their abilities or right.

Everybody wants to rule the world
 Back in 2005, the "Make Poverty History" campaign launched a major effort to achieve debt relief for the poorest states in the Third World ahead of the Gleneagles G8 summit of international leaders. Their demands were for radical write-offs of debts which had long paid massive amounts of interest to western financial institutions and seriously impaired development and life chances for hundreds of millions of people. It was a much bolder, deep-seated change than anything the by then knighted "Sir" Bob Geldof had ever called for but he duly rushed out of retirement to hijack the campaign with the "Live 8" concerts (Live 8/Live Aid, geddit?). Although few had bought any of his music in decades, the saintly knight naturally had to sing at the concert (totally spontaneously, of course) and then with Oxfam, Make Poverty History and other development campaigners (and Bono, of course), he called on the G8 leaders to take real action to cancel debt.

The summit agreed some action - adopting barely half the recommendations of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa - and most in the development movement were sorely disappointed.

That didn't stop Sir Bob from rushing in front of the cameras to rather chillingly echo the words of someone else in relation to exaggerated achievements: "A great justice has been done. On aid, 10 out of 10; on debt, eight out of 10 ... mission accomplished, frankly."

And of course in the world of our celebrity-obsessed right-wing media, it was his easy message that was taken up. The concerns of the development movement were largely ignored, even though now, five years on, it is the case that even the partial decisions of the G8 have gone by substantially unimplemented. The campaigners recognised their mistake in letting him get involved, but too late.

More recently, Bono has been criticised for hobnobbing with President Medvedev, who proclaimed himself a fan of U2, ignoring the suppression of several human rights activists with whose cause he had initially linked his concert tour of Russia. And Sir Bob meantime has been charging up to $100,000 per speech on world suffering - it's a hard topic, but it seems he is ready to rise to it if his palms are sufficiently well-greased.
"Sir" Bob - send the money

Now this weekend, in the UK, the 10:10 climate change campaign has been hit by charges of eco-facism following the disastrous decision to release a video written by Richard Curtis (of Blackadder and Four Funerals fame) which shows schoolchildren being exploded into a graphically bloody mess for the crime of not being committed to reducing their carbon emissions. 10:10 have now withdrawn the green movement's first ever video nasty, but not before the right wing media have been able to seize on what is being portrayed as proof of an inherently anti-human strain among environmentalists. It is quite an achievement that he has in a ten minute film been able to leave the movement charged with Nazism, sadism and pure bad taste. And it is another clear example of the curse of celebrity involvement in causes which the celebs often know little about and, one suspects, may care even less.

Curtis' video is not just unpleasant. It also shows his ignorance of what the green movement is ultimately about. We are NOT concerned about "saving the planet". The planet is resilient and will endure whatever we throw at it. What the green cause is about is saving our species, saving humanity (along with many other species), from extinguishing our own ability to survive by polluting our planet or exhausting the resources we need to exist and thrive on the Earth. None of that involves the intolerance and violence displayed in his pathetic little effort, which we are now told was an attempt to inject humour and passion into the debate.

Richard Curtis' counter-productive contribution to 10:10
With friends like these, who needs enemies? The message to the environmental movement, the development campaigns and indeed anyone on the Left should be to treat these self-regarding dilettantes with real caution. It might seem glamorous to have them around, it might garner some well-needed publicity, but not all publicity is good.

Whilst there are sincere and effective celebrities who can and do help, all too often these people adopt development and green campaigns as "worthy causes" for their own promotion, depoliticising them and misleading the public into believing in simple, unchallenging answers to complex issues requiring radical solutions. The threats we face of resource scarcity and planetary crisis are too great to let them indulge themselves any longer. Paris Hilton is promising yet more charitable redemption when she completes her latest criminal sentence. Thanks, but no thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent and timely am posting to facebook :)