Like his ear-ringing, pitch-piercing singing, many of Bono’s ideas fall flat: Aggression isn’t enough: Artistry ought to have greater command.
In an Op-Ed for the New York Times last Sunday (“Ten for the Next Ten”), Sir Bono listed 10 touchstones for the next 10 years, one of which had the original title, “Intellectual Property Developers.” Bono writes the “only thing protecting the movie and TV industries from the fate that has befallen music and indeed the newspaper business is the size of the files. The immutable laws of bandwidth tell us we’re just a few years away from being able to download an entire season of ‘24’ in 24 seconds.” And there lies the problem: “Many will expect to get it free.” Refuge for this shapeless logic is found in the past decade of unregulated, laissez-faire piracy:
A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators — in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us — and the people this reverse Robin Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.
Stop right there! Is Bono implying that these “fledgling songwriters,” whose cause he seems hell-bent on avenging, only began feeling the pinch or being cheated of their commission these last few years—and for no other reason but illegal music downloading? And is he also attempting to lay blame on the internet service providers—who are no saints themselves—rather than a music industry too arrogant to predict a revolt amongst consumers, following decades of disposable songs and one-hit wonders?
But, you see, this is the sort of thing Bono does. His sympathy, to the man looking from the outside in, seems to fall on the hapless victims whose rights he’s been renowned as champion for. Bono, unfortunately, is hardly an activist. Bono, in truth, is a shill—for power structures and huge conglomerates. In this case, his gladiator Halloween costume is fitted on behalf of “fledgling songwriters” wronged by “rich service providers”; but, really, it is the big, rapacious record labels he is going to war for.
Next, Sir Bono, his highness, betrays his true intentions, with calls for censorship—even so far as advocating the kind China is notorious for: “But we know from America’s noble effort to stop child pornography, not to mention China’s ignoble effort to suppress online dissent, that it’s perfectly possible to track content.” And there you have it: From teenage love, praying tongues, strange fruits, bally boots, and native drums.
I thought the age of romance was over. If anyone, in 2010, still believes the music industry is a victim of anything but its own hubris and collective stupidity, I hear Bernie Madoff can still squeeze you in for the big payback a-coming. With ruthlessness and the kind of fearlessness Suge Knight can only fantasize about, major record labels bullied artists and fans for years, never anticipating a day when the tables would turn with their victims assuming full control. Mind you, these are the same labels who fined fans charged with “illegally” downloading copyrighted songs up to $150,000 each, some ending up with bills as high as $675,000 and $2,000,000. Is he referring to the same record industry currently being sued in a $6 billion class action lawsuit by burnt artists? Have we been overcome so easily by selective amnesia that we fail to recall how vehement major record companies were—and are—in treating artists like ATM machines—worked until emptied of their last pennies? And when fans demanded creative and complex music, in the midst of inundating trash, how many of those demands were met?
But Bono has mastered this art—of skillful shilling. The same guy who preaches a brand of morality nuns can only hope of aspiring toward has different set of rules to which he adheres—much different from those he proselytizes. Four years ago, U2, Bono’s band, began relocating its multi-million dollar business empire to Holland, due to a cap on artist tax-exemption which had just gone into effect. Ireland was facing financial hell, and, besides such productive measures as shutting down special needs classes in primary schools and levying pay-cuts to struggling workers, tax increases were also being pursued. The tax-emption, which big bands like U2 had benefited significantly from, was initially introduced to aid underprivileged artists. When Bono and the boys got word of the cap, they fled for Holland—a tax-free haven. Meanwhile, the poor and indigent of Ireland were left to fend for themselves.
But Bono, whose pals include anti-war peaceniks like George Bush and Tony Blair, is celebrated by mass media as a moral crusader against militarism and poverty—better yet, African poverty. “Bono is no man of peace,” legendary music critic and Sirius Satellite radio host Dave Marsh wrote last year; “he has yet to speak out against any war.” This fierce defender of poor people’s rights “is part owner of Pandemic/Bioware, producers of Mercenaries 2, a video game which simulates an invasion of Venezuela.” Worse yet, for all his award-winning antics and semantics about poverty-stricken African families, “last year Bono met with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to discuss plans to set up a new U.S. military command for Africa.” Bono is a proponent of AFRICOM—the dreaded imperialist order opposed by most African governments.
