I read with growing dismay each successive paragraph of David Carr’s fawning New York Times business section piece on Bono, the Red Campaign and Vanity Fair yesterday morning. Later, I read the more interesting piece from Advertising Age that shows that all the sturm and drang from Red has generated $18 million for African relief-I wonder if that’ll even be enough to replace the condoms Bono’s “effective” friend the Shrub refuses to allow U.S. government-supported agencies to deliver. You can be dead certain that it is hardly a match for the combined profits that the corporations for which Red fronts expect to pull out of all those products.
What maddens me most is that articles like this are built upon a cascading series of false premises, so I thought I’d catalogue the ones in the Times column.
· Bono is a “rare” rock star. Almost every rock star has some kind of charitable endeavor.
· Only the opinions of celebrities (the Pope, Bill Gates) are of any consequence in getting the job done.
· Wealth and charity are somehow a “contradiction.” Unless there is wealth, there can be no charity in the sense that Bono and Carr use the term (which is quite a bit different than, say, St. Paul’s definition).
· Bono is not part of the “Sally Struthers” thing. But of course, his entire project depends on sustaining the image of Africans as unable to fight for themselves, which is one reason one encounters no Africans-certainly no poor ones–writing for these Bono guest edits. It also depends quite a good bit on their continuing to be humiliated by their poverty (presuming they are, other than in the minds Bono loves most).
· “The crucial role that commerce will play” as a new thing. That has been the barking sales pitch of imperialism and its missionaries from the first day that Europeans landed in Africa. (If Bono didn’t think that history began when Jeffrey Sachs conned his first Russian, he’d know this.) Bono doesn’t really contend that corporations have a “crucial role,” anyway. He premises this statement on his insistent, addled idea that they are the only vehicle by which the problems of African poverty and disease can be solved, despite the fact that everywhere on Earth that these corporations exist, there is a great deal of poverty and disease.
· The bizarre assertion that, in this case (but there is always something equivalent to this), China wants to invest in Africa as somehow a boon to the poor. It is either the opposite (the Chinese invest in Africa because they can exploit African workers even more than Chinese ones) or irrelevant (since the profits will go to China, not whatever part of Africa the Chinese are invested in.) By the way, Bono knows that there are a couple dozen nations that comprise Africa and that Chinese and other corporations invest in one or more of those, not the continent as a whole, right? I read the whole Independent issue and never heard a peep about this reality.
· “Africa is sexy.” How many hundred years of racism does that tightly packed cliché contain?
· “People need to know it.” If, after all these years of grandstanding, even the kind of person who reads Vanity Fair doesn’t know it, what does that say about the Red approach?
· Changing the subject as soon as the topic of extreme wealth comes up-changing it to AIDS, the only time (it would appear) that AIDS comes up in the interview. Talking from both sides of his mouth as usual: If 5000 people a day are dying, as they are, for what, exactly, do Bush and Blair and Bono’s other powerful cronies earn their high marks?
· Refusing to discuss his ownership of Forbes, ostensibly because it’s off the topic. It couldn’t be more on topic given that Capitalist Tool Bono is about to edit a slick magazine, claims he lives in the world of media, claims that such commerce-friendly publications have a “crucial” role to play.
· Bono sees the world through rose-tinted glasses. The Red campaign is based on an entirely cynical view of what motivates humans.
· Bono would have been a journalist. In fact, he did freelance a few pieces, universally undistinguished ones; his more obvious career choices would have been either a priest or a pimp.
· “Striking fear in the hearts of writers.” As if this piece weren’t an example of how he carefully selects easily intimidated stenographers to do his bidding. (Would a real journalist have stopped at “I don’t want to talk about” Forbes or let him get away with changing the subject to AIDS when the topic of his own arrogance comes up? Or that if he did quote Bono in those cases that he shouldn’t have written a little detail about the contradictions Bono is avoiding, as I have managed to do in about a sentence each here?)
How long before people will call a con a con? How many more people have to die in Africa before we acknowledge that this process is a fraud and a failure and that the evidentiary trail is not short but quite long (it’s been 22 years since LiveAid)?
DAVE MARSH (along with Lee Ballinger) edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: : firstname.lastname@example.org Marsh’s definitive and monumental biography of Bruce Springsteen has just been reissued, with 12,000 new words, under the title Two Hearts.
Marsh regularly hammers out rantings like this one for Holler If Ya Hear Me, the new collective blog about the music industry.
Marsh can be reached at: email@example.com