April 1, 2014
I have been a lifelong U2 fan, ever since I used to play my dad’s cassettes as a young child and still believed that hitting ‘play’ sent a signal to the band, who were waiting in a room to start playing just for me. It would take someone that stupid to be a U2 fan, you might think. Certainly to admire Bono. I can easily see why the man is an object of ridicule, but after not taking much interest for a while, I watched a clip of him on Letterman and thought, “he’s alright, you know.”
I will admit that he has caused me a lot of embarrassment over the years, and it is a strange position being a U2 fan in that although they are one of the biggest bands in history, you still lower your voice and shuffle a little awkwardly when admitting to liking them. In laying out the ‘against’ argument first, I suspect I may even convince myself that he is in fact not ‘alright.’ But I feel I should openly admit to his and the band’s failings:
U2 invited the “Mothers of the Disappeared” – mothers of children who disappeared under the brutal regime of General Pinochet in Chile – onto the stage to hold pictures of their children at a concert in the country in 1998, a concert during which at other points Bono would wear a muscle vest, emerge from a giant lemon, and pretend to eat The Edge.
Bono made a long speech on stage in Dublin in 2001 about how when the band first made it big, they vowed not to move to London or New York, but instead base themselves in Dublin among ‘their tribe.’ In 2006, U2 moved a large part of their business to the Netherlands in order to save on taxes; in other words, keep it from their own people.
Bono wants to save Africa from poverty, but flies around the world living the high life.
Bono is short for “Bono Vox,” which means “good voice” – but since his nickname has now been shortened to Bono, he is simply called “good.”
I knew I’d almost convince myself to hate him as well. But if we actually look at all the things on the list, there are only two real issues at the heart of it, neither that serious. The first is a bit of hypocrisy, and the second is an inflated sense of self-importance and lack of humility. Both unappealing traits, but not that terrible, really. People say they ‘hate’ Bono. That often sounds less like a view they have carefully formed after critical analysis and more like a caricature based on vague impressions and received opinion. It also smacks of exaggeration. Are they sure they don’t hate people like, say, General Pinochet?
It is hardly surprising that Bono might be a bit egotistical and detached from reality. He has been one of the biggest rock stars in the world since his teens. Lots of people who have been famous from a young age have ‘lost it’ much more than he has. As for the hypocrisy, being tax efficient (U2 did nothing illegal in their tax dealings) is totally standard for all businesses. Okay, most business don’t claim to want to help the poor, but U2 still pays some tax in Ireland, and since they give a lot of money to charity their financial activity may partly be a case of deciding how to distribute the large share of their money that goes to good causes, rather than relying on the Irish government to do it.
The flying round the world thing applies to a lot of people, to varying degrees. Do you have to live in poverty yourself in order to campaign for the treatment of HIV in Africa? Can’t people want others to be better off without also wanting to make themselves worse off? By global standards, most of us in the West are Bono compared to much of the world’s population. We could all do more to help if we gave up some of our many luxuries. Does that mean we should all keep quiet about the world’s problems and never speak of them for fear of hypocrisy?
Bono has had a big and positive impact on the policy of Western governments towards Africa; a much bigger impact than giving up all his money would have done. Some may say he does it for the glory, but he was doing similar things when he was 17, before U2 made it big.
But for those still unconvinced, you will be happy to hear that U2’s lemon malfunctioned on stage during that late 90s tour, leaving them embarrassingly trapped inside. Thankfully, they didn’t need the underfunded Irish emergency services to help them get out.
Image Credit: David Shankbone