I might be wrong, and in some ways hope I am, but Bono appeals to me as just another feed-the-children financier whose intentions cannot be counted as pure. Yes, he’s willing to stand in the midst of pot-bellied, dry-mouthed kids, with flies levitating in circles, but how much does this Good Samaritan value the humanity and dignity of those he is known worldwide for speaking on behalf of—even if they gave him no such authority.
A couple of years back at the acclaimed Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference, Bono was in the audience as veteran Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda was assailing, with breathtaking eloquence, everything Bono’s philanthropic career rests upon—Aid to Africa. Mwenda argued that aid, while charitable and conscionable, can often do more harm than good, since
1) aid often never reaches those for whom it is meant
2) aid feeds the notion that Africans are lazy, laggardly bums who, despite the benevolence of Westerners, refuse to pull themselves up by their bootstraps
3) aid helps clear the consciences of European countries who owe far more than a few shillings of their declining currency
4) aid most always has hidden agendas undisclosed even to recipient governments
5) aid, when treated as the end thereof, rather than means to an end of independence and self-sufficiency, can nurture subservience and subordination among oppressed populations.
In response, Bono did what all self-respecting, humble public servants know is best—he heckled Mwenda in an expletive-riddled rant.
Bono never, for a second, felt perhaps this African journalist (African first, journalist second), knows more about Africa—and her needs—than an Irish singer. His hubris couldn’t take being upstaged, so he screamed “bullocks” and other unprintable words.
Social entrepreneur Andrew Rugasira had it right when, responding to Bono’s bratty behavior, he opined:
The G8 countries are not driven by the pleas or haranguing of rock stars. They are defined by hard-nosed economic and political interests borne of a history rooted in economic and political domination, virulent self interest, and the reality that they got their societies to where they are now not through handouts, rooted in kindness, but by home grown solutions to their developmental challenges.
Bono’s knowledge about Africa came to life again in his editorial. Number 10 was as opportunistic and slow-witted as the first: “The World Cup Kicks Off the African Decade.” First, my intelligence is higher than Hollywood standards, so I don’t buy the notion that sports can change or alter political or racial paradigms. Bono, however, is drawing this parallel between the 2010 Worlds Cup and a decade he believes would mark new frontiers for Africa. Of course my hopes for Africa and Bono’s are probably diametrically opposed, so I find his predictions quite frightening. From his arm-chair of convenience, he reminisces over the 2006 civil war in Ivory Coast which, his version of history suggests, was “put on hold” because the West African country qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Okay, Bono: believing is believing? Then he castigates South Africa’s critics, who “should be red-faced now” since its “impressive preparations underline the changes on the continent, where over the last few years, 5 percent economic growth was the average.” This is Bono’s conception of the “African Decade”—“growth,” “changes,” “potential,” working to “shore up fragile young democracies across the continent.”
If South Africa’s “preparations” for the World Cup “underline” future “changes on the continent,” I wonder how Bono accounts for the government’s displacement of thousands of its poor residents to make way for these “preparations”—even breaking prior promises to provide equitable housing for evicted citizens. Is Bono concerned that the same poor he wants the world to believe he bleeds for are being attacked by government agents who, like other rogue forces of the past, are willing to shed human blood for a bonanza lastingly only a few weeks?
Make no mistake: This is Bono’s bit. Like a comedian, he captures his audience through acute timing and emotional ecstasy. But once those gullible—entranced—minds have been surrendered, he goes in for the kill—or punch-line, if you will.
I’ll let Dave Marsh have the last word:
“Despite the inspiration that many people take from the anthems Bono has written, there is not one shred of evidence that he disagrees on any issue—war, tax shelters, immigration—with the power brokers he wants us to believe are the last best hope of mankind.”